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From conception to creation, an entrepreneur’s journey to success

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Melanie Stetson Freeman/The Christian Science Monitor

(Read caption) A customer orders coffee at the counter of the the Hungarian Pastry Shop in Manhattan, New York in this May 2012 file photo. This independent coffee shop is not unlike one of Oklahoma City's newest coffee shops EVOKE, recently opened up by a graduate of Dr. Jeff Cornwal's entrepreneurship program.

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In May of 2005 Jason Duncan walked across the stage at Belmont’s graduation.  At that moment he became the first alumnus of our new entrepreneurship program.

Like many who have followed him, Jason had worked on a business he wanted to launch while studying in our program.  His plan was to move to Montana and open a coffee shop.  He even had a name for his coffee shop – EVOKE.

However, as is often the case, nothing went according to plan.

Try as they might, he and his wife Jenni were never able to open their coffee shop in Montana.  But they did find a way to get into the coffee business.  Since every attempt to open a store seemed to meet a roadblock, they adjusted their business model and opened EVOKE as a mobile coffee catering business.

“EVOKE did not set out to be a mobile coffee catering company,” said Jason.  “But what we found out is that we grew up doing this, made money, and knew that we now had a foundation to stand up on.”

Although they had success with their mobile coffee catering business in Montana, in 2008 they decided that their best chance for long term success was to move EVOKE to Jason’s home town of Oklahoma City.

“When we moved EVOKE to Oklahoma City, we knew we had two options:  to work our tails off and learn from our mistakes in Montana or shut EVOKE down and move on,” said Jason.  “We knew we could be better.  We took the first option and worked tirelessly to run a solid company based on what we had planned years ago.”

Jason and Jenni realized they would have to adapt their business model once again in this new market.

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Oklahoma was very different than Montana,” explained Jason.  “We had competition, which we did not have in Montana.  So, we focused on a key part of coffee:  The relationship.”

The customer relationship part of the business model is the one that most often gets misunderstood.  There is not one best way for all businesses to interact with customers.  But there is one best way for your business model to build a relationship with your customers.

The large national coffee chains are built on a relationship with their customers that supports the core of their business model, which is efficiency.  They are good at getting a large volume of people through their stores each day.

EVOKE’s business model was based on a different relationship with their customers.  They chronicled their ups and downs openly and honestly in a blog to allow their customers to get to know them on a more personal level.  They worked hard to become part of the fabric of their community. By following this model, EVOKE has become one of the top coffee catering businesses in the country.

But they never lost sight of their original plan.

“We did not change our vision as we grew and kept our eyes on the ‘final’ goal — if there is one in business,” said Jason.

So on the first of May this year, their plan to open a coffee shop finally became a reality.  They opened the first brick and mortar EVOKE coffee shop in Oklahoma City.


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