Storylines: Nebraska ecosystem builds talent muscle, gets moving

It's been six months since Omaha editor Jordan Pascale has been on the job, and he reported on a lot in his first few months. We were taken back by all the movement, which got us to thinking, "What have been the key storylines for each region?" Each has had a unique story, and over

It’s been six months since Omaha editor Jordan Pascale has been on the job, and he’s reported on a lot of news in those six months. We were taken back by all the movement, which got us to thinking, “What have been the key storylines for each region?” Each has had a unique story, and over the next three days we’ll run through some of those storylines—Nebraska today, Iowa on Thursday and Kansas City on Friday. Tweet at us with #NEstorylines, #IAstorylines and #KCstorylines so we can continue and add to the conversation.


You could call the last six months in Nebraska’s tech entrepreneurial ecosystem transformative. A lot has happened: new companies emerged and new talent pipelines solidified. There was company expansion and growth, companies that moved into new offices and some that moved to new states. And more and more spaces were created—or doubled. So much happened that it’s easy to get lost in all of it. So let’s recap. 

Oh, the places you’ll go

Arguably the biggest storyline for us to follow going forward. After MindMixer’s move to KC there were a lot of questions about why and how Omaha could have kept them. However, a month later Hudl announced it was opening a sizable office in town. But there also were moves everywhere. The state has been in flux. What will it all mean in the end? Further diversification of locations in Omaha? More concentration in the downtown area in Omaha? Does it even matter?

  • Catalyst, an alternative Union Bank branch in Lincoln opened as a place for entrepreneurs to work and host events. 
  • Developers decided to renovate and create startup offices out of an old home and former antique store in Midtown Omaha. 
  • Omaha Code School opened in a temporary space in Midtown Crossing. It now has a permanent home.
  • What would a startup center at Crossroads look like? 
  • Mindmixer moved all of its operations from Omaha to KC, with plans to hire more there. But then…
  • Hudl opened an Omaha office and hopes to hire 43 people for its product team.
  • Straight Shot moved from Scott Technology Center in Aksarben to a building near Crieghton’s campus.
  • Mastercraft doubled its size of offices as it finishes Phase III renovation. There also is a startup shipping container village in the works.
  • Proxibid, an online auction solution platform from Omaha, opened an office in London.
  • BuilderTREND bought a new headquarters, 27,000 square-foot building in the Miracle Hills area. They plan on moving in the next couple of months. 

Talent pipelines get wider

Two new code schools opened their doors this spring, plus several other opportunities cropped up for high schoolers and even younger students. Lack of talent has been a concern for the Midwest and all of the country. How far will these efforts go to bridge the talent gap? We’ll likely find out very soon.

  • Omaha Code School began this March and graduated in May. Already at least three of its 12 students have full-time jobs, and there may be more to come.
  • Interface School, a combination entrepreneurial business and code school, also kicked off in Omaha. Its students graduate June 12. The program has classes ready to go in Lincoln this summer and again in Omaha this fall.
  • AIM created CoderDojos to teach kids to code during afternoon workshops around the state.
  • Benson High School in Omaha created an entrepreneurial tract in its magnet school. 
  • A home-schooled code school is starting to take shape in Omaha. 
  • Don’t Panic Labs and others are volunteering in Lincoln after school programs to teach kids to code.

Company launches, partnerships and races

More than a dozen companies launched products, grew their reach or formed partnerships. Among the more common product launches, a few stuck out, like Bulu Box’s launch of a half marathon in Lincoln.

  • Once just a website, Lincoln’s Boutique Window launched an iOS app to help market goods.
  • HuntForce, a Straight Shot alum, launched its trail camera management product at a tradeshow. 
  • Bulu Box decided to create its own half marathon in Lincoln. As far as we know, this is the first time a startup in our region has made its own race.
  • Synerscan, a Lincoln-based health care app that went through NMotion, rebranded as Nobl.
  • Lincoln’s Firespring and Floor99 merged.
  • Lincoln-based Hudl put up some billboards. And more billboards. And a bus bench. And Pandora ads.
  • Powderhook, a hunting location search site created in Lincoln, expanded. And then they expanded again.
  • Sebastian, an ear training software created in Lincoln, launched.
  • Lincoln’s Best Option Trading launched Orca.
  • DliveryPal announced it’s going to create a food delivery app in Omaha, and recently launched its beta.
  • Volano launched ActionCard, an app to help manage franchisees.
  • CropTech, a farm analytics program out of Lincoln, launched.
  • Opendorse, the athlete micromarketing platform from Lincoln, partnered with the NFL Players Association.
  • InjuReplay, a sports injury and health startup, launched its mobile app.
  • Final Profile wins Startup Weekend Hays and begins its life as a startup.
  • Valvora, a startup created inside of Union Pacific, launched its first product, App Station.
  • Constructech Magazine recognized BuilderTREND as a Top Product and named the company to the CT 50, which recognizes the most influential technology providers in the construction industry. The company also hired 20 new employees in the first half of 2014.

