Five future Oklahoma entrepreneurs selected for a new paid fellowship program will catch more than just a glimpse into the world of entrepreneurship this summer.
The Entrepreneurial Leadership Program, developed by the not-for-profit corporation i2E, will provide 10-week paid fellowships at technology startup companies to the five selected students who participated in the Donald W. Reynolds Governor’s Cup competition either last year or this year.
Funded by the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce in partnership with i2E, the Entrepreneurial Leadership Program pays a $6,000 stipend to undergraduates and $8,000 to graduate students, of which the companies compensate half.
“It’s a pretty good deal for a company,” said Rex Smitherman, i2E vice president of strategic development. “For $3,000, they get a person for 10 weeks who will help them do a project that they have to get done to achieve milestones for their company. It’s a very win-win type deal.”
The company selected Dustin McBride for a fellowship at Digitouch Innovations, an Oklahoma City company that provides digital interactive information through a centralized Web interface. The Oklahoma State University-Oklahoma City business sophomore will develop and standardize the company’s management operational procedures.
McBride said he is thrilled about the opportunity to gain firsthand experience growing a start-up company and acquiring skills that will help him build his own business one day.
“When I found out that I got it, I was just ecstatic that I got picked among such competition,” McBride said. “I’m just really excited to be involved with Oklahoma’s small businesses, and that’s something I really see myself doing for a while.”
The program matched students’ skills with the needs of the technology companies, allowing them to assist with business-related tasks such as market research, financial planning, customer analysis projects and business plan development.
“As an entrepreneur, they may not have the skills to write a business plan or to put together a pitch or to do market analysis, but yet they’re starting up and they can’t afford to hire the type of skill that they need,” said Sarah Seagraves, i2E director of marketing.
In a recent i2E survey, the corporation discovered many of its client companies need more access to human capital. The company also found that Oklahoma companies were hiring many of the Governor’s Cup participants for internships or jobs already, which facilitated the idea for the fellowship program. The company hopes to make it an annual program and to solicit more funding in future years if this year proves successful.
“We decided that we needed to do some things that would start building that pipeline of entrepreneurs, and this was one way to do that,” Smitherman said. “We thought this would be a good way to take those students who are coming out of the Governor’s Cup competition and show them what it’s really like to be an entrepreneur.”
Students aren’t the only ones who applied for the fellowships, however. The companies had to apply as well, and of i2E’s approximately 144 active client companies, it selected the five that demonstrated the highest need for an intern.
Once it chose the companies, i2E reviewed student applications and picked several potential interns for each company, allowing the companies to interview the students and make the final decision.
Internships begin the first of June, and i2E plans to oversee interns and companies throughout the 10 weeks to ensure success for both the companies and the fellows.
Another fellowship went to Nathan Nelson, Oklahoma City University economics and finance senior. Nelson will intern at Orbus Technology Group to work on strategic operations for the company’s flagship project, Think 12, an infrastructure solution for low-budget school districts.
“I look forward to working with them. Their product seems like it will help a lot of students learn at a higher and more effective rate,” Nelson said. “I think it’s going to help me grow. It’s going to help me in my understanding of business from top to bottom.”
Nelson aspires to start his own construction equipment outsourcing company in the future, and said a fellowship in his home state of Oklahoma is one more step toward reaching his goal.
i2E also selected Dawit Soparkdithapong, a University of Tulsa graduate student, who will work at OrthoCare Innovations, a small research and development company in Oklahoma City that specializes in prosthetics technologies. Other students selected include Nicholas Harrison, a University of Oklahoma graduate student who will intern at Avansic, a Tulsa-based digital forensics firm.
In addition, the company awarded a fellowship to Ryan Reber, University of Oklahoma entrepreneurship and venture management senior, who will work at Breeze Legal Solutions, a Tulsa company that provides software to legal firms.
Nelson said he could not be more ecstatic about the task ahead.
“I’m very excited about the internship,” he said. “It’s going to help me overall, and I’m blessed to have an opportunity, at a young age, which I have at this point in time in my life.” “Caitlin Harrison