Nebraska is not California. Omaha is not San Francisco. This sounds glaringly obvious but sometimes entrepreneurs in the Midwest get caught up in proving that we’re the same as any other startup scene in the country. But we’re not… and that’s okay! It doesn’t mean we don’t have big ideas here. It doesn’t mean there’s no tech leadership here. And it certainly doesn’t mean you can’t build a disruptive tech company here. The Silicon Prairie may not have the same quantity of startups as Silicon Valley, but we have just as much quality. You just have to know where to look.
Nebraska has actually been pretty good at creating a startup and building it into a billion dollar company. Did you know that the Omaha company ACI invented the ATM’s software that you still see each time you use an ATM? Despite its spectacular demise, many people forget that Enron was created when the CEO of Northern Natural Gas (an Omaha company) decided to merge his startup company with Houston Natural Gas. Inacom was a Fortune 500 company (albeit briefly) meaning Omaha has had 6 Fortune 500 companies. West, Kiewit, Mutual of Omaha, Solutionary, TD Ameritrade, Sojern–all got their start in Omaha. We just haven’t started one in while. Well, that is changing.
We here at CAN sometimes take for granted all the cool companies and people we work with every day. In our building alone, there is a collaborative incubator filled with fast growing tech startups, multiple small companies, and not one, not two, but three code schools. While we know of this amazing ecosystem, sometimes we forget that a lot of people in Omaha and Nebraska don’t even realize this startup niche even exists.
We view that as an issue.
Our community needs to know that Nebraska is a place to brag about. While certainly not the hotbed of entrepreneurialism as Boston, New York, and San Francisco, we do have success stories that we can be proud of. And we think we’re about to have a few more. Because we are always looking for great ideas, we decided to compile a list of Nebraska companies we have come across that have a good chance at fundamentally changing their niche and becoming a huge success.
First, we need to address “Why Startups?” A startup by definition is a small entrepreneurial business that sort of “pops up” to fit a need in a particular market — often times technologically based. If successful it tends to grow rapidly and is usually founded by forward-thinking and innovative people. Stereotypically, these people are young college grads who are trying to apply their education in a new way, but the truth is that a lot of startups begin by professionals who have worked decades in a field. This means that by definition, a startup is a new idea, built to change the world (or at least their part of it).
The Big Four
Any list of the top startup companies in Nebraska must include the Big Four. They are successful and well known outside of the startup ecosystem. At this point, they are all established in their respective industries and have begun scaling their products. They are (in no particular order):
Flywheel – Flywheel got started back in 2012 by Dusty Davidson – and is now a premier WordPress hosting company for designers and artists.
Hudl – The leading software company for coaches and athletes (and doing some amazing data science work), Hudl was founded by David Graff, Brian Kaiser, and John Wirtz in 2006.
BuilderTrend – BuilderTrend is a residential construction cloud system founded in 2006 by Dan Houghton, Jeff Dugger, and Steve Dugger and is one of the largest non-VC funded software companies in the US.
Bulu Box – Bulu Box provides you weekly box, filled with cool new samples to try, delivered to your doorstep with an easy online setup. It was founded in 2012 by two UNL grads, Paul Jarrett and Stephanie Jarrett.
It’s easy to forget but these companies were all much smaller startups a few years back. They show that with the right product and people you can build a successful tech company in Nebraska. But you didn’t read this far to hear about the companies you already know. Without further ado, here are:
Eleven Nebraska startups that could be the next big thing
Kojuba – Kojuba was the brainchild of James Rolfsen back in 2015. What is Kojuba and what makes it a startup to keep tabs on? We let Rolfsen answer this:
“Have you ever worked in a group of some kind and at the end of the project, the wrong people got the credit for doing the work? We all have. This represents what we call an “inefficiency of performance assessment.” The consequence is often that hard working people don’t get recognized for their contributions and that toxic individuals who undermine the team evade detection and sometimes even get promoted. Specifically, the “social contributions” that individuals make to a team are extremely difficult to delineate and almost impossible to quantify. Kojuba solves this problem. We analyze the behaviors and relationships of employees in organizations in order to paint a precise picture of how work gets done. Sound like magic? Fortunately, it is not. (I’m not sure if magic is scalable.) It is a proprietary combination of network science and machine learning that gives us the power to see inside the soul of organizations – and to deliver actionable guidance to our corporate customers.”
