KEARNEY — Ten future entrepreneurs presented their business ideas Wednesday at Cunningham’s Journal at 15 W 23rd St. for the fifth-annual Central Nebraska Business Idea Contest.

In an event similar to “Shark Tank,” contestants each presented their ideas to a panel of judges who grilled them over their concept, product and business model.

“These are future leaders bringing potential business to the area. We want to support innovative ideas and this is the way to do it,” said judge Jeff Hinrichs, Wilkins Hinrichs Stober Architects managing principal and representative for the Economic Development Council of Buffalo County.

The state’s strong agricultural roots raised Nebraskans to be problem solvers and entrepreneurship is the business of problem solving, said Shawn Kaskie, director of the Center for Rural Research and Development.

“Their success creates jobs for the community,” Kaskie said.

Dozens gathered to watch and support the evening events as contestants defended their ideas. Once the presentations concluded, audience members voted on the idea that sounded most promising.

The winners were as follows:

- Sam Middleton of Kearney won the $1,000 first-place prize for VR Game Development, a video game for a virtual reality gaming device.

- Jacey Anderson of Axtell took the $500 second-place prize for Auditionr, an app that assists actors and actresses with finding work.

- Mike Bloomberg of Hastings took the $250 third-place prize for LED Barricade, a smaller, safer and more cost-effective safety barricade light.

Middleton said he plans to use his winnings to continue his education and someday, hopefully, have an opportunity develop his idea.

More than 50 people entered the contest. The entries were divided into retail, IT/tech/web, service, product invention, and food service/food related. Five guest judges with business expertise evaluated each contestant to narrow down the final 10.

“The event is growing every year,” said Kaskie, who estimated 75-120 people attended Wednesday. “The support is great. The more they practice their pitches, the better they’ll get.”

The event was sponsored by the Center for Rural Research and Development at the University of Nebraska at Kearney, the Economic Development Council of Buffalo County, Invest Nebraska Corp., UNK’s College of Business and Technology Dean Tim Burkink.

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