“In a nutshell, we were building a feature for somebody else’s product during the ISA,” O’Rourke said. “At any point the owner could roll out the feature and make us obsolete. That happened.”
“We pitched our business, and they gave us a big tour and set up a meeting with founders,” he said. “That whole experience showed me that the startup scene in Lincoln is booming compared to some other Midwest cities.”
Next stop: Lincoln
There were conversations about moving Streamweaver to Lincoln following graduation from ISA. But O’Rourke announced at the ISA Launch Day that the company was closing down.
“We were struggling with whether to start another company just for the sake of it, or working on something we’re passionate about,” he said. “Beth [McKeon, NMotion Executive Director] caught wind that we were in kind of a weird spot and said she had a Program Manager position open.”
The opportunity for O’Rourke to continue exploring new business ideas was a selling point.
“A lot of our people have side hustles, and I immediately jumped on that,” he said. “Within two weeks of us talking, I was in Lincoln looking for an apartment.”
Coming to Lincoln from Iowa was not a culture shock for O’Rourke.
“Everybody’s friendly and hospitable,” he said. “It has that Midwest vibe where people still hold the door for you.”
NMotion is currently putting its effort into bridging gaps in programs and offering assistance to entrepreneurs.
“NMotion was formerly seen as just a 90-day accelerator program,” O’Rourke said. “We’re going to help you with this boot camp and some funding, and off you go.”
In 2017 and beyond, NMotion plans to implement a holistic curriculum to help entrepreneurs at every stage of development.
“We’re taking the approach that we have a road map, five stages that every entrepreneur goes through in some way, shape or form,” O’Rourke said. “At every stage, we want to get them acquainted with the community and make NMotion more than just an accelerator.”
The second cohort of Prelaunch, NMotion’s program for validating business ideas, is now underway with nine teams.
“Nebraska and Iowa have similar programs, and I had the chance to go through the Iowa program twice with two different ventures,” O’Rourke said. “It was super beneficial. What we focus on is helping entrepreneurs validate whether their business is worth pursuing.”
Redefining the Silicon Prairie
O’Rourke was asked what’s next for LNK Exchange, the program that brought him to Lincoln in the first place.
“The next couple of months I’m going to be traveling to surrounding communities,” he said. “I’ll be recruiting for our 2017 cohort and getting people into the LNK Exchange pipeline.”
Traveling the region is nothing new for O’Rourke. He has served as a Startup Weekend facilitator in several communities, and has gained perspective on the startup ecosystem in the Silicon Prairie.
“What I feel is very cool about Midwest communities is that they’re starting to realize they need to focus on their strengths and not copy Silicon Valley or Boston or one of the other startup hubs,” he said. “Personally, I think that’s the right approach. Every community is different, and many are embracing their uniqueness.”
Rod Armstrong is Vice President of Strategic Partnerships for AIM in Lincoln, Nebraska. He is a regular contributor to Silicon Prairie News.