Prairie Portraits: Charlie Cuddy

We're relaunching Prairie Portraits and asking the same 5 questions to community builders, founders and funders to get their perspective on the Nebraska startup ecosystem. Check it out!

Prairie Portrait - Charlie Cuddy

Meet Startup Investor Charlie Cuddy

Managing Partner @ MOVE VC / Founder @ Nebraska Startup Academy / Host of VC Office Hours

How would you describe the startup culture in Nebraska?

I really think “emerging.” 

We’ve had some peaks and valleys and have a ton of activity. And it just seems like here in the last year, year and a half, I would say the momentum of younger people being interested again and getting some people that have done it before back and interested again. It just seems like there’s a lot of cool stuff happening. 

There have been some exits and people have left those startups to start new things, which is what you love to see. In a strong ecosystem founders go on to find success (or even failure) among the group of early hires. They’ve surrounded themselves with folks who are starting something new rather than taking their exit and sitting on the sidelines. That’s always exciting. I think it’s an exciting time to be building in Nebraska for sure. 

How do you balance taking risks and making calculated decisions in pursuit of innovation?

One of the things that I’ve noticed most about seeing a ton of startups in the Bay Area vs.  startups and investors in Nebraska, is that we try to remove all risk and still say we want to be innovative. I just don’t think that’s possible. 

It’s kind of a tricky question because I really don’t see it as trying to kind of do one or the other. It’s just understanding the upside of the risk and kind of hedging your bets with the downside of the risk. To truly be innovative, there has to be risk. I don’t know how it would really fit into balance. 

Investing in a venture scalable space is one of the riskiest forms of investing you can be in. Then investing at the stage at which we invest with MOVE is even riskier. So to try and eliminate or limit risk, hinders the upside and kind of defeats the purpose of venture investing. That venture capital space, it’s about finding strengths, to maybe de-risk but I don’t think that there’s ever really a true balance where the risk gets canceled out or anything.

How do you define success and what metrics do you pay the most attention to?

I think there’s different levels of success at different stages of each company. You know, for MOVE, we’re placing a check so early. 

The measure of success at the very beginning is simply surviving long enough to launch a product to bring on your first customers to survive. To the next round of funding where you could begin to hire a team. Are you building a product that people absolutely love? Are you surrounding yourself with a team? Can you convince someone else to join you for less salary than they’re probably worth to take on in exchange for equity and a vision that’s kind of bigger than themselves? And then ultimately, can that product and that team deliver something that delights enough customers to keep that cycle going? 

And then I think the success metrics kind of grow as you hit each of those milestones. So measuring those from a success point and then always reflect back on customers. You know, are the customers happy with what you’re doing? Are you solving a key problem and then that, you know, if you’re doing that the revenue starts to follow. So I think those would be kind of tiered, almost successful points that are really milestone metrics that really focus on customers, team, product development and iteration. 

What are the top one or two challenges / opportunities Nebraska startups face?

I really think the biggest challenge that most startups in Nebraska face, and could be extended in some capacity to the Midwest, is really just the understanding of that risk profile that we talked about earlier. 

It’s super common in Silicon Valley, or even New York to go and raise a round, fail and start over. It’s so hard to raise that initial round of capital here. Here we try to balance the risk to make the investors in this ecosystem as a whole believe in the vision long enough before they invest. 

If we were given permission as founders to fail faster — whether it’s the whole product — or an iteration of the product. Resetting that risk tolerance, I really think is the biggest challenge because so many people have made their money investing differently here. Real estate is a different play. 

Following in the footsteps of Warren Buffett, it’s hard to argue with what people have found successful here — to try to overlay it with a different way of thinking or different types of investing. But recognizing that venture investing isn’t meant to replace any of those. It’s an alternative subset to diversify your investment portfolio that has a different risk tolerance with the ability to create some ridiculously outsized returns based on the investment. 

So that education around the risk tolerance is probably the top challenge.

What is one emerging industry or technology that you believe will have a significant impact on the Nebraska startup ecosystem in the next few years?

So this answer is probably kind of a non answer. But I think one of the things about Nebraska is we try to identify ourselves as, hey, we’re an ag state. Or we’re a sports tech state. And to truly play in the venture scale ecosystem, you need to hit enough volume of deals to let the outlier successes be successful and the failures fail. 

As a state, from a population perspective, it’s a challenge to try and really double down on one specific sector. I think that AI cloud computing space will be relevant across the board for the foreseeable future. I definitely think we can play in the ag space. I think we can. We have resources in insurance here. We have great resources in the logistics space. We see a lot of companies across all of those, but I think one of our biggest assets could be diversification across several different industries. 

So that we can really let the successes define what kind of niches survive here rather than redefining it beforehand and trying to fit our founders into boxes.


We’ll share event highlights, founder profiles and feature stories digging into all things related to Nebraska startups and small businesses. Delivered on Wednesdays.