Bugeater Foods, Red Thread Creative earn entrepreneur honors
Husker alumni and a current student have earned the 2017 President’s Excellence Awards, which are the University of Nebraska’s top entrepreneurship honors.
Red Thread Creative, a Lincoln-based creative studio founded by University of Nebraska–Lincoln alumni, is winner of the Walter Scott Entrepreneurial Business Award. The Peter Kiewit Student Entrepreneurial Award winner is Julianna Kopf, a Husker graduate student in food science and technology who co-founded Bugeater Foods, a company working to develop nutritious, sustainable insect-based foods.
The awards, announced May 18 by University of Nebraska President Hank Bounds, recognize university system students and businesses with ties to the university that use technology to expand entrepreneurial activity in the state and build a vibrant and innovation-based economy.
“If we want to grow Nebraska, we need to continue to encourage entrepreneurship across our state so that we’re not just filling the jobs of today, but creating the jobs of tomorrow,” Bounds said. “The University of Nebraska, which educates the future workforce and conducts research that translates into products and new businesses, will be vital player. I’m proud to honor Red Thread Creative and Bugeater Foods for their work. These companies and the university alumni who founded them show me that Nebraska’s future is bright.”
The Walter Scott award is designed to encourage existing businesses with a presence in Nebraska to create partnerships with the university in the area of technology. The award comes with a $10,000 prize to be used for the promotion and/or creation of student work experience in the fields of information science, technology or engineering.
Red Thread Creative’s name is based on a proverb that says people who are destined to meet are connected by a red thread. Co-founders Adam Kroft, Rhett Muller and Brendon Henning met at Nebraska — and even as their company has taken off, they haven’t forgotten their university connection. Six of Red Thread’s eight employees are Husker alumni.
In 2016, Red Thread took on the challenge of recruiting students from around the world to Nebraska’s elite Jeffrey S. Raikes School of Computer Science and Management. The agency came up with an innovative way to reach prospective students, designing a virtual reality experience for those who couldn’t personally visit Nebraska. The 360-degree videos, viewable on a smartphone, allowed prospective students to see Lincoln, tour campus, “eat” in the dining hall and stand at the 50-yard line in Memorial Stadium, all without leaving their home.
The campaign was a success. The Raikes School usually aims to receive 125 applications a year, but last year more than 180 students applied. The average ACT score of the applicant pool also rose.
“We remember not long ago being students at UNL, dreaming of creating work in the real world,” said Kroft, Red Thread’s account director, who grew the business out of freelance work he started while on campus. “And then to create meaningful work for our university — to have our worlds spin around like that — was a dream come true in the best way.”
Red Thread, which has also done work for United Way of Lincoln and Lancaster County, the College of Hair Design and other clients, will use its prize money to expand its virtual reality capabilities and deepen its connections with the university and Lincoln technology community.
The Peter Kiewit award recognizes students who have directed their energies, ideas and talents toward community and business improvements with the innovative use of information technology. A $2,500 prize accompanies the award.
Kopf, alongside Nebraska alumni Kelly Sturek and Alec Wiese, founded Bugeater Foods with the goal of changing perception of insect-based foods in Western countries. The company, which operates at Nebraska Innovation Campus, develops insect-based food products that are sold online as well as in Lincoln and Omaha Hy-Vee stores. “Jump,” Bugeater Foods’ cricket protein shake, was the first product of its kind to be sold in the North American market.