Love's Cup competitors gain insight from investors

i2E Inc.Casey Black, right, a graduate student at East Central University in Ada, meets with Lilly Liu, senior analyst with Mercury Fund in Houston, at the University Research Park during the interview portion of the 2020 Love’s Entrepreneur’s Cup.

OKLAHOMA CITY – Oklahoma college students competing in the 2020 Love’s Entrepreneur’s Cup turned to a group of national investors for insight and direction into their concepts during the recent Interview portion of the business plan competition.

Love’s Travel Stops & Country Stores is the signature sponsor for the Love’s Cup competition, in which students from colleges and universities across Oklahoma compete for $158,000 in cash prizes and scholarships. The competition is managed by i2E Inc.

Out-of-state investors who sat down with High Growth Division teams Friday included Lilly Liu, senior analyst with the Mercury Fund in Houston; Nicole Bentz, senior analyst with Flyover Capital in Kansas City, Missouri; Danielle Strachman, general partner in 1517 Funds in San Francisco; and Maggie Kenefake, venture partner in Royal Street Ventures in Kansas City, Missouri.

Students left the University Research Park armed with new knowledge that can be applied directly to the business plans they are writing for the Love’s Cup competition.

“I met with Lilly Liu, and she was able to help me focus in on what to look for as I’m building my business plan and moving on in the competition, so that when I pitch to investors it will be easier for them to evaluate my company,” said Casey Black, a graduate student from East Central University who is advancing a device that allows patients to monitor white blood cell counts from home.

Teams of students in both the High Growth and Small Business divisions of the Love’s Cup competition presented one-page deal summaries of their proposed business ventures to investors and business experts in one-on-one meetings throughout the day at the University Research Park.

The Interviews weren’t one-way question-and-answer sessions, but conversations that left the investors impressed with the preparation the students brought to the meeting.

“They’ve been very well prepared and have done their homework, which I love to see,” Bentz said. “We had very in-depth conversations, which is exciting knowing that a lot of these students are undergrads. It’s encouraging to see how knowledgeable they are and how much time and effort they are putting into the competition.”

Kenefake said the Love’s Cup Interview provides access to business and investment expertise that students would likely never gain without the competition.

“It’s hard for any entrepreneur to get time in a closed room with an investor.” she said. “I think it’s a huge asset for them to get that kind of access and that direct, candid feedback.’

Liu said she was pleased to encounter several aspiring female entrepreneurs like Black sitting across the table from her.

“I love, love, love that Oklahoma universities and the Love’s Cup are training them at this stage and helping them become engaged in entrepreneurship and helping them learn that they can and have the ability to go and start a business themselves,” Liu said. “The teams I’ve met today are very bright and have very insightful questions, which goes to show their preparation and how committed they are to the competition.”

For Strachman, the Love’s Cup competitors showed they were working hard on a short-term goal with long-term ramifications.

“Some of these students have been working on these projects only a couple of weeks, and they are really diving into the nuts and bolts of true entrepreneurship,” she said. “They are out there talking to customers, they are doing the work, they have boots on the ground. I think the value of this competition for students is really high.

“They are going to reinvent themselves through a program like the Love’s Cup,” Strachman said.

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