New Venture Competition awards $65,000 to Husker student startups

May 07, 2024      By Kimberly Smith | Business

Forty-eight student teams representing 44 majors competed in the 37th annual New Venture Competition on April 16 and 18.
Forty-eight student teams representing 44 majors competed in the 37th annual New Venture Competition on April 16 and 18.

The University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s Center for Entrepreneurship hosted the 37th annual New Venture Competition, a business plan pitch event with $65,000 in funding in prizes, on April 16 and 18. 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, a senior Clifton Builders management and marketing major from Cancún, Mexico, founded his startup as a freshman and has been 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. 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,” he said. “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.”

Sicilia Ayala, set to graduate in May, credits much of his success to “randomly walking into the center in Hawks Hall four years ago.” He serves as president of StartupsUNL and as 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, Brooke Parrish, graduate student in animal science from Elmwood, Illinois. FuturHerd Solutions is a livestock tech startup addressing prevalent caretaker challenges, and it features a Nursery Nanny robot.
  • Third place ($10,000) — TeachFront, Lena Lankas, sophomore computer science major from Lincoln, and Peyton Peck, sophomore computer science major from Overland Park, Kansas. The students, part of the Jeffrey S. Raikes School of Computer Science and Management, aim to provide educators with tools to implement mastery grading in their classrooms.
  • Fourth place ($7,500) — InfoFilm, Madison Kreifels, junior agricultural and environmental sciences communication major from Syracuse. 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 of $2,500 for collaborating with their teammates during the competition. The teams are:

  • Bakers Batter, Carlos Ferrer Moya, junior business administration major from Grand Island, 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; Gabe Ervin Jr., senior management 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 75 teams applied for the competition, with 48 selected. The Center for Entrepreneurship also added a new bracket 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,” said Sam Nelson, the center’s director and associate professor of practice in management. “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.”

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, a mobile bar and photo booth for various gatherings in Omaha, Lincoln and surrounding areas.

“I really care about people and the moments that we spend together,” said Miller, a senior animal science major from Mead. “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.”

Jeff Vaske, a Husker alumnus and founder and president of Charter Hill Partners in Omaha, said he believed it was the strongest New Venture Competition to date. 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,” he said. “I spoke with several people today who said all 48 teams had fully vetted, thought-out plans. I’m thrilled to see this progression at Nebraska, and it shows how strong the entrepreneurial community is here.”

Students 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 classes.

“The center is available to anyone, any time for help with their startups,” said Amanda Metcalf, program and external relations manager. “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.”