By TYLER ELLYSON
KEARNEY – Emma Osowski doesn’t plan on applying for jobs when she graduates from the University of Nebraska at Kearney next year.
In fact, the 21-year-old Omaha resident hopes she’s never in that position.
“I don’t want to ever work for anybody in my life,” she said. “I want to be my own boss.”
Osowski is betting on her own ability to succeed in the business world, and her strategy is already paying dividends.
The young entrepreneur earned $1,000 in seed money Wednesday when she took first place in the Big Idea UNK competition.
Organized by the Center for Entrepreneurship and Rural Development, the contest awarded cash prizes to three UNK students with the best business concepts or product ideas. Osowski beat out 51 of her fellow Lopers for the top honor.
“I’ve always been a very entrepreneurial person,” Osowski said, but she’d never entered the contest before.
Lisa Tschauner, director of the Center for Entrepreneurship and Rural Development, encouraged her to participate. Tschauner is mentoring Osowski as part of an internship program that teaches students how to start their own business.
“She thought I’d have a really good chance to do well in this competition, and I guess she was right,” Osowski said with a laugh.
The UNK senior combined two of her passions – fashion and holistic health – to develop her business model. She wants to launch a tan-through swimwear line – SolHealth – that’s both trendy and beneficial.
“This swimwear is already on the market, but nobody wants to buy it. Customers aren’t happy with the style and design,” said Osowski, who is studying business administration with a health science minor.
Tan-through swimwear is created with a special fabric that allows a safe level of sunlight to reach the skin. In addition to reducing tan lines, Osowski says the extra exposure to sunlight can reduce a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer, promote vitamin D production and boost the immune system.
“I think the idea behind it is super awesome, but I would never wear this in front of my friends,” said Osowski, referencing the “really ugly” tan-through swimsuit she purchased about two years ago.
By starting SolHealth, Osowski intends to improve the style and design, turning tan-through swimwear into a “fashion statement” for women ages 18 to 45.
The former Loper softball player conducted market research through an introduction to customer discovery program offered by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and she plans to visit a textile manufacturer within the next month to get a better feel for production costs. Her Big Idea UNK winnings will be used to develop the prototypes that could eventually become products sold online.
“I really want to get this done by next summer,” Osowski said. “I think I have a pretty good idea of what I need to satisfy customers, now it’s just making it happen.”
Because of COVID-19, this year’s Big Idea contest was conducted virtually and limited to current UNK students. Eleven finalists presented their business pitches Wednesday afternoon on Zoom and a panel of judges narrowed the field to six before an audience vote determined the winners, who received $1,000 for first place, $500 for second and $250 for third.
Emily Miksch, a UNK freshman from Columbus, took second place with “Around the Table,” a program that would connect UNK students with local families so they could bond and eat homecooked meals together.
Third place went to UNK junior Hayden Nelson of Columbus, who presented an idea for a sporting goods store that focuses exclusively on disc golf.
“There were some really great ideas this year and I heard from all the judges that they had a hard time deciding which were the best,” Tschauner said.
Big Idea UNK was sponsored by the Center for Entrepreneurship and Rural Development, UNK College of Business and Technology and NUtech Ventures. Judges were Tonia Franklin from Nebraska Enterprise Fund, Joy Eakin from NUtech Ventures, Dustin Favinger from the College of Business and Technology and Jonah Staab, a two-time winner of Big Idea Kearney.
The annual Big Idea Kearney competition, which includes a division for community members, will return in 2021 for its 10th year.