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New Venture Competition Awards $65,000 to Student Startups

2%Football Wins Business Plan Competition
New Venture Competition Awards $65,000 to Student Startups
Forty-eight student teams representing 44 majors competed in the two-day New Venture Competition. The University of Nebraska–Lincoln Center for Entrepreneurship awarded top prizes to startups InfoFilm, TeachFront, Futurherd and 2%Football.

In a two-day, high-stakes tournament, the University of Nebraska–Lincoln Center for Entrepreneurship hosted the 37th annual New Venture Competition, a business plan pitch event with $65,000 in funding in prizes. With 48 teams representing nine colleges and 44 majors at the university competing in a bracket format, Eduardo Sicilia Ayala with 2%Football took first place and a $15,000 cash prize. 

Sicilia Ayala, senior Clifton Builders management and marketing major from Cancún, Mexico, founded his startup as a freshman and became a consistent participant and contributor to the university's entrepreneurial community. 2%Football provides scouting reports for football teams in the United States and Mexico to inform them about opponents' tendencies and patterns. His pitch included integrating artificial intelligence into the report-making process to further automate and scale the startup.

"I competed in this competition for four years and participated in many others during my time at Nebraska. However, this competition is closest to my heart because of the people who put it on. Of course, I want to win for the money, but this means a lot," said Sicilia Ayala.

Graduating in May, Sicilia Ayala credits much of his success to "randomly walking into the center in Hawks Hall four years ago." He serves as president of StartupsUNL and a Center for Entrepreneurship Ambassador. He also participates in the cohort-based Clifton Builders Program, which teaches students how to build businesses, teams and communities.

2%Football and the other winners will be considered for further investment of up to $25,000 from the Husker Venture Fund, a student-led fund in the College of Business. Those startups included:

  • Second Place ($12,500) — FuturHerd Solutions, LLC: Brooke Parrish, graduate student in animal science from Elmwood, Illinois. FuturHerd Solutions is a livestock tech startup addressing prevalent caretaker challenges, including a Nursery Nanny robot.
  • Third Place (10,000) — TeachFront: Lena Lankas, sophomore computer science major from Lincoln, Nebraska, and Peyton Peck, sophomore computer science major from Overland Park, Kansas. The students are part of the Jeffrey S. Raikes School of Computer Science & Management and are working toward providing educators with the tools necessary to implement mastery grading in their classrooms.
  • Fourth Place ($7,500) — InfoFilm: Madison Kreifels with InfoFilm, junior agricultural and environmental sciences communication major from Syracuse, Nebraska. InfoFilm is an agricultural communications business with a vision to reverse the growing gap in knowledge between the agriculture industry and its consumers.

Two teams also won Thomas G. Guy Startup Team Awards for collaborating with their teammates during the competition. Each team that won $2,500 included:

  • Bakers Batter — Carlos Ferrer Moya, junior business administration major from Grand Island, Nebraska, and Cheyenne Prentice, junior international business major from Pleasant Dale, Nebraska. Bakers Batter transforms the pleasure of licking the spoon after baking a cake into a delightful, safe, edible cake batter experience. 
  • Crooz Vodka Water — Jaki Acosta, senior management and marketing major from Dorchester, Nebraska; Gabe Ervin Jr., senior management (entrepreneurship and innovation) major from Buford, Georgia; Megan Gusso, senior biological sciences major from Sioux Falls, South Dakota; and Payson Loibl, senior management major from North Richland Hills, Texas. Crooz Vodka Water is a secret signature blend of vodka and water for health-conscious individuals seeking a lighter and more mindful drinking experience.

A record-setting 75 teams applied to compete in the competition with 48 chosen to compete. Additionally, the center added a new bracket to the competition this year for students who competed in a prior University of Nebraska–Lincoln competition and won more than $7,500 in prize money. 

"The Advanced Traction Bracket is a solution to a unique circumstance. Because of the thriving entrepreneurial spirit that exists at our university, there were four teams who registered to compete this year who competed and won prize money in the past. These businesses also have gained decent traction already. Thanks to Breck Collingsworth and Resort Lifestyles Communities, this bracket and its prize money of $15,000 is possible," said Samuel Nelson, director of the Center for Entrepreneurship and associate professor of practice in management.

Former New Venture Competition finalists — Brooke Bode with Cattle Kettle, Bridget Peterkin and Tristan Curd with Dyslexico, Maci Wilson with INFR (formerly pitched with Beacon) and Abby Miller with Pat on Tap — competed in the bracket. The judges awarded the $15,000 prize to Pat on Tap.

"I really care about people and the moments that we spend together. Being a photographer, I got to go to a lot of events, and now I turn them into great events by hosting tap trucks at them. We're now growing Nebraska's first tap truck fleet and scaling the business in the Midwest," said Miller, a senior animal science major from Mead, Nebraska.

In addition to being the largest New Venture Competition to date, Jeff Vaske, '92, founder and president of Charter Hill Partners in Omaha, Nebraska, believed it was also the strongest. Vaske has served on the center's advisory board since 2012.

"We now have a track of events throughout the academic year where students can hone their plan and put a team together. I spoke with several people today who said all 48 teams had fully vetted, thought-out plans," he said. "I'm thrilled to see this progression at Nebraska, and it shows how strong the entrepreneurial community is here."

Students heavily took advantage of the center's offerings to prepare for the competition. Sixty percent of teams consulted with center faculty and staff through workshops, one-on-one coaching or through classes.

"The center is available to anyone, anytime for help with their startups. From business plans to pitch decks, students can come to any one of us and get feedback. We offer workshops leading up to the competition, but our open-door policy has helped the most. There’s never been a time we can’t find the right help for a student or team. That support really shined through this year with the most prepared student teams to date," said Amanda Metcalf, program and external relations manager for the Center for Entrepreneurship.

Eduardo Sicilia Ayala.
Eduardo Sicilia Ayala, a senior Clifton Builders management and marketing major from Cancún, Mexico, earned first place and $15,000 for his startup 2%Football, which provides humanized scouting reports for football teams.
Abby Miller.
Abby Miller, founder of Pat on Tap, won $15,000 in a new competition category called the Advanced Traction Bracket.
Mackenzie Noble and Alaina Tomesh.
Broadcasting majors Mackenzie Noble and Alaina Tomesh ring the cowbell, the center’s tradition to start the competition. Noble and Tomesh served as student emcees for the competition’s final round and Entrepreneurship Awards.
Director Sam Nelson preps entrepreneurial leaders from local and surrounding communities who served as judges for the competition.
Director Sam Nelson preps entrepreneurial leaders from local and surrounding communities who served as judges for the competition.
Published: April 23, 2024