TCC Startup Cup prepares for final awards Nov. 13
BY LAURIE WINSLOW World Staff Writer
Friday, November 02, 2012
11/02/12 at 11:57 AM
Paula Sloan, like any entrepreneur, is a big cheerleader for her product. In this case, however, exhibiting a rah-rah spirit has an added advantage in connecting with potential customers.
Sloan has developed and patented a device aimed at improving safety for cheerleaders who perform dangerous stunts.
Her business, Cheerful Athletics, makes a training product called Fly Right.
On Thursday, Sloan was nervous and excited as she prepared to talk about her product to a panel of judges. Her goal is getting them to award her business the $30,000 grand prize.
Sloan is one of seven finalists in an entrepreneurial contest - Tulsa Community College StartUp Cup Powered by Lobeck Taylor Family Foundation - that kicked off in April with 76 entries.
Finalists had two minutes each Thursday to impress the judges and convince them one last time that their business has the most potential of all the entries. Winners will be announced Nov. 13.
"I'm excited and very honored to be in the finals. It's a big moment," Sloan said right before giving her pitch to the judges.
Sloan is an administrator at Tahlequah High School and a cheerleading coach for Northeastern State University. She said she came up with the idea for the Fly Right several years ago while helping coach a cheerleading squad in Vian.
Cheerleading is an "extremely dangerous" sport, Sloan said, describing it as the second-leading cause - after football - of catastrophic injuries involving the head and spine.
The American Academy of Pediatrics is pushing for cheerleading to become recognized as a sport everywhere so that stricter guidelines can be implemented, she said.
"This is my 12th year as a cheerleading coach, and I saw many injuries because of the stunting element in cheer. And I just thought there had to be a better way to train these cheerleaders instead of throwing them in the air and hoping for the best."
Cheerleading fliers often train by standing on a soup can, the edge of bleachers or a chair and then launching themselves into the air.
With Fly Right, a trainee stands on a spring that mimics the feeling a cheerleader has when she is standing on her teammates' hands in the air as she gets ready for a stunt. It teaches her how to properly align her body, builds muscle memory and improves balance while she practices low to the ground.
Sloan said she came up with the idea about six years ago and used the prototype on a cheerleading squad at Vian for a couple of years before she began seeking a patent.
The StartUp Cup competition has accelerated her business model, Sloan said. Since entering, she has developed a website and sold 30 units of her product.
Winning the StartUp grand prize would help with marketing, Sloan said. Right now, she relies on her three children for help, including the oldest son who handles social media for the business and her younger son who helps with shipping.
Sloan's 21-year-old daughter, an NSU cheerleader, helped provide impetus for the product.
"I just felt we had to have a safer way for her to train," Sloan said.
The judges spent 15 minutes asking Sloan questions, inquiring about liability insurance, how her product would bring revenue to the Tulsa area, manufacturing options and more.
Adrienne Kallweit, one of the judges, said prior to Thursday's presentations that she would be looking for progress that contestants have made since their previous appearances before the panel, and whether they have heeded the judges' input as coaches.
"It really shows what type of overall business person they are as far as being able to surround themselves with other business minds and take advice, but also act upon their own desire for their business," Kallweit said.
Kallweit's baby sitter referral service business, SeekingSitters Franchise Systems Inc., was the grand prize winner of the contest when it was launched in 2007. Her company has grown to 63 locations nationwide. The Tulsa-based headquarters employs about 15 people, including 10 full time.
Now, as a judge, Kallweit looks for the potential for success and economic growth that a business will bring to Tulsa, as well as an entrepreneur's desire to stay in the metro area.
For Sloan, who doesn't have a business background, the contest has given her confidence to move forward. Having the judges as mentors probably has been the most invaluable part of the contest, she said, because they've helped her understand the business model process.
"This is exciting for someone who is new to the business," she said. "Life is all about contacts. You need contacts, and you need someone helping you and to be that cheerleader for you, and I feel like that's what they've done."
StartUp Cup finalists
4D Sales: An iPad application designed for sales professionals to present products and solutions in an engaging, interactive and visually appealing way.
Cheerful Athletics: Inventor of a patented cheerleading training device named the Fly Right that focuses on safety during the stunt element of cheerleading.
EZ Line Spool Dispenser LLC: A compact, portable fishing line dispenser compatible for both freshwater and saltwater sport fishermen.
idefi Music: Allows independent artists to sell their music through idefi.com, sharing revenue and earning reward points for each download.
Oxygen Line Reel: A convenient, handheld, manually operated reel device that allows users of portable oxygen tanks to store excess oxygen tubing safely.
The Galley LLC: The Galley is a work station that was created to consolidate kitchen work areas for food prep, cooking and cleaning into one central location.
You Buy We Fly: Providing online delivery and errand running services, including online ordering and delivery of restaurant meals.
TCC StartUp Cup Business Model Competition Award Celebration
Nov. 13, presented by Tulsa Community College and the Lobeck Taylor Family Foundation at TCC Center for Creativity, 909 S. Boston Ave., 5:30-7 p.m. Free.
First place: $30,000
Second place: $5,000
Third place: $2,500
Original Print Headline: StartUp Cup at wire
Laurie Winslow 918-581-8466
Paula Sloan presents her business model, Cheerful Athletics, to a panel of judges during the final round of the StartUp Cup entrepreneurial competition Thursday. CORY YOUNG/Tulsa World
The Fly Right is a spring that mimics the feeling a cheerleader has when she is standing on her teammates' hands in the air as she gets ready for a stunt. CORY YOUNG/Tulsa World
Paula Sloan, an entrepreneur, presents her business model, Cheerful Athletics, during the final round of the StartUp Cup, at the McAfee & Taft law firm Thursday. CORY YOUNG/Tulsa World