Carter leverages twist on a Nebraska classic into scholarships, connections

· 3 min read

Carter leverages twist on a Nebraska classic into scholarships, connections

Alexa Carter holds her chili roll creation.
Craig Chandler | University Communication and Marketing
Alexa Carter holds her chili roll creation.

It’s a combination as Midwestern as wind and winter, but far more delicious.

For decades, Nebraskans (and others across the Midwest) have feasted on chili and cinnamon rolls, and extolled the virtues of the flavor combination.

While competing in the Nebraska Youth Beef Leadership Symposium in high school, Alexa Carter of Rising City, found support for her “chili roll” concept from Tiffany Heng-Moss, dean of the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, and the Engler Agribusiness Entrepreneurship Program.

The “culinary challenge” portion of the animal science program’s symposium for high schoolers required students to brainstorm ideas for and create an original beef product. Carter, now a first-year agricultural education student, found herself explaining to a teammate from Kentucky the ins and outs of two Nebraska favorites: Runzas, and the chili and cinnamon roll combo.

“Suddenly I thought, ‘Wait, why don’t we combine the two?’” Carter said.

Video: Recipe for business

Thus, Carter’s chili roll was born.

This unique twist on two Nebraska favorites went on to win the competition and grabbed the attention of Heng-Moss, who served as a panel judge for the challenge.

“It was a mind-blowing moment,” she said of being approached by Heng-Moss to further develop her idea. “I reached out to her after the symposium, and that’s how I got connected with the Engler Program.”

Following up on this interaction helped Carter earn both an Engler Program scholarship and the CASNR Change Maker scholarship.

The Engler Agribusiness Entrepreneurship Program, one of several entrepreneurial-focused programs at UNL, has helped Carter fine-tune her pitch (and recipe) for the chili roll. Engler classes have led Carter to set goals for the chili roll’s future while connecting her with culinary experts that have lent some scientific expertise to the recipe.

“I’ve met with Wahadi Allen (executive chef for Dining Services at UNL) to get the final concept down and talk about production. Now, I really want to slow it down and hopefully take it to tailgates next fall,” Carter said.

Getting that final concept down has proved challenging. And, like any good entrepreneur, Carter already knows your biggest question about her product.

“People always ask me, ‘How is it not soggy?’ And that’s where the science part of it comes in,” she said. “I say it’s more like the ‘concept’ of chili — we had to experiment with removing the liquids and try all sorts of spices and ingredients to get it right.”

And while Carter continues to incubate the idea and eye next fall for a larger rollout, she’s also looking forward to pursuing new, non-chili roll ideas through Engler.

“I definitely want to focus on this idea now since it’s gotten me so far, but I have other ideas I want to explore and develop, too,” she said.

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