State officials unveil ‘new venture’ student competition to find the ‘next Hudl’

Pillen rejects suggestion that ‘brain drain’ of recent college grads is caused by recent, less-progressive policies

By: - October 3, 2023 2:32 pm
Jim Pillen

Gov. Jim Pillen unveiled a new student contest for start-up ideas on Tuesday at Hudl’s headquarters in Lincoln. (Paul Hammel/Nebraska Examiner)

LINCOLN — State officials launched a new contest for student entrepreneurs Tuesday that they hope will lead to creating the “next Hudl,” a sports tech start-up that now employs 3,500 “Hudlies” across the world.

With about two dozen 20-somethings looking on at Hudl’s downtown Lincoln headquarters, Gov. Jim Pillen pitched the “Governor’s New Ventures Competition” as a way to keep the “best and the brightest” college students in Nebraska from moving away.

The contest will pay $20,000 for the best business idea submitted by Nebraska college students, and $15,000 and $10,000 for second and third place, respectively. Business “mentors” assigned to contestants will help them hone their proposals.

“We’re entering into an incredible new economy, and the more that we can do to stimulate students to have the next bold idea that can change the world (the better),” Pillen said.

Hudl
Hudl’s headquarters in Lincoln includes a simulated basketball court, lockers for “Hudlies” as well as bleacher-like seating on which employees can work or meet. (Paul Hammel/Nebraska Examiner)

Bryan Slone, the president of the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said that Hudl was “a model of what’s possible” in the state.

“Where is the coolest sports tech company in the world?” Slone asked. It’s here, he responded.

Will winners stay?

Two Hudl employees watching the press conference said the contest idea was exciting, though one expressed concern about whether contest winners would remain in Nebraska due to the current political environment.

Catherine Chapman, a recent University of Nebraska-Lincoln graduate who works with the legal team at Hudl, said a contest winner might seek to locate their new business elsewhere, so some work needs to be done to prevent that.

Her co-worker, Lauren Bruning, a lawyer, called the contest a “brilliant idea,” adding that she recently judged a business contest at UNL and found that students have many innovative proposals for start-up ventures.

‘Brain drain’ of college grads

Out-migration of recent Nebraska college graduates, also called the
“brain drain,” has accelerated in recent years, according to researchers at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. About 4,500 more left the state in 2021 than remained.

Some state legislators cite recent, less progressive laws passed in Nebraska as the reason, specifically the stricter ban on abortion and restrictions on gender-affirming care for minors.

Pillen, when asked about that Tuesday, dismissed the idea.

“That’s not the book that I’m reading,” said the first-term, Republican governor. “This has been a most welcoming state for 156 years.”

“We welcome people from every tract of land, every language, every color,” Pillen added. “We have love and life in our hearts. We help people no matter where they come from 100% of the time.”

Hudl
Hudl CEO David Graff
(Paul Hammel/Nebraska Examiner)

Such business plan contests played an important role in the establishment of Hudl, a sports tech company that provides performance analysis tools to help athletic teams improve.

Contest winnings helped Hudl

Hudl CEO David Graff, a UNL graduate, said that he and partners entered several similar contests 17 years ago when the company was founded, and used their contest winnings to finance office space, hire interns and travel to meet potential clients.

The company, which has employees or “Hudlies” in 17 countries, was recently named by Newsweek as one of the Top 100 Global Most Loved Workplaces. Hudl was the only sports technology company and Nebraska-based business to be so honored.

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K.C. Belitz, the state economic development director, said the competition should create “some really cool ventures down the road.”

“It may not be the next Hudl, but it will be something cool,” he said.

Teams entering the contest must include more than one undergraduate or graduate student currently enrolled at a Nebraska post-secondary institution.

Business proposals must be in one of six categories: biotech, media arts, sports tech, ag tech, fin tech and clean tech.

Entries must be submitted by Dec. 1, with winners to be announced at a state chamber banquet in February.

For a complete listing of rules and how to enter, access the website negovnewventure.com

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Paul Hammel
Paul Hammel

Senior Reporter Paul Hammel has covered the Nebraska state government and the state for decades. Previously with the Omaha World-Herald, Lincoln Journal Star and Omaha Sun, he is a member of the Omaha Press Club's Hall of Fame. He grows hops, brews homemade beer, plays bass guitar and basically loves traveling and writing about the state. A native of Ralston, Nebraska, he is vice president of the John G. Neihardt Foundation.

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