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Weekly Columns!

All your favorite weekly columns and letters to the editor- online!

 Editor's Notebook, by Bill Blauvelt A Different Slant, by Chuck Mittan Country Roads, by Gloria Garman-Schlaefli

Editor's Notebook, by Bill Blauvelt
This week I have had the honor of serving as one of five judges associated with NGAL-4. Include in the panel of judges was Ed Steiner, general counsel for Change Ventures, Cincinnati, Ohio, Blaine Rieke, board member of The Huge Foundation, Milwaukee, Wis., Marki Tihhonova-Kreek, deputy chief of mission Embassy of Estonia, Washington, D.C., and Yrjo Ojasaar, Change Ventures partner from Tallinn, Estonia.
NGAL (Network Globally, Act Locally) is an international entrepreneurial consortium initiated in 2015 by the Harry and Reba Huge Foundation. NGAL helps students develop the requisite skills to launch start-up companies. Other program partners are Nebraska Wesleyan University, the College of Charleston and The Citadel, both of Charleston, S.C., and the University of Tartu and Tallinn University of Technology, both in Estonia.
While participating in the program, students learn from experts, faculty members and fellow participants as they progress through the ideation and design, product validation, customer discovery, prototyping, testing, growth and marketing stages of the start-up cycle,
Pitch competitions featuring teams of college students are not unusual. But when the teams come from Nebraska, South Carolina and Estonia, it's something unique.
Friday, Nebraska Wesleyan University hosted the fourth annual Network Globally, Act Locally (NGAL) pitch competition.
A number of teams competed within each university to qualify for NGAL and eight teams advanced to the finals. Some of the teams had been working together and developing their product since high school.
The pitch competition was the culmination of an intense program that included time in Estonia and Lincoln in which the contestants were together and met with mentors and refined their ideas. Sometimes the original idea didn't work out and the students had to change direction.
"Our original idea failed and we needed to pivot," said Angela Gallo of Nebraska Wesleyan with Parkway, a company she cofounded with Jordan Cahill that bills itself as "Airbnb for your driveway."
Their first plan was abandoned only days before the pitch competition when an announcement by Apple computer took away the market for their original idea. The lesson they learned is one others of us should no as well. Don't be overly in love with an idea, instead be willing to change when conditions warrant. We may build the world's best buggy whip but when the market changes we must also change.
The American students I visited with were impressed with their time in Estonia. The night before the pitch competition one told me, "I've learned much from this competition. Even if my idea is not accepted, I've made friends from around the world and had my first opportunity to travel aboard. I'll utilize the contacts I've made in this program throughout my life."
Estonians Martin Mollits and Laurent Laheb of Tallinn University won the contest's first place prize with Timey, a company developing an indicator to verify the quality of products like milk. One European dairy is already using the product.
Timey co-founder Laurent Laheb was impressed with Nebraska companies like Hudl and Firespring.
"We went down the slide at Firespring," he said. "The highlight was the Hudl offices; we hadn't heard much about it. We enjoyed seeing the open office space and lifestyle."
Brent Comstock of Change Ventures, a venture capital firm founded by the Huge Foundation which supports Baltic business founders and runs the NGAL program explained his role, "I met the Huge family in my junior year in high school. I started working for Change Ventures my sophomore year in college, and last year Harry asked me if I would run the NGAL program."
The connection to Estonia, a country Huge has been closely associated with for several years, is a key part of NGAL. The small country leads the world in the number of new business ventures and is responsible for a number of companies including the well known Skype computer program. Many of the Estonian start-ups have sales offices in the United States and back office support operations in Estonia.
Tallin, the capital of Estonia is located about 40 miles from the capital of Finland. Ferries running every 30 minutes currently link the two capital cities. A tunnel connecting the two has been proposed and financing arranged but construction has not yet started.
The objective is for the students to experience the culture and to understand how business is conducted in another country. The program brings the U.S. and the Baltic region together.
Timey received the $3,000 top prize. ResDec, also proposed by a team from the University of Tartu took the second place prize of $2,500. The Timey team is developing software analysis to speed identification of staph infections. Parkway from Wesleyan received the $2,000 third prize. The Parkway team proposes to link people who are having parking spaces they are willing to rent with major event attendees looking for parking. An example was a University of Nebraska athletic event or Omaha's College World Series.
The remaining teams each received $500.
Other ideas presented included a computer program for older motor vehicles which would alert drivers to their vehicle's failing components. Another was an electronic device much like Life Alert that would use the cell phone network to easily call for help during an emergency.
Laava Tech team employs LED lighting equipment to promote the growth of plants in a greenhouse environment.
Another team proposed a company that would help screen potential employees.
Terch Products proposed recycling athletic field tarps and selling the resulting products to the teams' fans.
After the NGAL program concluded, members of the Huge family and their associates were in Superior on Saturday to present scholarships awarded earlier this year to area high school graduates. Approximately 40 people gathered at the Huge family home for a catered meal and program.
The local scholarship program which began in 2005 has, since its founding, awarded 87 scholarships valued at $10,000 each to residents of South Central Nebraska.
A Different Slant, by Chuck Mittan

