Entrepreneurs with ties to the University of Nebraska were among those receiving top honors at the 2016 Pipeline Innovator of the Year event, a gala that drew 600 of the Midwest’s top entrepreneurial leaders to Kansas City last Thursday.
The NU president’s office is a sponsor of Pipeline via the University of Nebraska Technology Development Corp., headed by James Linder, M.D.
“One of the University of Nebraska’s most important responsibilities is providing a skilled workforce for the state. That includes fostering a culture of entrepreneurship across our campuses,” said NU President Hank Bounds. “We want to prepare our students not only to get jobs, but to create jobs. Our strong showing at this year’s Pipeline event is the latest example that our students are learning how to turn their big ideas into action – and that our faculty are providing the necessary mentorship. I’m incredibly proud of the University of Nebraska students, alumni and staff who participated in the Pipeline event and who are working daily to build a vibrant, highly skilled workforce in Nebraska.”
Those recognized at the annual celebration, attended by top entrepreneurs, investors, news reporters and others, included:
- Dusty Reynolds, a University of Nebraska at Kearney graduate and founder of Omaha-based RaceNote Inc., was named Pipeline’s Innovator of the Year. He was chosen from among a dozen other entrepreneurs who participated in Pipeline’s fellowship program, a rigorous business leadership development “boot camp,” over the past year. Reynolds won based on his performance as a Pipeline fellow, his business plan and pitch presentation. RaceNote, launched in 2013, provides a motorsports management platform to help auto teams race faster.
- Christopher Aumueller, a Ph.D. student in the management department within the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s College of Business Administration, was NU’s representative in the first-ever “university spotlight” portion of the Pipeline event. Aumueller, whose startup company, Fanlete, aims to be a one-stop shop for college sports news, joined student entrepreneurs from the University of Kansas, University of Missouri-Columbia and University of Washington in St. Louis in pitching their business ideas to the Innovator of the Year audience.
- Mark Zmarzly, a UNL graduate and founder and CEO of Lincoln-based Hip Pocket LLC, won the Top Pitch Award. Hip Pocket creates sales software for banks and credit unions that want to generate more loans.
- Pipeline announced its 2016 class of fellows and NU graduates are well-represented. Fellows include Keith Fix, a University of Nebraska at Omaha graduate and previous winner of NU’s Peter Kiewit Student Entrepreneurial Award who founded Omaha-based blabfeed, which manages hardware and software applications in digital displays; Justin Kallhoff, a UNL graduate who founded Lincoln-based Infogressive Inc., a global cybersecurity firm; Devon Seacrest, a UNL alum who founded Lincoln-based Realbot Inc.; and Vishal Singh, founder and CEO of Lincoln-based Quantified Ag, a livestock data analytics company that is among the private-sector partners at Nebraska Innovation Campus. Singh, whose company has developed a tool to measure animal health and well-being that has been dubbed a “Fitbit for cattle,” holds degrees from UNL and UNK.
Aumueller, who majored in marketing and economics at UNL and then earned his MBA there, was chosen to give a “university spotlight” presentation after entering a pitch competition at UNL’s Center for Entrepreneurship in October. His startup, Fanlete, will be a mobile app and later a desktop program as well that provides sports rankings, records and scores, allowing users to choose which teams they want to follow and offering traditional components of social media, like the ability to upload content.
Aumueller came up with the idea for Fanlete as an undergraduate playing tennis at UNL. Being a student-athlete showed him firsthand the challenges that smaller sports teams in particular face in connecting with their fan bases, he said. He also came to believe there wasn’t an effective and efficient way for fans to follow their favorite teams.
“There are approximately 18,000 college sports teams, 2,000 schools, 40 different sports, half a million student-atheltes and 190 million fans,” Aumueller said. “Yet there is not a single platform that allows the user to experience college sports the way he or she wants to.”
According to Aumueller’s research, the average college sports fan typically visits three different websites to get their sports news.
“I decided to do something about it,” he said.
With guidance from UNL faculty members, he developed Fanlete and finessed his business pitch. He credited Samuel Nelson, interim director of UNL’s Center for Entrepreneurship, for mentoring him over the past year.
“Chris is a great ambassador for our university and a proven competitor,” Nelson said. “I have had the pleasure of watching Chris develop and pursue his idea for nearly two years. He continues to combine his talents and his work ethic to achieve great things as both an innovator and an entrepreneur.”
Aumueller called the opportunity to pitch at the Innovator of the Year event “an incredible experience.” He plans to continue developing Fanlete while he finishes his Ph.D.
University of Nebraska
Office: (402) 472-7127