University of Nebraska names Kiewit, Scott entrepreneurial award winners

University of Nebraska President James B. Milliken today announced the winners of two NU awards honoring extraordinary efforts in entrepreneurship in Nebraska: the Peter Kiewit Student Entrepreneurial Award and the Walter Scott Entrepreneurial Business Award.

The Peter Kiewit award recognizes University of Nebraska students who have directed their energies, ideas and talents toward community and business improvements with the creative and innovative use of information technology. The award is accompanied by a $2,500 prize.

This year’s Kiewit award winners are Robert LaMagna-Reiter, Felix Burgstaller and Manas Bharadwaj, master’s students at the University of Nebraska at Omaha who together have developed a business plan for a startup called STEM-Direct. The enterprise will provide affordable online tutoring to high school and college students in science, technology, engineering and math – fields that are widely acknowledged to be building blocks of a competitive economy.

STEM-Direct will offer tutoring services made possible through partnerships with schools, universities and business. Partners will be based primarily in Omaha although the students’ business plan can be scaled nationally.

According to the students’ business plan: “With the increasing use of technology in different areas of business across industries, there is an unparalleled demand for professionals with skills in STEM areas.” A report issued by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology concluded that the United States need to produce 1 million more STEM graduates than its current rate.

Yet despite this high demand, U.S. students do not compare favorably against students in other countries on STEM assessment tests. The challenge is exacerbated by the fact that many students cannot afford expensive tutoring to supplement their coursework. STEM-Direct will provide quality tutoring at an affordable cost so that more students can be prepared for college and career success.

“One of the most important things the University of Nebraska can do to ensure a competitive, vibrant economy is nurture the entrepreneurial spirit of our students,” Milliken said. “The team behind STEM-Direct provides an excellent example of how students can leverage their University of Nebraska education into a product that will serve people in the state and grow the economy. I commend these students for identifying a real need in the market and thinking of a creative way to meet it.”

The Walter Scott award is designed to encourage existing businesses with a presence in Nebraska to create partnerships with the University of Nebraska in the area of technology. The award comes with a $10,000 prize to be used for the promotion and/or creation of student work experiences in the fields of information science, technology and engineering.

This year’s Scott award winner is Hudl, a Lincoln-based company that provides video analysis tools to college, high school and professional sports teams. The company serves more than 11,000 high schools, 2,000 youth teams, 800 colleges, 10 NFL teams, eight NHL teams and one NBA team.

Hudl was founded by John Wirtz, Brian Kaiser and David Graff, all three of whom graduated from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Jeffrey S. Raikes School of Computer Science and Management. The students participated in the Raikes School’s “Design Studio” program, where students apply their software and business skills to solve a real-world problem. Through the program, the students realized that the sharing of videos of athletic practices and games could be a valuable training tool for sports teams – and the idea for Hudl was born.

Today Hudl employs about 80 people, most of whom are UNL graduates. Five to 10 UNL students intern at Hudl each year and many are hired as full-time employees when they graduate. Hudl employees speak to classes at the university and are involved in advising aspiring entrepreneurs, judging entrepreneurship competitions and serving on UNL alumni boards – serving as role models to students who dream of starting their own company someday.

Hudl intends to use its award money to support its ongoing partnership with the university, perhaps by expanding internship opportunities or sponsoring Design Studio projects at the Raikes School.

“Hudl is one of the most exciting success stories of student entrepreneurship in recent memory,” Milliken said. “These students – combining their creativity and drive, University of Nebraska education, and entrepreneurial spirit – identified a solution to a real-world challenge and brought it to the marketplace. The response has been tremendous. I could not be more proud of their success – or more appreciative of their continued partnership with the University of Nebraska. The community leadership, mentorship and engagement demonstrated by Hudl employees means we’ll be celebrating more success stories like theirs in the future – a great thing for Nebraska’s innovation economy.”

Both STEM-Direct and Hudl will be honored at a luncheon in May.

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Melissa Lee
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University of Nebraska
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