High schoolers win cash prizes, scholarships during UNK business pitch competition

KEARNEY – More than 50 students from 12 different high schools competed for cash prizes and college scholarships during a statewide business pitch contest organized by the University of Nebraska at Kearney’s Center for Entrepreneurship and Rural Development.

The second annual Big Idea Nebraska High School Competition concluded Wednesday, with participants from Chase County, Leigh, Axtell, Grand Island and Lincoln claiming the top honors.

Aliese Hoffman
Aliese Hoffman

“We are excited to see the number of entries and high schools reached through Big Idea Nebraska grow in the second year of hosting the program. Entries came from as far west as Chase County and as far east as Omaha, and the number of viewers more than doubled,” said Aliese Hoffman, assistant director of the Center for Entrepreneurship and Rural Development. “The students who submitted pitches should be proud of themselves for taking this step to share their ideas. My hope is that after Big Idea they know support and resources are available to them right here in Nebraska.”

Open to any high schooler in the state, the free event gives students an opportunity to learn more about entrepreneurship and business resources while promoting their own ideas.

Each student submitted a two-minute video of their business or product pitch, and the top 10 finalists presented their ideas Wednesday on Zoom. A panel of expert judges narrowed the final group to five contestants before an online audience vote determined the winners, who received $1,000 for first place, $500 for second, $250 for third and $50 for honorable mention. The winners also received matching scholarships to UNK.

Those students are:

First place – Morgan Peterson of Chase County Schools, MotivA+e, an app that rewards high school and college students for good grades by allowing them to scan their report cards to earn points that can be redeemed for gift cards.

Second place – Aubrie Hanna and Gabriel Pinkston of Leigh Community Schools, In-Tune Tutorials, an app that offers ukulele, guitar and violin lessons for people of all skill levels.

Third place – Joseph Fickenscher of Axtell Community School, Automated Precision Feeding System, a system that mixes and delivers feed and medication based on an individual animal’s needs.

Honorable mention – Colton Marsh and Kowsslo Teya of Grand Island Senior High School, Maintain0, a Bluetooth-enabled Breathalyzer that controls a vehicle’s ignition system based on the driver’s blood-alcohol content.

Honorable mention – Taylor Streich of Lincoln Southeast High School, Open Coffee Youth, an international organization that hosts networking meetings where like-minded youths share ideas, brainstorm and launch community projects that positively impact the world.

Judges for the final presentations were Megan Goeke, a local entrepreneur and assistant director, online coordinator and academic coach with the UNK College of Business and Technology Career Center; Mike Tobias, a host and producer with Nebraska Public Media; Andy Larson, an innovation and entrepreneurship educator with Nebraska Extension; and Justin Vrooman, a UNK student and entrepreneur.

The event was sponsored by the UNK College of Business and Technology, Nebraska Public Power District, Omaha Public Power District, Black Hills Energy and Metropolitan Utilities District.