When Nebraska Athletics introduced #NILbraska, a University of Nebraska–Lincoln three-part initiative to prepare student-athletes to maximize the Name, Image and Likeness (NIL) legislation, they did so by utilizing teamwork. Recruited to provide Accelerate, the College of Business developed the program to assist more than 650 student-athletes identify, strengthen and activate their NIL potential.
“Nebraska is leading the way in NIL and Accelerate will help prepare students by sharing our business, entrepreneurial and strengths-based education. We are leveraging our distinctive offerings at the Center for Entrepreneurship and the Clifton Strengths Institute, as well as interdisciplinary curriculum created through campus partnerships while also working on new efforts to benefit students long term,” said Dr. Kathy Farrell, James Jr. and Susan Stuart Endowed Dean of the College of Business. “In addition, Accelerate showcases Nebraska as the place where strengths first started and our college as the central hub for entrepreneurship.”
Joe Petsick, executive in residence and assistant professor of practice in management, served as the NIL liaison for Nebraska Business for Accelerate. An entrepreneur who co-founded Proxibid, Inc., in 2001, Petsick shared his goal of creating a program which not only focuses on how to help student-athletes make money but also teaches them how to build a business around themselves.
“The College of Business is building the core curriculum that will benefit not just student-athletes, but all students on campus who may be interested in leveraging their personal brands. In addition, we will build a team of student advisors to help with all aspects of the program to ensure each student-athlete can maximize their potential,” Petsick said.
Joining Nebraska Business in 2019, Petsick recognized student-athletes have a proclivity toward entrepreneurship and knew the College of Business could help them realize their potential. He reached out to colleagues across the college and campus to develop Accelerate for student-athletes.
“The College of Law’s Weibling Entrepreneurship Clinic plans to offer student-athletes a variety of tools to protect their brands. These services will vary from representation for legal needs such as entity formation, intellectual property protection and contract review, to educational opportunities and brief consultations. Since 2013, law students in the clinic have worked with clients on these and a variety of other early-stage legal matters under the direct supervision of faculty,” Farrell said. “The College of Journalism and Mass Communications is helping with some exciting programming, including a course called Branding Yourself in Today’s Market. Students will learn how to formulate their own value proposition and convey their knowledge, skills and abilities to prospective employees. Nebraska’s student-athletes will have a distinct advantage due to the collaboration with faculty, staff and students across the university.”
Stretching Strengths at the Clifton Strengths Institute
Student-athletes will utilize scientifically developed assessments from Gallup that identify their top natural talents and their entrepreneurial attributes in Accelerate. The Clifton Strengths Institute (CSI), a national model for strengths-based education, is housed in Howard L. Hawks Hall. CSI staff will provide workshops and one-on-one coaching for student-athletes as well as share ways to best maximize strengths for success.
“The first step in personal branding is discovering who you are and what your natural talents are,” said Dr. Tim Hodges, executive director of the Clifton Strengths Institute and assistant professor of practice in management. “That’s why we’ll use the CliftonStrengths® and Builder Profile 10 assessments to determine factors that, when leveraged, lead to personal success.”
Through coaching with trained student strengths coaches on an ongoing basis, Husker student-athletes will learn to focus on doing more of what they naturally do best. Entrepreneurs and business innovators will also assist the student-athletes in their growth as brand builders.
Hodges and team have been supporting Nebraska Athletics with assessments and workshops as new student-athletes arrive for summer classes. Hodges also added that Nebraska Athletics and strengths share history as Dr. Tom Osborne, former Husker football coach and athletic director, studied with Dr. Don Clifton, known as the father of strengths, many years ago and often shared how he applied what he learned throughout his coaching and leadership.
“Nebraska Athletics has been a recognized leader for providing student-athletes with academic support and life skills for many years," Hodges said. “This renewed focus on strengths-based development and coaching will supplement the current programming to ensure that Huskers are ready for success in the classroom and beyond, today and into the future.”
Utilizing Expertise from the Center for Entrepreneurship
The Center for Entrepreneurship provides resources, research and houses faculty who teach management and entrepreneurship courses and mentor students. Accessible to all university students, the center provides a place for students to gather and collaborate, invite speakers and work on business plans. The team at the center also plan student competitions where students can pitch their ideas and earn funding. All these components contribute to successful ventures for students starting day one at Nebraska.
