NORMAN, Oklahoma — Every business starts as an idea.
Sometimes they grow from small seeds, others materialize in a flash, but they all had to start somewhere.
Dr. Tom Lumpkin, director of entrepreneurship and economic development at OU’s Price College of Business, said the path to business success begins with vetting that idea.
“They need to start with doing some analysis about whether or not that’s a good opportunity,” he said to The Norman Transcript. “There’s a pretty big space between just having a good idea and having a bona fide business concept that can really turn into something valuable.
“So, the first step is doing some research and some questioning and reaching out to potential customers to see whether or not it’s an idea that other people find attractive.”
He said they may find out that not everyone loves their idea as much as they do. That’s not to say they should give up, he said, but that feedback should help drive them to a better direction.
“What it is is a reason to tweak their idea or to pivot, as they say, to a more well refined idea,” he said. “That’s why I said exploring and testing an idea is the best first step.”
Just getting started may seem a daunting task, and just the first in a long line of them, but Lumpkin said there are a lot of resources available to help, many right here in Norman.
“One of the biggest resources is the Tom Love Innovation Hub here at OU,” he said. “They have programs there, an ongoing basis, where people can meet other entrepreneurs and learn about entrepreneurial journeys and stories. They have, for example, a law clinic where they can get advice on what kind of legal entity they want to set up.”
Lumpkin said the Tom Love Innovation Hub is, more than anything, a gateway to other resources. It’s an access point that’s open to the public, and, like the Norman Chamber of Commerce and the Norman Economic Development Coalition, he said it can be an instrumental aid for startups.
“People there can actually help find the kinds of resources or contacts and networks that are available,” he said. “There really are opportunities to walk into that space and get started on different types of ideas in a very serious way.”
After research and development, Lumpkin said the next steps involve finding customers.
“So, you’ve got a good idea,” he said. “Who is the first person you’re going to go sell it to? Where are you going to find them and what are they going to pay for it?”
Those questions, Lumpkin said, force you to concretize an idea quickly. The next big challenge is getting products out into the marketplace.
“In other words, how are people are going to find out about what you have to offer? That varies greatly across the spectrum,” he said. “Maybe you offer some big, complex thing and you only need to sell five of them a year, like a big piece of medical equipment. But what if it’s a product that you want to get into a grocery store? It can actually be quite challenging to find distribution outlets.”
The final piece, Lumpkin said, is the financing.
“Research shows that the vast majority of funding for startups comes from either personal savings or family and friends’ money,” he said, noting that crowdfunding has exploded just recently.