A local Lincoln startup business called Sentinel Fertigation, which focuses on achieving environmental sustainability through fertigation technology, received a $25,000 check last December in an effort to rapidly grow the business.
This money came from a newly founded student-run organization on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln campus called the Husker Venture Fund.
Emily Kist, a UNL senior and co-founder of HVF, started the Fund in January of 2021 with Adam Folsom, another student in the UNL College of Business.
“The motivation in building the Husker Venture Fund was born out of the desire for a UNL student community built around venture capital and angel investing,” Kist said. “This desire led to conversations that unlocked a greater need for education, exposure, and early-stage funding in Nebraska.”
The Husker Venture Fund, which now has 27 members, three faculty advisers, and is a registered student organization, serves as a means to get business students the experience and knowledge they need in business investments and simultaneously provides local small businesses in Lincoln the chance to earn sizable investments in their business.
Keith Nordling, UNL senior and the director of Marketing and Outreach in HVF, said the Husker Venture Fund has given him many opportunities. Nordling, a Minnesota native, came to UNL to attend the College of Business and was one of the first few students to join HVF in January of 2021.
“HVF has given me a unique perspective as a business owner myself that I wouldn’t have been able to see unless I was trying to raise money on my own for my business,” Nordling said. “I’ve had the opportunity to meet new friends, as well as the opportunity to meet many ambitious startup founders.”
The organization has accumulated roughly $1 million dollars through donations from College of Business alumni, as well as private donors. HVF then uses the funding to invest in local startup companies in the Nebraska community.
The Husker Venture Fund just made its first equity capital deal with Sentinel Fertigation in December of 2021, but its goal is to make four investments in different companies per year from here on out.
“We figure a good schedule for ourselves is to try and achieve four investments per year, all hovering around the $25,000 range,” Nordling said. “We like to give ourselves enough time to thoroughly study the startup and be smart with the capital investments.”
The study and analysis process of a company entails reviewing a company’s business fundamentals, market competition, potential issues, and financial data.
The venture capital process for HVF looks like this: The local startup businesses reach out to the Husker Venture Fund to pitch their businesses, business data, and what they’re trying to achieve. The Husker Venture Fund team then studies the businesses and determines if said business would meet the criteria that the Fund searches for. Once they’ve come to a conclusion, they either kindly turn a business away, or make an investment pitch to the business. Once HVF and the cooperating business can reach an agreement on the equity stake and deal terms, the deal is done.
Another aspect the Husker Venture Fund focuses on is the curriculum it spreads to its members. The principles of venture capital and investing are important to the leaders of the Husker Venture Fund, as well as establishing a solid foundation for how the principles are learned.
The Husker Venture Fund meets once a week for a team meeting, and the group also meets frequently for many different bonding activities like sharing meals together, visiting local coffee houses and studying together.
“I am so proud of our entire team that has helped us reach huge milestones in our very first year,” Kist said. “Thanks to members, advisors, donors and supporters, we were able to exceed our early goals. We recruited over 20 students, raised nearly $1 million, and have made a first investment all in one year, and all of that is more than we could have ever dreamed of.”
The Husker Venture Fund just recently started, but organizers said they plan on accomplishing so much more in the future.