We’re accelerating

Two accelerators continue with their second classes while two new entities of slightly different sorts joined the community. With each new accelerator comes opportunities for more to call Nebraska home. That was the case for HuntForce out of Straight Shot’s first class. A few Chicago startups are coming in this year to Straight Shot. NMotion has companies from Toronto, Chicago and Cedar Rapids, Iowa. 

  • NMotion announced its second class in Lincoln.
  • Straight Shot brought seven SaaS and ecommerce startups to Omaha.
  • The Year of the Startup launched its unique startup accelerator in Omaha.
  • UNL’s Innovation Campus will begin a product business accelerator this fall.
  • Omaha-based dev shop Aviture launched the Garage, a type of incubator. And it showed it’s willing to let employees hop into startups that they’ve helped develop. HuntForce hired two Aviture employees.

Funding

Two companies raised some green. Funding rounds are obviously based on each comany’s own timeline, but will there be more companies funded in the next six months? 

  • Powderhook brought in a $650,000 round.
  • Bulu Box closed a more than $2 million round and hired a recent UNL grad as its CTO.
  • After going through Straight Shot, mobile-commerce startup BuyNow raised a $355K seed round from Boulder, Colo.-based Foundry Group and Invest Nebraska. They’re also thinking about opening an office in NYC

People

Leaders in the community won awards and were appointed to high positions.

  • Bulu Box CEO Paul Jarrett won Pipeline’s Innovator of the Year.
  • Nebraska Angel investor Jim Linder was named interim president of the University of Nebraska. He’s been an integral part of the state’s startup community, investing in a number of the companies mentioned in this very post.
  • Hudl CEO David Graff was appointed to Nelnet’s board of directors.

Community

More and more groups of people came together to learn from one another.

  • Womens groups in Nebraska grew by a few this year, including #LNK Women Coding and Omaha Women Coding.
  • Open Nebraska held an event for the National Day of Civic Hacking. 

Events with an impact

It seemed there were more events than ever for Nebraska, from smaller networking events to big conferences. Did it make an impact on the community? It’s hard to measure, but more events can’t be a bad thing in networking and growing community.

  • Omaha hosted its first Event Draft and filled lots of events on the calendar, then hosted another one. It’s an Omaha Chamber experiment that we’ll understand the impact of more by the end of the year.
  • Jumpstart Challenge was the first long-term pitch/creation competition of its kind in Lincoln. Digiwidget later won the competition. 
  • Startup Weekend NEXT was the first five-week program for entrepreneurial education in Lincoln.
  • Cox and Inc. Magazine launched a pitch contest, and Travefy took home the prize.
  • Infotec brought cool gadgets and speakers to Omaha’s CenturyLink Center.
  • Entrepreneurs, the Kauffman Foundation and government officials came together for a roundtable at the Nebraska State Capitol.
  • Big Omaha brought more than a dozen speakers and homegrown talent, Evan Williams, to the city. 
  • 1 Million Cups launched in Nebraska last year, but continued with different formats and quality networking.

Misc. & Outside Forces

A football star made waves while big companies from Silicon Valley made inroads in Nebraska. Why did they all come at the same time? It started with Airbnb’s interest in Berkshire Hathaway shareholders’ weekend and it appears others followed suit or had made plans much earlier and it all came out at the same time.

  • Taylor Martinez makes onetwo and then three iPhone games. We also got an exclusive interview. As for his football career, he was picked up as a free agent, but then dropped when he didn’t pass a physical.
  • A Nebraska bill gave money to study best practices for growing venture capital.
  • Was Uber coming to Nebraska? Yep. So did Lyft and Airbnb during a whirlwind April when a number of big Silicon Valley startups launched in the state. The entrepreneurial community clearly has a lot of interest in how these companies are welcomed—or not welcomed—and this story is far from over.
  • Tesla is exploring an Omaha service center and maybe a store.

Did we miss anything? Let us know: editor (at) siliconprairienews (dot) com.


How would you sum up Nebraska’s last six months? Tweets us your thoughts about what things stand out the most using #NEstorylines and we’ll include them here.

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