Members of the Husker Venture Fund, a student-led venture capital fund, awarded their debut investment of $25,000 to startup Sentinel Fertigation and its founder Jackson Stansell, a doctoral student in biological systems engineering at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. A partnership between the College of Business and Invest Nebraska, the HVF seeks to bridge the funding gap that early-stage startups in Nebraska often experience.
It’s a huge honor to be the first investment from the Husker Venture Fund,” said Stansell, a Dothan, Alabama, native who earned his bachelor’s degree in bioenvironmental engineering at Harvard University and a master’s in agricultural and biological systems engineering from Nebraska. “After they did some initial due diligence and I got to pitch to them, they asked some of the best questions I’ve gotten in my entire investment or fundraising process. I hope I can make them proud.”
Sentinel Fertigation looks to solve profitability and environmental sustainability issues in agriculture caused by inefficient nitrogen fertilization. By using technologies to improve nitrogen applications in the field, the startup saves farmers money while also being more environmentally conscious. Stansell plans to use the investment for further web application development, helping his ag-tech startup deal with extraneous costs and potentially add more features.
“We are so glad that Sentinel Fertigation is our first investment,” said Adam Folsom, a senior finance and management major from Omaha who serves as one of three managing directors for the fund. “The main driver behind our decision was our trust and belief in Jackson as a founder. He is unbelievably bright and making quick strides to become a successful entrepreneur. Our team is 100% behind Jackson and his mission at Sentinel Fertigation and excited to see his impact as a Nebraska-based founder.”
The fund, built by alumni and university supporters, is managed by 26 students under the supervision of the Center for Entrepreneurship, the University of Nebraska Foundation and Invest Nebraska. All Nebraska-owned early-stage startups in any industry are eligible to apply for the Husker Venture Fund, with priority given to student-led businesses. The funding helps connect underserved communities of entrepreneurs with the resources and capital they need.
“In Nebraska’s ecosystem as it stands today, the funding cycle has a really big gap in the very early stage of startups,” said Joe Petsick, executive-in-residence and assistant professor of practice in management, who also serves as the fund’s faculty adviser. “The Husker Venture Fund offers people a shot they didn’t have before, and that could be transformational for the state. All investing in early-stage startups happens basically through friends and family, so if you don’t have that network, your ability to get a company started is incredibly challenging.”
The fund provides a hands-on learning experience of engaging with the venture capital process. After multiple weeks of an intensive boot camp, students undertook the process of finding their first investment. Students completed due diligence, consulted with their advising team and voted on the investment in Sentinel Fertigation.
“It presents a win-win situation for our students and community,” Petsick said. “These 20-plus students get invaluable real-world experience that gives them access to participate in venture capital opportunities. As the mission of our university and this program focuses on increasing accessibility, it’s only fitting that their first investment paid it forward to another student who needed access to funding to bring his business to life.”
Stansell said: “I’ve heard from a lot of investors so far that we’re too early or there’s not enough traction. Ultimately, with a business like this, when you need to hire people and have resources and support to execute, that funding gap can really slow down progress. The Husker Venture Fund was built to get these things off the ground.”
Learn more about the Husker Venture Fund. Nebraska-based founders seeking investment can submit funding applications any time and are reviewed on a rolling basis.
For more information on the fund’s launch, click here.