AOL co-founder Steve Case and his Rise of the Rest bus tour rolled through Omaha and Lincoln Monday, meeting with business and community leaders in order to drive attention to startup communities outside of Silicon Valley.
The day began with a stop at Lauritzen Gardens, followed by a breakfast at The Exchange in downtown Omaha, hosted by the Greater Omaha Chamber and The Startup Collaborative. Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts spoke at meal, noting his background as a former angel investor and the son of an entrepreneur.
Case also spoke at the event and remembered fondly when free trial disks for American Online were bundled with Omaha Steaks.
“As I remember, they did pretty well,” said Case.
The pitch competition
The day culminated in the the Rise of the Rest pitch competition, in which local startups made short pitches to a panel of judges, including Case. Unlike most pitch competitions that offer cash prizes and services, the winner receives a $100,000 investment.
Over 650 attendees packed the Rococo Theatre in downtown Lincoln to watch Nebraska’s most promising companies take the stage. The eight companies included Drive Spotter, opendorse, RaceNote, Places VR, Gear Supply Co., Nobl Health, LifeLoop and Quantified Ag.
LifeLoop, founded by Amy Johnson, was the winner of the competition. LifeLoop is a communication platform that connects senior living community residents, staff and families to improve engagement and well-being. See our most recent story on the company, “LifeLoop expands to new states, new communities.”
“I was overwhelmed. It was awesome,” said Johnson. “I’m very grateful. We are going to use it for hiring 1-2 new employees, either a developer or an account manager or maybe both.”
The judges said their decision was based on the size of the market and the significance of the problem it solves.
“[Case] gave me a big hug and said congrats,” said Johnson.
Case for Nebraska
After a whirlwind tour of the Omaha and Lincoln startup scene, Case thought that what made the community unique was the “diversity of sectors being targeted” from food and ag to healthcare and VR. He thought that was the sign of a healthy ecosystem.
In the end, Case sees the one day impact of Rise of the Rest on a community as important but limited. The real work, according to Case, will be done by the entrepreneurs and community builders who put in the work.
“We can help create a little more momentum, a little more enthusiasm, a little more excitement,” said Case. “Maybe five years from now this will be one of America’s great startup communities.”