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The Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College (NEO) Governor’s Cup Team earned third place at the 2017 Love’s Entrepreneur’s Cup competition, formerly the Donald W. Reynolds Governor’s Cup. NEO competes in the Small Business Division of the competition against non-research campuses, two-year colleges, and private universities. NEO competed against thirty other entries, including those put forth by Oklahoma State University-Oklahoma City, Oral Roberts University, and the Oklahoma Christian University. The third place finish earned the NEO team a $5,000 prize for their business plan for a unique dining experience called “The Social Niche.”

The finish marks the third time in five years that NEO has placed in the top three and the first top three finish for Advisor and Business Instructor Calvin Becker. “The team had to give their presentation and pitch to two sets of judges and had to field some tough questions, but they hit a grand slam,” said Becker. “I think that was a key aspect that separated them from the other schools and even from some of the teams we’ve had in the past. Both days that they had a Q&A session, they were extremely good at answering the judge’s questions.” The team was led by Sophomore Travis Hins, a Business Administration major from Miami, Okla., he was joined by Sophomore Business Administration Technology/Accounting Major James Bowman of Kansas, Okla., Computer Science Major Mike Ferry of Miami, and Hannah Stephens, a Business Administration major from Vinita, Okla. Team members enroll in an exclusive course, where members are hand-selected by Becker. The class focuses on the competition, but also instructs students in creating modern and attractive business plans. During the competition, teams submit written plans, which are judged by a panel of investment and business experts. Eight teams are selected to give oral presentations and only six teams are selected to compete for the top three spots. During the oral presentation, the format is similar to the popular television show “Shark Tank,” where students will give a pitch and then field tough questions from judges.

The team pitched The Social Niche as a unique twist on the usual dining experience. While many restaurants will carry sports on big-screen televisions, The Social Niche takes advantage of the connected world and displays social network feeds on television screens. Guests can order their food through an app, which would allow them to customize a burger for a sit-down meal or pay for a wrap if they have to grab their meal to-go. “This project required a lot of time and effort when it came to running the financials,” said Bowman. “It wasn’t just some hypothetical problem; we were running actual projections and developing a business plan that focused on profit and expansion. At times, it would have been nice to have a lighter course schedule, but we were able to work hard, juggle our other commitments, and put together a really solid plan.”

The restaurant would also modernize the ‘plate peeking’ practice so guests can see what other people in the restaurant are having and if it looks like a good meal option. Guests could snap a photo of their meal and post it to the televisions throughout the restaurant. The proposed site would be across the street from NEO and cater to college students and nearby Miami High School students, as well as the general population of Miami. While they don’t have any immediate plans to open their restaurant, the team members shared some important lessons they learned following the competition. “I was lucky, because I had several years of experience in the business world,” said Team Leader Hins. “But I think it would be great to work with the Business Department to try and get freshmen started thinking about this competition for when they are sophomores. It’s a great program and really helped us develop as a team and hone our skills in business.”

“Most likely this project won’t go any farther unless some of the judges or other investors give us a call, but I will actually be able to use some of my prize money to compete in the Phi Beta Lambda competition, where I will continue to develop the app,” said Ferry. “It took hours and hours to put together portions of this plan and it is important to be as prepared as possible.”

Overall, the students came away with valuable experience, credits toward completing their degree, and equal share of the prize money. While it was hard work beyond their commitments as students, members were exhilarated to have the experience. “It was absolutely worth it,” said Stephens. “I learned so much and I would advise anyone else that if they go into this, it will pay off. You will see you’re a hard worker, you’re talented, and you’ll gain a lot of wisdom about business.” For more information about the Love’s Cup competition or to discuss becoming an investor for The Social Niche, contact Calvin Becker at Calvin.Becker@neo.edu. (Photo from left: Calvin Becker, Mike Ferry, Travis Hins, Hannah Stephens, James Bowman Bottom photo: The Social Niche logo)

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