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Vote Caldwell, Graff, Jones or Milne for Startup Executive of the Year

The field for Startup Executive of the Year features four CEOs that pushed their startups to new heights over the last year, helping their companies achieve milestones that included funding, acquisitions and user growth.

At our inaugural Silicon Prairie Awards event on Aug. 30, one these four finalists will be recognized as Startup Executive of the Year. In anticipation of that celebration, we’re providing overviews of the four contenders for each of our 12 Silicon Prairie Awards. The finalists — 48 in all — are the result of public nominations in July and input from our selection committee earlier this month.

A public vote will help determine the winners of the awards, so cast your ballot for the Startup Executive of the Year below, or visit the awards page to vote on all 12 categories.

Join us for the Silicon Prairie Awards: We have a fun night of community celebration planned for Aug. 30 at the Joslyn Art Museum in Omaha. Tickets still remain for the event, which includes an opening reception, keynote talk by TechStars founder and CEO David Cohen, awards ceremony and a closing party. Purchase your tickets today.

Meet the finalists

The Startup Executive of the Year is a C-level executive, president or founder that led a startup to the next stage, hit milestones and overcame odds.

Chris Caldwell, LockPath (Overland Park, Kan.)

Chris Caldwell is the co-founder and CEO of LockPath, a startup that makes governance, risk and compliance software. Over the past year, Caldwell led LockPath to quadruple revenues, make key hires and add strategic partners. The company also released the second version of its flagship product, the Keylight platform, and was chosen to present it at the MIT Sloan CIO Symposium’s Innovation Showcase.

Words from a colleague: “Chris succeeds through intensity and competitiveness. He inspires all around him to win, and challenges everyone to constantly improve their skills. Chris has an amazing ability to map out dozens of scenarios in his head and can instantly react to any situation which makes LockPath far more nimble than its competition. Because of his attitude, perseverance and leadership, LockPath always finds a way around, over or through any obstacle in its path.” – Chris Goodwin, LockPath co-founder and CTO

More: Caldwell bioon LinkedIn and on SPN

David Graff, Hudl (Lincoln, Neb.)

David Graff is the co-founder and CEO of Hudl, a company that makes online video analysis and coaching tools. Following the company’s mantra “Dominate,” Graff led Hudl to acquire its top two competitors in the high school football market. He also saw his company add two NHL and one NBA team to its roster, and add an iPhone and Android app to its arsenal of offerings.

Words from a colleague: “David has always kept Hudl hungry to impact more coaches and athletes than any software company ever has. He has an amazing knack for keeping 65 employees laser focused on a common vision – help coaches win. … He’s always willing to do whatever it takes – whether it was leading two back-to-back acquisitions or proof reading a blog post. He is one of the hardest-working CEOs you’ll ever meet. The guy doesn’t tolerate being second best in anything we do.” – John Wirtz, Hudl co-founder and chief product officer

More: Graff bio and on SPN

Naithan Jones, AgLocal (Prairie Village, Kan.)

Naithan Jones is the founder and CEO of AgLocal, a marketplace that connects independent meat farmers and producers to local businesses and consumers. Jones founded AgLocal in November 2011, and it wasn’t long before momentum picked up, including participation in the SXSW Interactive Accelerator, enrollment in an incubator in San Francisco and a story in Fast Company. By June, AgLocal had graduated from the incubator and scored itself $1 million in seed capital.

From a colleague: “Nine months ago I met a guy; another entrepreneur with another idea. Today, that idea is a company with $1.5 million invested, a handful of employees, two offices, multiple partnerships in the works, and a plan to disrupt the meat industry. That guy is Naithan Jones. … Naithan was quoted saying, ‘Fear is a wonderful emotion to feed work and innovation.’ I have never seen someone so scared and at his best at the same time.” – Jacob McDaniel, AgLocal co-founder and chief product officer

More: Jones on LinkedIn and on SPN

Ben Milne, Dwolla (Des Moines) 

Ben Milne is the founder and CEO of Dwolla, a payments startup. Milne led Dwolla to three feature and product releases – Proxi, Instant and FiSync – and growth that included surpassing $1 million in transactions per day and hitting 100,000 users. In February, Dwolla closed a $5 million Series B round led by Union Square Ventures, and in April, it was revealed in a live interview on SPN that Ashton Kutcher is an investor, as well. Milne’s work has been recognized in “30 Under 30” lists by Forbes and Inc., and he has taken the stage at multiple conferences, including Thinc Iowa (an SPN event), Web Summit Dublin, Where Conference and Finovate.

Words from a colleague: “Ben’s mind fires and executes at such efficiency, depth and creativity that it challenges everyone around to question their own limits. That’s embedded itself into our culture, our team and our product.” – Charise Flynn, Dwolla COO

More: Milne website, on LinkedIn and on SPN


Credits: Headshots of Caldwell, Graff, Jones courtesy of finalists. Headshot of Milne from twitter.com.

Thanks to sponsors that are making this inaugural event a reality: Bellevue University, Hudl, Centennial BankLightbank, West Corporation, Koley – JessenGreater Omaha Chamber of CommerceVerizon WirelessUniversity of Nebraska and our Startup Alley participantsTo learn about more opportunities, contact geoff@siliconprairienews.com.

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