Members of the Husker Venture Fund (HVF), a student-led venture capital fund, awarded their debut investment of $25,000 to startup Sentinel Fertigation and its founder Jackson Stansell, ’21, a biological engineering Ph.D. student at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. A partnership between the College of Business and Invest Nebraska, the HVF seeks to bridge the funding gap early-stage startups in Nebraska often experience.
“It’s a huge honor to be the first investment from the Husker Venture Fund. After they did some initial due diligence and I got to pitch to them, they asked some of the best questions I've gotten in my entire investment or fundraising process. I hope I can make them proud,” said Stansell, a Dothan, Alabama, native who earned his undergraduate degree in bioenvironmental engineering at Harvard University and a Master of Science in agricultural and biological systems engineering from Nebraska.
Stansell’s startup, Sentinel Fertigation, looks to solve profitability and environmental sustainability issues in agriculture caused by inefficient nitrogen fertilization. By using technologies to create more efficient nitrogen applications in the field, it saves farmers money while also being more environmentally conscious. Stansell plans to use the investment for further web application development, helping his ag-tech startup deal with extraneous costs and potentially add more features.
“We are so glad that Sentinel Fertigation is our first investment. The main driver behind our decision was our trust and belief in Jackson as a founder. He is unbelievably bright and making quick strides to become a successful entrepreneur. Our team is 100% behind Jackson and his mission at Sentinel Fertigation and excited to see his impact as a Nebraska-based founder,” said Adam Folsom, senior finance and management major from Omaha, Nebraska, who serves as one of three managing directors for the fund.
The fund, built by alumni and university supporters, is managed by 26 students under the supervision of the Center for Entrepreneurship, the University of Nebraska Foundation and Invest Nebraska. All Nebraska-owned early-stage startups in any industry are eligible to apply for HVF funding, with priority given to student-led businesses. Through this funding, the HVF helps connect underserved communities of entrepreneurs with the resources and capital they need.
“In Nebraska’s ecosystem as it stands today, the funding cycle has a really big gap in the very early stage of startups. All investing in early-stage startups happen basically through friends and family, so if you didn’t have that network, your ability to get a company started is incredibly challenging,” said Joe Petsick, executive in residence and assistant professor of practice in management, who also serves as the fund's faculty advisor. “The Husker Venture Fund offers people a shot they didn't have before, and that could be transformational for the state.”
The fund provides a unique hands-on learning experience engaging with the venture capital process. After multiple weeks of an intensive bootcamp, students undertook the process to find their first investment. Students completed due diligence, consulted with their advising team and voted on the investment in Sentinel Fertigation.
"It presents a win-win situation for our students and community. These 20-plus students get invaluable real-world experience that gives them access to participate in venture capital opportunities," said Petsick. "As the mission of our university and this program focuses on increasing accessibility, it's only fitting that their first investment paid it forward to another student who needed access to funding to bring his business to life."
“I've heard from a lot of investors so far that we’re too early or there’s not enough traction. Ultimately with a business like this, when you need to hire people and have resources and support to execute, that funding gap can really slow down progress. The Husker Venture Fund was built to get these things off the ground,” Stansell said.
Learn more about the Husker Venture Fund at: https://business.unl.edu/huskerventure. Nebraska-based founders seeking investment can submit funding applications anytime and are reviewed on a rolling basis.
For more information on the fund's launch, read the article, "Building a Husker Venture Fund," in the 2021 Nebraska Business Magazine