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Campus Experiences Help Esch Launch Beef Enterprise
Nebraska Ag Connection - 12/13/2019

Husker Hannah Esch knows how to juggle priorities. She's an ace at balancing classes, tests and projects -- and running her own business.

As a student enrolled in the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's Engler Agribusiness Entrepreneurship Program, Esch knew her classroom pursuits would look different from those of her classmates, but she never expected she'd be running a business before graduating.

The experiences she had through the Engler Program and as a Nebraska Beef Ambassador revealed an opportunity in the beef industry. Ecsh, a senior animal science major, realized there was a disconnect between many producers and their consumers, and she decided to start her own farm-to-table beef supplier: Oak Barn Beef. It officially became a limited liability company in 2018.

Oak Barn Beef is based at Esch's family's farm home in Unadilla, Neb. Esch's parents allowed her to take over planning for the farm's operations so it could better fit her farm-to-table business model, and she used her education in animal science to incorporate DNA testing into production and to use the most sustainable and ethical methods of raising cattle.

Esch said she wouldn't have been able to get Oak Barn Beef off the ground without the Engler Program.

Engler students are encouraged to take a different approach to learning. Director Tom Field said the program endeavors to build a community of students and alumni, learning from and supporting one another, much like a family.

"Our mission is to create the mindset of an owner, not an employee," Field said. "There's nothing wrong with being an employee, but at the Engler Program, we are growing entrepreneurs, because they'll grow Nebraska. We'll grow our state one small business at a time."

The Engler Program was founded in 2010, with a gift from the Paul F. and Virginia J. Engler Foundation to establish a student program focused on entrepreneurship, and has already had a positive impact on the state. About 90% of the 160 alumni of the program have remained in Nebraska or the Great Plains region, launching more than 60 new enterprises.

The Engler program provided Esch with the resources and mentorship experience that helped her to start her own business. They pushed her to be an owner and make her own decisions, while also providing support and answers to some of her tough questions.

"You learn as you go," Hannah said, "And they're there to help you learn."

Engler alumni and its network of faculty and staff work with current students, offering mentorship and coaching. The students are also supported with more than $200,000 in scholarships awarded yearly, and events are centered around putting students into entrepreneurial ecosystems.

Managing responsibilities as both a student and a business owner is a lot to take on, but for Esch it has been worth it. Because she's still in college she's been able to access opportunities and resources that wouldn't be as accessible off campus -- like the Engler program or the New Venture Competition. It might seem scary, but she encourages students to pursue their entrepreneurial passions.

"There's not a better time to start a business than when you're a student."


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