Monday evening, Kathy and I went to Nebraska City to pick up our daughter, Kateri, a senior at Peru State College, and bring her home for a week's visit, or so. We had watched the clouds building all afternoon and knew there would likely be storms at some point on the trip. We left Superior shortly after 3 p.m. and headed into the dark clouds to the east.
It rained only lightly and intermittently until we were past Beatrice. A glance at the weather radar on Kathy's phone indicated there were strong storms just to the south (in Kansas) and just to the north, in the area between highways 4 and 41. We were able to drive right between the two storms and arrived in Nebraska City at just after 6 p.m., with hardly any rain at all. We saw a great many lightning ground strikes, however.
It appeared we had avoided the worst of the storms and at about 6:30 p.m. we left Nebraska City for Auburn with Kateri on board and turned west for home. It was dry, hot and humid on the way home, and somewhere around Gilead, we became more concerned with the clouds and lightning to our west. We all commented on the "green" cloud bank we were about to drive into, saying that color is frequently associated with forming tornados. The green cloud bank was to our south, blue skies to the north, and where they met was an amazing purple. We didn't enjoy the pretty colors for long.
Shortly thereafter, we found ourselves engulfed in gray clouds, lightning and light rain. By the time we passed Ruskin, the rain was coming down so hard, I had to stop. I couldn't keep track of either the yellow lines on the highway or the green grass of the shoulder. I don't think I've been in rain that's too hard to drive in more than a couple of times. I wouldn't mind knowing how much rain that area received Monday night!

Country Roads, by Gloria Garman-Schlaefli

What we wouldn't give for three or four inches of rain right now. As this is being written, dark clouds fill the sky and it seems promising, but soon it is realized the clouds are moving away, going another direction, leaving us with only a few sprinkles. When will the rains come?
It won't be summer yet for a couple more days, but spring has recently brought hot summer temperatures well into the triple digits, with strong southern winds. It's difficult for a farmer to look into the fields of growing crops and see green leaves curled up from drought. Pasture grass that looked better a couple of weeks ago after a half inch of rain has taken a turn backwards with drying temperatures and a lack of moisture.
We hope rains come so cattle can continue residing in the pastures all summer, but as the pond levels decrease, I wonder if it will be possible.
A walk into the yard shows cracks in the earth that usually don't show up until dry August. Flower beds and vegetable gardens are being kept alive, but they always do better when it rains.
Wheat harvest will be lacking because of the lack of moisture this winter and early spring. Though wheat harvest has begun, there won't be much bragging this year about yields.
If rains come soon, fall crops could yield good results. How we need rain! Weather forecasts are calling for some rain mid-week, but the chances keep going down. Cooler temperatures are expected, too, which will help.
Rain dances are being called for. Prayers are being said requesting rain. Vehicles are being washed tempting rain to come. Rain gauges are faithfully checked and put into place. Combines are beginning to roll in wheat fields, but farmers would gladly take a break from harvest for a good "toad choking" rain. Let it fall!
Update: What a difference a night makes! A farmer's answer to prayers arrived last night at our farm and surrounding area when the skies opened and three inches of rain fell. Still more rain is predicted, so this farmer and his wife are celebrating. Here's hoping your rain gauge is full or will be soon.