TAHLEQUAH, Okla. -- Becoming the first father-son speakers of the Battenfield-Carletti Distinguished Entrepreneur Lectureship, Matt Benjamin and his son Matthew spoke to students at Northeastern State University on Sept. 13.
Speaking in the auditorium of the W. Roger Webb Educational Technology Center, Matt, 42, discussed what he had learned en route to becoming owner and manager of two small companies. He earned a bachelor's degree in business management from NSU in 1992. Matthew, 15 and founder of a non-profit organization called A Chance for the Children, discussed social entrepreneurship.
"At 42, the idea of 'more' has changed," Matt said. "Today, I want more opportunities to 'be a miracle.' I want to dream the impossible and make a difference. People are what really matter, not things."
Relating the story of a near traffic accident when he stood on his motorcycle to get rain off his poncho, Matt said it reflected the feelings many entrepreneurs have.
"You think 'this is a great idea,' 'I'm going to make some money,' 'Oh no, I'm gonna die," he said to laughter from the audience. "I think most entrepreneurs are just a bit crazy. They are driven, and have the ability to make something out of nothing. They have relentless optimism - they believe they can find opportunity where no else sees it."
Matthew raised more than $31,000 from sponsors by running 346 miles to train for a half marathon. He also organized the Orphan Run OK, a Tulsa event which drew 1,000 runners and raised more than $110,000.
"I originally wanted to raise $20,000 to build a home for orphans in Uganda," Matthew said. "Most people told me I was crazy. But more than 150 people donated or sponsored. I was fortunate to travel back to Uganda and I got to meet the kids, I got to hold babies, I got to hang out with them and see how much had changed."
The home had room for about 20 children, but Matthew noticed the need was greater. The home sometimes housed 2-3 times its intended number and the nearby church was again filled to capacity with the orphaned children it was boarding. He decided to organize Orphan Run OK.
"Businesses don't want to sponsor something that has four people show up," Matthew said. "We attracted a local church to host the event and invited several other churches to participate. The local running club helped us. The results were amazing."
The funds raised are to build another four orphan homes in Uganda. Matthew has expanded the scope of his work to assist children in the care of the Oklahoma Department of Human Services.
"I've realized that everybody has a different passion," he said. "We all have different ideas. But what is most important is the execution of our passions and ideas. The execution is the sugar in the lemonade. The sugar makes it lemonade — otherwise you just have disgusting lemon juice."
Established in 2002 through the NSU Foundation by Dr. Harold Battenfield and Dr. John Carletti, the Battenfield-Carletti Distinguished Entrepreneur Lecture series invites NSU alumni to campus to share their entrepreneurial experiences with students.
Published: 9/17/2012 12:44:04 PM