Student entrepreneurs from across the University of Nebraska–Lincoln faced-off in the Center for Entrepreneurship New Venture Competition March 27-28 at the Nebraska Union. Students earned $67,500 in prize money, including a $50,000 grand prize. Reminiscent of the NCAA basketball March Madness tournament, teams competed in a bracket format and advanced through two preliminary rounds. After elimination rounds, four teams competed head-to-head in the finals.
Dr. Sam Nelson, director of the Center for Entrepreneurship and assistant professor of practice in management, stressed student improvement occurred this year by increasing the number of smaller competitions leading up to the New Venture Competition. He believes the prep time groups undertook consulting with Center for Entrepreneurship staff also showed.
“We held multiple open houses two weeks prior and most of the groups showed up for consultations,” said Nelson. “They showed us their pitch and we gave feedback into areas of their business plan to improve.”
His goal to turn out more students this year paid off, growing the number of presentations from 30 to 44. The event showcased a wide cross-section of Nebraska students.
“Students from multiple colleges at both undergraduate and graduate levels participated. The entrepreneurship minor and our MBA entrepreneurship course motivate undergraduates, master’s students, as well as, Ph.D. students. The more we grow in all directions, better and more developed ideas rise to the surface,” he said.
Nelson lauded the more than 40 competition judges as being most important to the success of the program. Larry Hupka ’72, retired PricewaterhouseCoopers partner, came to Lincoln from his home in Loveland, Colorado, to judge. He related how his 35 years of experience in strategic financial planning helps young entrepreneurs.
“Many new businesses have a hard time thinking through how finances work,” said Hupka. “How are you going to operate your first couple years? A lot of presentations don’t have much financial information yet. Students learn to go through the process and judges give those pointers to tell them what they’re missing. It gets back to why students are here – education.”
The winning competitor, Grant Suddarth, a sophomore agricultural economics major from York, Nebraska, utilized a team approach for his budding company Terrace Ag. The event encourages students to partner with experts and advisors to cultivate success. Terrace Ag features a robust software program allowing farm appraisers to speed up their work by consolidating data entry. Suddarth interned for an appraiser last summer, and learned the hard way no current software existed to expedite the farm appraisal process.
“After sitting in an office for hours and hours you think, ‘There’s got to be a better way,’” said Suddarth. “I made connections with tech people through the Nebraska Engler scholarship program and with appraisal people through my internship. I’m in the middle of bringing it all together.”
Suddarth had never presented his business plan in an environment like the New Venture Competition. He listened to judge’s feedback in opening rounds to make improvements as he advanced.
“The competition helped me put my ideas together to give a unified presentation. It made me focus on what my desired goal for the business really is, so I understood it inside and out. The judges clarified things I can change going forward,” he said.
Competitors winning cash prizes included
· Thomas G. Guy Startup Team Award (team demonstrating best organization and collaboration) - Junlin Yao, senior computer science major from Shanghai, China. Yao is a founder of IWolf, a company using the WerewolfKill game to create a brand new way for college students to socialize.
· Fourth Place - $3,000: Matt Foley, senior economics and management major from Lincoln, Nebraska. Foley runs FarmAfield, an online marketplace platform that allows farmers to manage their income volatility risk.
· Third Place - $5,000: Julianne Kopf, master’s student in food science from Falls City, Nebraska. Kopf is a co-founder of Bugeater Foods, which makes insect-based food products.
· Second Place - $7,500: Mattie Fowler, MBA student from Tucson, Arizona. Fowler is one of the founders of Sportspark, which will partner with Pima County, Arizona, to renovate, operate and re-establish the Mike Jacob Sports Park as the premier complex for youth sports in Tucson, Arizona.
· Grand Prize - $50,000: Grant Suddarth, sophomore agricultural economics major from York, Nebraska. Suddarth developed Terrace Ag software, which can save ag appraisers 25 percent time per appraisal and can increase their revenues by $35,000 per year.
To learn more about the College of Business Administration Center for Entrepreneurship, visit: http://cba.unl.edu/entrepreneurship