Competing for the Husker Venture Fund (HVF) for the first time, a team of University of Nebraska–Lincoln students won the New England Regional Venture Capital Investment Competition (VCIC) in Boston. Defeating Dartmouth, New York University, Southern Methodist, St. Mary's, Tufts and Oregon, they advanced to the 25th annual VCIC Global Finals this spring, finishing third.
"It was incredibly validating to win a regional and global final over top universities across the United States. It is a testament to the caliber of students at Nebraska and the fact that Husker Venture Fund is educating our members in the right ways," said Maria Heyen, '23, from Astoria, Oregon, who graduated with an international business and Clifton Builders management major in May and served as a managing director for the HVF this past year.
Built by alumni and university supporters, the HVF offers hands-on investment experience to students of any major while providing funding to early-stage startups in Nebraska. Students in the HVF also learn from and are managed by their peers.
“The fact that we are entirely student-led makes us unique. This means that everything from screening companies, completing due diligence to actually voting on investments is entirely done by students. This gives our members experience that is as close to real-world venture investing as possible,” said Samuel DeZube, a managing director and junior finance major from Stilwell, Kansas.
One of only two women involved in the HVF when it launched last year, Heyen set a goal to encourage and include more women and nonbusiness majors in the fall of 2022.
“Venture capital is known for its exclusivity and closed doors, and we wanted to change that. I'm proud to say that our second class of HVF associates comprises 26% women and 23% students outside the College of Business. We are intentionally bringing in students who typically have been excluded from the world of venture capital,” she said.
This year's new associates were from three different countries and 12 states, and all learned the due diligence process during an eight-week, peer-led venture capital boot camp. Then they started to engage with the founders of early-stage startups who applied for HVF funding.
“Our students meet with founders every week and fill out due diligence reports monthly. We’re graded on how we interact with founders and ask the right questions, so we're very good at the due diligence side,” said Heyen.
When the HVF managing directors learned about the regional competition in New England, they formed a Nebraska team, which included Heyen; DeZube; Will Anderson, software engineering major from Crystal Lake, Illinois; Edwin Bahena-Flores, finance major from Omaha, Nebraska; James Whebbe, finance and management major from Rosemount, Minnesota; and Alex Zlatic, actuarial science and finance major from Bloomington, Illinois.
They showcased their strengths and HVF experience at their inaugural VCIC. Taking first place at the regionals in January, they advanced to the global competition, capturing third place worldwide.
“There was an audible gasp in the room when they announced Nebraska won. They used blind voting, so the judges didn't know which school a team was from until they named the winners,” said Heyen.
Competing at the global competition against BYU, Georgetown, University of Missouri, Miami University in Ohio and Boston University, she shared that the first and second place schools at the global competition provide semester-long courses to prepare their competition teams. Heyen said Nebraska students gain experience through their weekly HVF work.
“Our Nebraska advantage was that we essentially do the VCIC competition each week at our HVF meetings. Our members are constantly interacting with founders, writing due diligence and completing deals with oversight without consulting with advisors,” she said.
On the days of the VCIC, student teams cannot consult with advisors. The student-led Nebraska team found that to be business as usual.
“Our team felt natural and comfortable being on our own because that's how we normally operate. Many other student venture funds do not have that luxury, and we are so fortunate that the College of Business supports us in that way,” she said.
Along with the competition success, the HVF was recognized by the university in its N150 Commission Report as an innovative student experience preparing graduates to be life-long learners and contributors to the workforce in Nebraska and beyond.
“The Husker Venture Fund fills an underserved gap in the Nebraska entrepreneurship ecosystem and helps drive the state's economy. The fund's investment portfolio includes six Nebraskan startups with most of them being led by alumni. Impacting multiple stakeholders, HVF also prepares students in any major through a peer-led program to become experienced venture capitalists who can compete on a global scale,” said Kathy Farrell, James Jr. and Susan Stuart Endowed Dean and professor of finance.
To learn more about the Husker Venture Fund or apply for early-stage startup funding, go to https://business.unl.edu/huskerventure.
Published: May 25, 2023