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UNL Students Win Inaugural Governor's New Venture Competition

Nebraska's Center for Entrepreneurship Offers Statewide Pitch Prep
UNL Students Win Inaugural Governor's New Venture Competition
Eduardo Sicilia Ayala, a Clifton Builders management and marketing major from Cancún, Mexico, competes in the Governor's New Venture Competition with his business 2% Football.

Eight student teams from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln participated in the final round of the statewide Governor's New Venture Competition held Feb. 1 at The Lincoln Marriott Cornhusker Hotel in Lincoln, Nebraska. The Nebraska Center for Entrepreneurship helped prepare any students pitching new ventures by hosting pitch practice sessions and connecting them with their community of entrepreneurs and industry leaders for feedback.

The center serves all students in any major at the university and meets them where they are on their entrepreneurial journey. For some students, the inaugural Governor's New Venture Competition was their first experience competing in a business plan competition.

"It was our team’s first time pitching in a competition, and we really leaned on those who advised us in the prep sessions. From helping organize our slides to providing contacts for more networking opportunities, we could not have made it as far as we did without the Center for Entrepreneurship," said finalist Brooke Parrish, doctoral student in animal science from Elmwood, Illinois.

Starting in November, student competitors were invited to the center to help prepare their initial submission to the competition, which included a 20-slide pitch deck covering the basic elements of a business plan.

"We wanted to be sure all students interested in competing were prepared at each level of the competition. Organizing prep sessions at each stage was our goal from the start," said Amanda Metcalf, program and external relations manager for the Center for Entrepreneurship. "We opened up our prep sessions to any student in Nebraska who planned to compete, not just University of Nebraska–Lincoln students."

To get the teams ready for the semifinals through virtual presentations in December, the center asked their Community Fellows, a group of entrepreneurs and industry leaders who commit to providing their time and insights to students pursuing entrepreneurial ventures, to help out. The fellows provided feedback, asked difficult questions and simulated the upcoming competition.

“As an investor, you go into student pitch competitions with lots of grace. No need at UNL. These entrepreneurs, who happen to be students, are ready for prime time. They have gone beyond studying their target customer and have engaged customers in the build," said Erica Wassinger, one of the center's Community Fellows and mentor for the competition. "I anticipate more great Nebraska companies hatching as a result of the many Center for Entrepreneurship programs.”

Parrish and fellow competitors applied the Community Fellows' feedback and advanced to the final round of the Governor’s competition. Of the 11 teams that advanced to the competition's final round, eight were led by UNL students.

"It's a testament to the ecosystem and collaboration we are fortunate to have on campus," said Samuel Nelson, director of the Center for Entrepreneurship and associate professor of practice in management. "Entrepreneurship is rooted everywhere on campus, and our team is equipped and excited to support and celebrate any student that we can."

The final 11 teams pitched their venture in 10 minutes or less to a panel of judges representing companies including Hudl, Fast Forward, Nebraska Public Power District, Move Venture Capital and Grit Road Partners on Feb. 1. They represented several colleges and programs on campus including the College of Business, Jeffrey S. Raikes School of Computer Science and Management, Engler Agribusiness Entrepreneurship Program, College of Journalism, College of Engineering, and more.

"Pitching can be extremely nerve-racking, but with the extra rounds of feedback from the center's team and mentors, we were able to feel more confident once the competition came around," said competitor Madison Kreifels, junior agricultural communications and journalism major from Syracuse, Nebraska.

A senior computer science and math major, Tan Phan of Lincoln, Nebraska, pitched in at least two other competitions in the past. By doing so, he gained valuable experience while connecting with other entrepreneurs.

"Students looking to start a business should feel confident they have the resources to succeed. The prep sessions helped us validate our business idea, model and pitch. We received feedback about the holes in our pitches that we otherwise wouldn't have noticed," said Phan.

UNL winners from the Governor’s New Venture competition include:

First Place ($20,000): Tan Phan, senior computer science and math major from Lincoln, and Samuel Ingledue, senior software engineering major from Gretna, Nebraska, secured the grand prize for their venture PrivyAI. PrivyAI sources high-quality, redacted training data for AI developers and companies.

Second Place ($15,000): Cattle Kettle, a stock tank management company that simplifies managing cattle tanks, allows ranchers to monitor and control their tanks remotely. Cattle Kettle is led by Brooke Bode, junior mechanical engineering major from Hershey, Nebraska, and Seth Daup, junior finance major from Gothenburg, Nebraska.

Third Place ($10,000): Dyslexico, an assistive writing platform that uses AI-powered spelling and grammar corrections, dyslexia accessibility tools, and powerful analytics to help people with dyslexia grow as writers and communicate with confidence. Dyslexico is led by Bridget Peterkin, senior computer science and math major from Omaha, Nebraska, and Tristan Curd, computer science major from Omaha.

Other University of Nebraska–Lincoln Finalist Teams (In alphabetical order):

2% Football
2% Football, founded and owned by Eduardo Sicilia Ayala, a Clifton Builders management and marketing major from Cancún, Mexico, provides humanized scouting reports for football teams in the United States and Mexico. He presented with Gabriel Clark, software engineering major from Lincoln.

Farmstead Sense
Nipuna Chamara, biological engineering doctoral student from Lincoln, and Finnegan Kramer, sophomore biological systems engineering major from Lincoln developed Farmstead Sense, a cutting-edge see-and-spray technology for center pivot irrigation systems.

FuturHerd Solutions
FuturHerd Solutions is a livestock technology startup dedicated to addressing prevalent caretaker challenges through innovative solutions led by Aaron Holliday, an animal science graduate student from Columbus, Nebraska, and Brooke Parrish, a doctoral student in animal science from Elmwood, Illinois.

InfoFilm is an agricultural communications business founded by Madison Kreifels, junior agricultural communications and journalism major from Syracuse, Nebraska, that focuses on growing consumer and producer relationships in the agriculture industry. She presented with Seth Wright, a junior agribusiness and management major from Petersburg, Nebraska.

INFR is an intelligent image management system to improve workflows and make image data valuable, led by Maci Wilson, senior computer science major from Omaha.

The Nebraska Center for Entrepreneurship is a hub for students of all majors who want to pursue their ideas for a business, dream of owning a franchise or taking over their family business, or exploring their career options. In April, the center will host the university’s 37th annual New Venture Competition. Interested students should visit

Published: February 22, 2024