Big Idea Kearney Victories Boost Business for Two GROW Members


Big Idea Kearney Victories Boost Business for Two GROW Members

Two young Nebraska entrepreneurs each won first place and $1,000 in the 9th Annual Big Idea Kearney contest.

The lure of a school trip to Costa Rica prompted Nicole Mittman to start her business when she was a junior at York High School.

She began painting unique glow-in-the-canvas paintings and sold them to her classmates, teachers and family friends to fund her trip.

Nicole, a self-taught artist, and creates her art using glow powder mixed with Mod Podge™. Her paintings feature glowing moons and stars, inspirational phrases and even pets.

“My favorite thing about making my paintings is the final layer of glow paint over the base acrylic layer — all the hardest work is done, and putting on the finishing touches is just so fun,” she said.

Nicole is now a sophomore at the University of Nebraska at Kearney and is majoring in wildlife biology. Her current customers include other UNK students and staff, but she also sells on an Etsy store, on Instagram (@nicoles_paintings) and now through GROW Nebraska. She has sold more than 200 paintings since she started the business three years ago.

Each fall, UNK hosts Big Idea Kearney, which promotes and supports entrepreneurship throughout central Nebraska. There is a student category and a community category. The first-place winner in each category receives $1,000. Second and third place winners receive $500 and $250. This year, the first-place prize money was sponsored by the Economic Development Council of Buffalo County. Other sponsors included UNK’s College of Business and Technology, Invest Nebraska, Nebraska Enterprise Fund and NUtech Ventures.

Nicole said she entered the contest to expand her audience. This year, 80 people vied for the prize money in the Big Idea competition. Preliminary judges narrowed the list to 16, and those 16 entrepreneurs presented their business ideas to an audience of 150 people. A panel of judges selected the top five in each category, and then the audience voted on the winners.

“I was pretty shocked to win,” Nicole said. “After all, I have no real business background, no training in painting, and my major is unrelated to either of those things. But nevertheless, it’s really exciting to have the money to properly expand now.”

With the $1,000 prize money, Nicole plans to create a website for her art; advertise on Google, Esty, and Facebook; purchase better quality brushes and paint; and buy business cards and have a logo created.

Nicole will be working part-time at the Buy Nebraska store this holiday season to help with shipping and plans to glean help from GROW Nebraska staff about growing her business while she works. 

Stop by the Buy Nebraska Store in Kearney to see Nicole’s paintings!

Kearney resident Jonah Staab won the community division in the Big Idea competition.

Jonah, 22, won with his business, Qualitech, for a grill basket he designed. He came up with the idea after researching trends on Amazon to identify high-demand products that received poor reviews. He then creates a higher-quality version of the product using computer-aided design software.

Jonah’s business ambitions also started in high school. While attending Kearney High, Jonah enrolled in a class called Engineering Design and Development, where he had to create a new product that solved a problem.

That is how he developed new skateboard wheels that roll in all directions. He called the wheels Sydewynder, and that become his first business.

“In 2017, I started learning about e-commerce and selling on Amazon, so I began researching products that I saw were in a good market but had poor designs or other flaws based off of the negative reviews customers left,” Jonah said. “Since I had the CAD software and knew how to design things, I thought why not make my own 3D model of whatever products so I can change the designs and whatever else I need to do to improve it.”

That is how he came up with the grill basket idea. He has sold 1,300 grill baskets on Amazon in the past 11 months.

“It is really rewarding when I go on my Amazon listing to see someone left a 5-star review saying how my product and its unique features is the best on the market and does not have the same flaws as other sellers,” Jonah said. “I just really want to provide good high-quality products that people can enjoy using. I really like it when I hear from customers from around the world say they are happy with their purchase.”

Jonah said he enjoys the challenge of entrepreneurship and enjoys “paving his own path.” He entered the Big Idea contest to network with other entrepreneurs and because he enjoys pitching his ideas and talking about his business.

“I love chasing my dreams and trying ideas I have even if they don’t work out at first,” he said.

Jonah said it felt great to win the Big Idea contest.

“I thought there were some really good ideas,” he said. “I never know what to expect because at the end of the day, the audience votes for the winner, so to hear my name called for first place is crazy.”

Jonah said the prize money has already helped him order samples to start researching a new manufacturer for the grill basket.

“I am also planning on getting some samples of new products made for 2020 and moving forward to production of a second product,” he said.

Jonah is a recent newcomer to GROW Nebraska and is looking forward to the new partnership, which will help him expand to other sales platforms and give him other opportunities to sell products as his business grows.

For more information about Nicole’s Painting, visit her GROW Nebraska profile page at

For more information about Staab Enterprises LLC, visit

GROW Nebraska® Foundation is a statewide non-profit training and marketing organization. Serving over 400 Nebraska small businesses, the organization provides marketing opportunities, education, and training to launch and connect Nebraska businesses to the global marketplace. GROW Nebraska’s educational programs receive federal and state funding, along with generous support from foundations and individual donors.

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