Five student-led entrepreneurship projects collected top honors during the University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s annual New Venture Competition on April 3-4.
The competition featured more than 40 student teams pitching business plans to a panel of judges that included local entrepreneurs, Nebraska Business alumni and industry professionals. Four teams advanced for final presentations, seeking a share of more than $75,000 in prize money.
The final presentations ranged from a startup aiming to provide early cancer detection to an animal welfare project looking to save lives through data-management software.
“The level of excitement the students showed, along with the time and effort they put in to represent themselves and the university, blew me away,” said Sam Nelson, director of the university’s Center for Entrepreneurship. “We saw computer science majors pair up with a business student in NovocAI’s cancer detection project. It’s great to see that recognition of the value of collaboration because, at the end of the day, that is a key component of entrepreneurship.”
Grand prize honors went to Justin Collier and Lizz Whitacre for Pawlytics, data-management software for animal welfare organizations intended to save lives of companion animals; and Joseph and Matthew Brugger, brothers who run Upstream Farms, through which they sell agricultural products, provide consulting services and offer seed solutions to farmers. Each grand prize project received $25,000.
Paul Hogan, a 1985 alumnus and chairman/co-founder of Home Instead Senior Care, served as a judge and was impressed by the ingenuity of the grand prize winners.
“I thought Pawlytics and Upstream Farms were both innovative and scalable,” Hogan said. “Pawlytics can find success making the animal welfare industry more efficient, something that hasn’t really been seen in the past 100 years. Upstream Farms can bring innovation to rural areas and the growers in them by diversifying their efforts. They showed great results, too, and are beyond a prototype stage. They’re actually doing it.”
Joseph Brugger, a junior applied science major from Albion, credited a portion of Upstream Farm’s success to the university’s Engler Agribusiness Entrepreneurship Program.
“Between Matthew and I, we have a lot of passions we know we want to do for the rest of our lives,” Joseph said. “We started this business not knowing what we wanted to do with it. The Engler program really helped focus our passions and ambitions. Now, after winning the New Venture Competition and listening to the feedback from the judges, we can take our business to the next level.”
The event concluded with a networking session between competitors and judges.
“It’s exciting to see students come up with innovative ideas and apply them to relevant industries,” Hogan said. “What stands out to me about this competition is it’s not a one-and-done thing. If you’re serious about being an entrepreneur, you learn from your experiences, come back and you won’t give up.”
Winners of the 2018 New Venture Competition are:
Grand prize ($25,000): Justin Collier, a senior computer science major from Lincoln, and Lizz Whitacre. Pawlytics is data-management software for animal welfare organizations that can assist in saving the lives of companion animals.
Grand prize ($25,000): Joseph Brugger and Matthew Brugger, a junior applied science major from Albion. The brothers run Upstream Farms, which sells agriculture products, does consulting work and provides seed solutions to farmers.
First runner-up ($10,000): Brooke Lehman, a senior advertising and public relations major from Lincoln. Dwell Dinner and Co. creates spaces for people to make connections through the use of meals, speakers and other activities.
Second runner-up ($7,500): Trevor Fellbaum, a sophomore computer science major from Bellevue; Joshua Jones, a junior economics and computer science major from Omaha; and Joey Lydiatt, a sophomore management major from Bellevue. NovocAI is diagnostic software used to detect cancer quickly with the assistance of artificial intelligence.
Thomas G. Guy Startup Team Award ($2,500): Kaitlyn Hundt, a sophomore management major from Lincoln; Kristen Mohr, a junior management major from Butte; and Johanna Snodgrass, a junior marketing major from Bellevue. Frizz Free is a hair-care product used to manage the “frizziness” of hair on dry-weather days.