Dr. Sam Nelson, director of Center for Entrepreneurship and associate professor of practice in management, worked with Petsick and Hodges to outline curriculum for the Accelerate pilot program which launched in Fall 2020. Thirty student-athletes took four workshops including Customer Discovery and How to Pitch Yourself and Your Ideas, taught by Nelson, and he also facilitated Building Your Personal Brand. Hodges taught Leveraging Your Strengths.
“The NIL changes provide unique opportunities for students and student-athletes to learn about the entrepreneurial process and to collaborate with each other in new and meaningful ways. Each student-athlete’s NIL has the opportunity to become an entrepreneurial venture that provides an exceptional learning opportunity for them and other students that they partner with at Nebraska,” said Nelson.
Building a Husker Venture Fund
Working with senior finance major Emily Kist from Pierre, South Dakota, and the University of Nebraska Foundation, Petsick helped create the Husker Venture Fund (HVF), a student-led venture capital fund for early-stage startups. Built on a partnership between the College of Business and Invest Nebraska, the fund continues to grow due to the generous support of donors and help from the College of Business Development team.
“The Husker Venture Fund is essential to fill a gap in the funding cycle for early-stage startups, because there are few institutional options available in Nebraska,” Petsick said. “Additionally, there was a lack of internships and professional opportunities for any student interested in a potential career in venture capital or startup investing. Creating a student-led fund could expose dozens of students to the type of hands-on learning that would allow them to become fluent in startup investing.”
Open to any industry, all Nebraska-owned early-stage startups can apply for funds with priority going to student-led businesses first. Faculty and alumni businesses, UNL intellectual property and those with other connections to the university follow.
“Though open to any industry, the businesses must have scalable and innovative technology or software. We plan to deploy annual awards for up to four startups. Returns from successful businesses will replenish the funds somewhat, but donor support is a crucial part of the success of the Husker Venture Fund,” Petsick said.
The HVF provides funding for traditional businesses. Though students promoting themselves as a business would not be eligible, Petsick believes there will be students coming to Nebraska who own an existing business who could benefit from the fund.
“It’s not uncommon for students or student-athletes to run startups, small businesses and side hustles while in college. This is why it was important that the Husker Venture Fund support all students across the university, including student-athletes as part of what we are offering with Accelerate,” Petsick said.
Kist along with Adam Folsom, a senior finance and management major from Omaha, Nebraska, helped fundraise, research and prepare for the fund to go online. Petsick credits them for making the fund a reality.
“I’ve gained unparalleled experience working with talented students, supportive faculty, gracious donors and professionals to ‘Start Something’ at the Nebraska College of Business. I wanted to provide a unique, hands-on learning experience for students interested in startup financing, while also providing necessary funding to early-stage companies,” Kist said. “It is essential to continue providing resources and building connections between our campus and the startup community.”
Developing a Startup Accelerator Program
From his background as an entrepreneur, Petsick knew startup accelerators help businesses attain success. He also recognized Nebraska startups, as well as student-athletes, would benefit from mentorship, advice, curriculum and resources provided within a startup accelerator.
“There are incredible assets within the College of Business that many companies would likely find useful in helping strengthen their internal managers and leaders. Ultimately, while I could see how these internal resources could certainly help any established business, I believed they would have a profound effect on a startup business,” Petsick said. “After discussing many ways to deploy the potential content, curriculum and programming, the idea of creating our own accelerator program seemed the most appropriate.”
Petsick shared how the Startup Accelerator Program’s focus would be on the “very early stages” of established startups. He plans to include programming and access to leadership teams who can help “dramatically ramp up” growth.
“If a student or student-athlete has already started a business, they could qualify for the Startup Accelerator Program. Also, when the Husker Venture Fund provides investment to a startup, it is likely we’ll include access to our accelerator program as well,” he said.
Petsick continues to build new partnerships to help expand offerings and strengthen the Accelerate program. He also looks forward to talking with the Husker student-athletes and future alumni who benefitted from Accelerate.
“By partnering with Nebraska Athletics and others throughout the college and university to develop the program, we are quite simply investing in the student-athletes’ next 40 years, not just the next four. Nebraska is leading the way in NIL and this Accelerate program sets up our students for success,” Petsick said.
Local and National Stories About #NILbraska