Big Ideas From Young Nebraska Entrepreneurs
By Mike Tobias , Senior Producer, Nebraska Public Media
April 19, 2021, 7:33 p.m. ·
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High school entrepreneurs pitched business ideas in a statewide contest held by the University of Nebraska at Kearney.
This story is part of the NET “What If…” project on innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship in Nebraska. Watch “What If…” episodes and stories at netNebraska.org/WhatIf.
The event was called the Big Idea Nebraska High School competition. UNK’s Center for Entrepreneurship and Rural Development has held similar contests in the past, but this was the first for high school students. “The goal is to just to inspire entrepreneurial thinking among young people and get them excited about big ideas,” says Aliese Hoffman, assistant director of the Center and Big Idea organizer.
Ten finalists pitched ideas in early April during a Zoom event. These young entrepreneurs from across the state had a few minutes each to present and field questions from judges, with a few hundred teachers, students and others watching and voting on the winners. Among the ideas: a longboard shop; a smoothie business; two platforms to help artists sell art; an adjustable golf club; a cool pillow; and a mattress pad alarm clock.
All competing for cash prizes sponsored by the Nebraska Entrepreneurial Task Force.
Sydney Redden earned $250 for her third place finish in the Big Idea competition. A junior at Wayne High School, she’s already baker making cakes for weddings and other occasions. She saw a demand for a local bakery making cakes, donuts, cookies and specialty breads.
“All my competitors in Wayne are not full-time bakers,” Redden said in her pitch. “Helios Bakery would be the first and only gourmet bakery. Consumers in Wayne are already going out-of-town for specialty deserts.”
Redden thinks her bakery will be good for Wayne’s economy, plus feed her artsy and entrepreneurial sides.
“I just kind of wanted to see where people's opinions were. I just kept asking around, and that's kind of where my idea evolved. And I love to bake,” Redden says. “I'm very self-motivated and when an idea pops in my head, I just kind of run with it.”
Multiuse Tub Lifter
Callie Minnick, who finished second, has always lived on a farm near Red Cloud and like most farm kinds, always helped with chores. When her dad had major health issues Minnick started doing more, taking over the cattle operation. That means moving 225 pound tubs of protein supplements, a tough challenge for anyone. Her solution was her Big Idea pitch.
“The multiuse tub lifter. It is a chain that wraps around your tub, and pins to fit the size of your tub,” Minnick described the idea in her presentation. A device making it easier to move the tubs and other heavy things with a skid loader.
Entering Big Idea helped inspire Minnick and her invention, and she plans to use some of the $500 prize to make one of the multiuse tub lifters.
“I was focused on, can I impact this world with my product? Can I actually make it? So I tried super hard and I thought of good ways to make it,” says Minnick, a sophomore at Red Cloud High School who wants to farm and work for herself after she’s done with school. “I will probably always have that entrepreneurship in my life.”
Karlee Revers pitched her idea, called EyeWaves, with the belief that “little fashionista girls need ways to express themselves with different colors, texture and glitter.”
A senior at Concordia High School in Omaha, Revers saw an opportunity in fashion with clear, hollow eyeglass frames that can be filled with different liquids though a hidden hole. EyeWaves was the Big Idea High School winner, earning her $1000 and reigniting an interest in entrepreneurship.
“This is such a great field and it's just really nice going out there and talking to people and just like getting your ideas out there, sharing your ideas out there,” she says. “As I was thinking about it, ‘wow,’ this is a really simple invention that could just easily just change fashion.”
Inspiring Young Entrepreneurs
“I hope they were inspired, the students who submitted ideas and didn't make it to the top 10. And even the teachers who shared this live experience with their classes,” Hoffman says. “I hope everybody tuning in just got excited and inspired, and now they start thinking about their own ideas.”
Hoffman was impressed by the creativity of the finalists. “These weren't just off-the-wall ideas that were never going to happen. These are things they can really work on and pursue. It’s something they really care about, so I wouldn't be surprised if a few years down the road, we see that some of these ideas are actually being pursued by these students.”
The UNK Center for Entrepreneurship and Rural Development plans to continue the competition next year. Still virtually, which makes it easier for more students statewide to participate. Because it appears Nebraska high schoolers have a lot of big ideas.
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