The Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln College of Business awarded $70,000 in cash prizes to student entrepreneurs during the New Venture Competition. The annual business pitch competition helps students think through their entrepreneurial goals and celebrates the entrepreneurial spirit at Nebraska.
“The New Venture Competition provides students with a hands-on learning experience, business networking opportunities and the chance to get feedback and financial support for their business,” said Dr. Sam Nelson, director of the Center for Entrepreneurship and associate professor of practice in management.
Open to undergraduate and graduate students at Nebraska, this year’s competition drew more than 50 teams to apply – the most in the competition’s history. Nelson and his team adapted the event from in-person to a virtual format due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We highlighted the key components we knew we could still offer and focused on those. These included workshops for students months leading up to the competition, access to the LivePlan software for students who needed it and ensuring the students could still get the opportunity to present and receive feedback from business leaders in our community. One of the cool things this year is the virtual environment enabled us to utilize judges from around the country,” he said.
The competition not only draws students from across campus, but also local business and community partners who serve as judges and volunteers. For Larry Hupka, ’72, retired PricewaterhouseCoopers partner, the New Venture Competition allows him to engage with today’s entrepreneurs and help them in their business endeavors.
“I gained a lot of experience in my 30 years at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC). I feel an obligation to share my knowledge and experience. As a partner at PwC, you must have an entrepreneurial spirit to identify and develop businesses. I enjoy sharing my experience through the judging activities at the competition,” said Hupka, one of more than 50 volunteer judges.
As one of the grand prize winners, Jack Keating, senior mechanical engineering major from Kearney, Nebraska, entered the competition to help take the next step in his business, Corral Technologies. Now with $25,000 in funding, he and his business partner, Pranav Rajan, freshman economics major from Lincoln, Nebraska, plan to do just that.
“The funding we received from the New Venture Competition will go toward paying for a provisional patent, software development, prototype development, testing, and we will put $10,000 towards the Nebraska Prototype Grant. These funds will help our team push development forward at a faster rate, so we can get our product to market sooner and help ranchers everywhere live an easier, more profitable life,” said Keating.
Beyond the monetary aspects of the competition, the other grand prize winner Hunter Suchsland, junior fisheries and wildlife major from Kearney, valued the feedback given throughout each round on his business, LS Lures.
“This competition helped us to dial some things in that we knew we needed to work on. Now we know what path we need to take and how we are going to get there. The judges were amazing and provided some feedback that is going to help us get to where we want to be,” said Suchsland.
Although the competition only lasts two days, for students like Suchsland, the opportunity to compete and win is life changing.
“We started this business six months ago and have learned so much already. This really has been the opportunity of a lifetime,” he said.
Winners of the competition and their businesses included:
- Grand Prize ($25,000): Jack Keating, senior mechanical engineering major from Kearney, Nebraska, and Pranav Rajan, freshman economics major from Lincoln, Nebraska. Corral Technologies is a software system that helps ranchers fully utilize their pasture through a virtual fence system, saving them money and creating a healthier ecosystem.
- Grand Prize ($25,000): Hunter Suchsland, junior fisheries and wildlife major from Kearney, and Cade Ludwig, junior agronomy major from Wood River, Nebraska. LS Lures creates custom fishing bait, focused on hand-tied jig and chatterbait made with high-quality materials.
- First Runner-Up ($10,000): Hailey Coufal, senior agribusiness major from Howells, Nebraska. Heartland Sounds is an online music label that helps music artists and bands with scheduling, contracting and pricing with back-end technology for rating and pricing.
- Second Runner-Up ($7,500): Maria Heyen, sophomore international business and Clifton Builders management major from Astoria, Oregon. Playbook is a basketball coach-to-coach platform that delivers easy-to-use practices, plays and drills, catering directly to the type of team coached.
- Thomas G. Guy Startup Team Award ($2,500): Eduardo Sicilia, freshman management major from Benito Juarez, Mexico, and Ashley Clegg, junior Clifton Builders Management major from Lincoln. Mezur is an e-commerce platform designed to help consumers find clothes that fit.
To learn more about the Center for Entrepreneurship, visit: https://business.unl.edu/entrepreneurship.