ADA – Michelle Finch-Walker, one of three owners of “Girls Gone Wine,” has been named East Central University’s 2021 Entrepreneur of the Year. As per tradition, she will deliver the annual Limes Lecture to college and visiting high school students in November.
Finch-Walker, along with friends and business partners Chandra Rickey and Rhonda Reed, founded “Girls Gone Wine” in 2006, a boutique winery and gift shop located in Hochatown near Broken Bow Lake in far southeastern Oklahoma.
“Entrepreneurship is how every good idea gets started,” said Finch-Walker. “Every business that we love and visit in this country today was someone’s great idea – someone who was not afraid to take the risk and just go for it, someone who looked at their community and identified what was missing and created a business to fill that niche.”
Finch-Walker, who earned a bachelor’s degree in Mathematics and Computer Science from ECU in 1986, will address young entrepreneurs during a luncheon on Wednesday, November 10, at ECU’s Chickasaw Business and Conference Center. An entrepreneurial competition for area high school students, called “Tiger Tank,” also takes place that day.
“I loved my time at ECU and I loved living in Ada,” Finch-Walker said. “I had a couple of pivotal mentors. The first was my college advisor, Kenneth Brady. He convinced me to change from a Music major to Math. The second mentor was Mickey Thompson at the ECU Journal who hired me to sell advertisements. I credit him with building my confidence and teaching me to be fearless about achieving my goals.”
Finch-Walker, who hails from McCurtain County, built an impressive career in the tourism industry before establishing “Girls Gone Wine.” For 20 years, she served as director, fundraiser and event planner for the Oklahoma Forest Heritage Center Museum in Beavers Bend State Park. Her knowledge of the area has been key to her success as an entrepreneur.
Finch-Walker said the idea for “Girls Gone Wine” was born from a weekend shopping trip to Dallas, where she and her partners encountered a do-it-yourself winery that involved customers making a batch of wine and then 12 weeks later bottling and custom labeling it.
“We thought that concept would work in Hochatown, where most of the activities at the time were geared toward outdoor enthusiasts,” Finch-Walker said. “There really wasn’t much for the ladies to do. We thought a fun wine experience and a gift shop would be great additions to that area. So, we started making wine and on April Fool’s Day 2006 we opened for business.”
More than 15 years later, “Girls Gone Wine” is going strong. The partners have discussed the possibility of franchising their successful brand in the future. The business is also involved with the surrounding community, including charitable organizations and events.
“It has been a rewarding experience,” Finch-Walker said. “It has been challenging at times, but fun. I think one of the reasons we have been successful is that we truly have a mission of having fun – fun with each other, fun with our staff, and fun with our customers.”
The annual Limes Lecture is named for Leonard Limes, who attended ECU in the post-war 1940s. Limes is a successful geologist, attorney and entrepreneur from Konawa, Oklahoma, who established the lectureship in 2000 with a $25,000 gift to the ECU Foundation.
As always, this lecture is open to the public. Please visit www.ecok.edu/entrepreneurship for registration information. The deadline to register is October 21. For more information on Finch-Walker’s business, please visit www.thegirlsgonewine.com.