University of Nebraska names Scott, Kiewit entrepreneurial award winners
University of Nebraska President Hank Bounds announced today the 2017 winners of the President’s Excellence Awards, NU’s most prestigious honors for efforts in entrepreneurship: the Walter Scott Entrepreneurial Business Award and the Peter Kiewit Student Entrepreneurial Award.
The President’s Excellence Awards recognize NU students and businesses with ties to the university that are using technology to expand entrepreneurial activity in the state and build a vibrant and innovation-based economy – both high priorities for the university.
This year’s Walter Scott award winner is Red Thread Creative, a Lincoln-based creative studio founded by University of Nebraska-Lincoln alumni. The Peter Kiewit award winner is Julianne Kopf, a Nebraska graduate student in food science and technology who co-founded Bugeater Foods, a company working to develop nutritious, sustainable insect-based foods.
“If we want to grow Nebraska, we need to continue to encourage entrepreneurship across our state so that we’re not just filling the jobs of today, but creating the jobs of tomorrow,” Bounds said. “The University of Nebraska, which educates the future workforce and conducts research that translates into products and new businesses, will be vital player. I’m proud to honor Red Thread Creative and Bugeater Foods for their work. These companies and the university alumni who founded them show me that Nebraska’s future is bright.”
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 experience in the fields of information science, technology or engineering.
Red Thread Creative’s name is based on a proverb that says people who are destined to meet are connected by a red thread. Co-founders Adam Kroft, Rhett Muller and Brendon Henning met at Nebraska – and even as their company has taken off, they haven’t forgotten their university connection. Six of Red Thread’s eight employees are Nebraska alumni.
In 2016, Red Thread took on the challenge of recruiting students from around the world to Nebraska’s elite Jeffrey S. Raikes School of Computer Science and Management. The agency came up with an innovative way to reach prospective students, designing a virtual reality experience for those who couldn’t personally visit Nebraska. The 360-degree videos, viewable on a smartphone, allowed prospective students to see Lincoln, tour campus, “eat” in the dining hall and stand at the 50-yard line in Memorial Stadium, all without leaving their home.
The campaign was a success. The Raikes School usually aims to receive 125 applications a year, but last year more than 180 students applied. The average ACT score of the applicant pool also rose.
“We remember not long ago being students at UNL, dreaming of creating work in the real world,” said Kroft, Red Thread’s account director, who grew the business out of freelance work he began at Nebraska. “And then to create meaningful work for our university – to have our worlds spin around like that – was a dream come true in the best way.”
Red Thread, which has also done work for United Way of Lincoln and Lancaster County, the College of Hair Design and other clients, will use its prize money to expand its virtual reality capabilities and deepen its connections with the university and Lincoln technology community.
The Peter Kiewit award recognizes University of Nebraska students who have directed their energies, ideas and talents toward community and business improvements with the innovative use of information technology. A $2,500 prize accompanies the award.
Kopf, alongside Nebraska alumni Kelly Sturek and Alec Wiese, founded Bugeater Foods with the goal of changing perception of insect-based foods in Western countries. The company, which operates at Nebraska Innovation Campus, develops insect-based food products that are sold online as well as in Lincoln and Omaha Hy-Vee stores. “Jump,” Bugeater Foods’ cricket protein shake, was the first product of its kind to be sold in the North American market.
Insect-based foods, which are high in protein and other nutrients, could be key to addressing hunger challenges in less developed countries where access to nutritious food is limited. Bugeater Foods in 2016 received a $10,000 U.S. Department of Agriculture grant to continue its research.
“I am very honored to receive this award,” said Kopf, who also serves as the food industry administrator for the North American Edible Insect Coalition. “The University of Nebraska and UNL Food Innovation Center have been major players in our success. Our mentors and the university’s resources have been the keys to getting our products on store shelves so fast.”
Red Thread Creative and Bugeater Foods are being honored today at a luncheon hosted by Bounds.
Director of Communications University of Nebraska