2017 was a year of growth for pillar companies on the Silicon Prairie. A lot of money was raised, and people were hired at scaling-phase companies whose names we’ve all been hearing about over the last few years.
At the smaller end of the spectrum, lots of great ideas were hatched in our various incubators, co-working spaces and garages around the Midwest.
It’s the middle of the startup funnel that struggled to gain momentum in 2017. We didn’t see as many companies move from the idea phase to the scaling phase as we had in previous years. That being said, with all the promising ideas that I saw across our four-state coverage area, I’m sure we will begin to fill this void in 2018.
Here are my top seven stories of 2017:
In January, I attended my first Innovators Pipeline Entrepreneur Awards in Kansas City and was totally blown away. Joni Cobb puts on one hell of a party which should be on everyone’s list of must-attend events. I was also impressed by the quality of entrepreneurs and support network around them.
Flywheel continued their rocketship trajectory in 2017 by surpassing 100 employees. Having witnessed the growth of WP Engine to over 500 employees during my time in Austin, I knew that Flywheel was a company to keep an eye on. Let’s see how quickly they can get to 200.
In 2017, I spent some time on several occasions in St. Louis and got to know EQ. I was extremely impressed with the focus and unity of purpose of the St. Louis startup community. The other cities of Silicon Prairie should use them as a role model. Congratulations to EQ for the acquisition and for continuing to do great work.
My trip to Lincoln for the ribbon-cutting on Hudl’s new 170,000 square foot headquarters was nothing short of amazing. As I stood on the 7th floor balcony overlooking Memorial Stadium and my alma mater, I couldn’t help but remark at how far we have come. When I graduated from UNL, I left the state to find places like the workspace I was standing in. This year’s UNL grads will only have to cross the street.
One of the most fun stories we covered this year was when Rod Armstrong and I visited opendorse to chat with Blake Lawrence. Besides having a cutting-edge platform and rapidly growing team, I couldn’t help but notice how much fun they had at work! As we were sitting below a life-size Gronk Fathead, I learned that Blake and his team were truly doing what they loved to do.
Bulu Box Co-Founders Paul and Stephanie Jarrett took a chance on us by being the subjects of the first ever SPN Startup story. Their generosity and passion for innovation in the heartland really shined through all of our video sessions and their presentation. If you missed the video of their startup story, check it out now.
1. Big Omaha
Big Omaha was the highlight my year at SPN. Months and months of grueling preparations paid off with an energetic crowd, amazing speakers, and life-changing connections. After the show was over, at dinner with the speakers, many of them were blown away by what was going on in the Midwest.
They asked, “What can Silicon Valley do to help Silicon Prairie?” It showed me that if we can get people here, they will fall in love with what we are building; which could potentially lead to more investment, more companies moving here, and more talent entering the region.
Brian Lee is the Managing Editor of Silicon Prairie News.