Brennan Costello, chief business relations officer at the Engler Agribusiness Entrepreneurship Program and graduate student in the College of Business, has been named a 2019-20 Kirchner Food Fellow by the Kirchner Group.
As one of three graduate students selected nationwide for the fellowship, Costello will spend the next academic year learning about the world of venture capital, culminating in an opportunity to invest $50,000 in a growing global agriculture startup of his team’s choosing.
“It’s a big honor, and it’s a great opportunity to represent Nebraska and what I’ve learned in the Engler program,” Costello said. “Everything I’ve done in entrepreneurship has been in the beginning phases — identifying the idea, and then starting to do market testing and validation. Kirchner specifically focuses on impact investing, with companies that are going to make a big, influential impact in the food and agriculture space. It aligns really well with what I want to learn in my career.”
Costello says he’s excited to learn from Kirchner directors, as well as the other fellows in his group, about how to influence food and farming on a worldwide scale.
“How do you find the company? How do you source the company? How do you do due diliegence, and analyze and evaluate whether it’s a good investment,” Costello said. “Those are all things I’m really interested in learning that I don’t know.”
Costello’s interest in agriculture can be traced back to his roots in Gothenburg, Nebraska, where he grew up looking after his family’s sheep and hogs. At age 12, he began working on a neighbor’s farm, giving him an in-depth view into larger production farming.
“That was an irreplaceable experience, and it made me want that to be a part of my career,” he said.
While attending the University of Nebraska–Lincoln as an agribusiness major, Costello took a class through the Engler program, sparking an interest in entrepreneurship.
That class led him to join FarmaField, a Lincoln-based ag-tech startup. With the help of two other students, Costello developed an online platform that connects cattle investors with producers across the state. The site was a finalist in the international Thought for Food Challenge in 2016.
Along the way, he was also elected National FFA Officer and participated in the selective Cargill Global Scholars program.
Throughout his time at Nebraska, Costello has had a constant mentor in a member of campus community with a similar background — Chancellor Ronnie Green. Costello met the university’s top administrator during his early days of FFA, while Green was serving as Harlan Vice Chancellor of the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources.
Costello credits Green with giving him the confidence to take risks during his undergraduate career.
“The reason that happened was Ronnie’s guidance,” Costello said. “Since then, he’s been a great mentor to continue to help me figure out my next career decisions. He’s got a big job right now, but he still said ‘Sure, I’ll be a reference’ when I was applying for something like this. He’s a great role model.”
Green says he saw potential in Costello from the first moment he met him. “I knew from the time he was a high school student in Gothenburg, to his experience as a Husker, national FFA officer, in AgriCorps and now as the chief business relations officer in the Nebraska Engler program that Brennan is destined to do great things,” he said.
As the school year begins, Costello is looking forward to the fellowship — and his continued teaching and development role at Engler — as a way to change lives for the better.
“When you’re part of helping farmers grow their livelihood, making better food for people and making food more accessible to people, that’s very purposeful to be a part of,” Costello said. “That’s why I want to continue to stay involved in ag.”