Ulytic – Ulytic was founded in 2015 by Billy Martin, who has an impressive background in marketing. Ulytic is a video processing platform that “allows traffic engineering and data collection firms to quickly upload footage and receive highly active traffic count reports with lightening fast turn around.” No more trucks taking traffic counts by clicker for three hours, one day a year and extrapolating out that info to be the traffic pattern for that corner every day. Now you can capture real numbers for all times of days, for all days–Including things like concerts, football games, school plays, and carnivals. You now can collect real data on events without extrapolation of anything. The funny thing is, they already have the cameras, we are just providing a way to use them instead of a person.
LifeLoop – “Keeping you in the loop of your elderly family member”. The idea for LifeLoop came from a personal situation of Amy Johnson, who founded the startup in 2015. Their mission is as follows “Our number one goal is to improve the care and overall experience of residents living in senior living communities. they believe this involves creating and fostering great relationships between community staff, residents, and the residents’ families, which results in personalized care and attention.” With calendar management, resident tracking, and a family portal, LifeLoop is certainly living out its mission.
Bric – Bric is quantifying work. Through capturing data on work, projects, skills, and financials, Bric knows what issues companies are having, the true abilities of their people, and which teams work best together. Today they are using this data to help teams maximize their time and talent; however, in the future, they will use this information to recommend products, services, and provide clients with coaching. They are creating a digital business consultant that knows everything about your business, your industry, and can use this to recommend solutions that work. No longer will you have to rely on a consultant’s personal experience or education — but can learn from your own company and industry.
Decision Logic – Ryan Mack is the current CEO of Decision Logic, which began in 1998. Originally designed for Applebee’s, today this restaurant management software serves over 50 brands. The software itself is special because it gives managers a much-needed, one-stop-shop to go see where their money goes, manage the outliers, uncover trends in sales and preparation, and manage staff and ordering. To date, the software has saved its restaurants over $37.5 million in food and labor costs. And that’s just the appetizer (see what I did there?). Over the next few years, they are adding prescriptive analytics and data visualizations that no one currently in the industry has or offers.
Quantified Ag – Quantified Ag is a little different than our traditional tech startup, but perfect for our eco-system. They are in a new field called Ag-Tech–something Omaha does very well. We talked directly to the CEO, Vishal Singh. Here’s what he told us about his startup, and the field he works in:
“Quantified Ag is a precision livestock analytics company located in Lincoln, NE. Think FitBit for cattle! This makes the beef supply better by providing feedlot workers with the tools to identify sick animals sooner and more accurately. Through early detection, Quantified Ag’s technology helps dramatically reduce costs by lowering re-treatment rate and death loss and getting animals back to peak performance faster.
“One area that often gets overlooked [in tech] is agriculture. Which is ironic because this industry is one of the most important things that our state does and does very well. On that note, I feel fortunate that my company is working on a transformative idea in beef livestock production. According to the NE Beef Council, “it’s the state’s largest industry and the engine that powers the state’s economy.” – http://www.nebeef.org/the-beef-story/state-national-facts. Our state also ranks as one of the top beef cattle producers in our country and exports beef beyond our borders.”
Dynamo – At the peak of their careers with a Fortune 500 company, Michelle Wingard and Brody Deren left their careers as regular recruiters to develop something completely different–a new way to recruit and place that focused on quality over quantity. Their mission is to not fill a role with a body that matches a check box, but instead to match openings with people that match each other. Their goal is to get it right the first time. One placement, done. Dynamo is succeeding in discovering news ways of expanding the tech field with a focus on better instead of more.
Gazella Wifi – Eric Burns started Gazella Wifi in 2015 as an automated marketing tool for restaurants and businesses–think fishbowl filled with cards, but without the cards, and without the fishbowl. When customers log in to use the store’s wifi, Gazella is able to capture valuable customer information and provide it back to the owner for use in marketing and sales. Easy to use and customize, Gazella has helped countless restaurants grow their social media reach and customer marketing lists. Their next trick is to provide feedback to the business owner as to which customer would react best to which offer–rewarding behavior and driving sales in areas the store owner wants.
SOLVE – Stephanie Sands of SOLVE spoke to us about her startup’s unique platform. She says: “SOLVE is changing the way companies develop and implement their “people strategy.” The most successful companies recognize that investing in their employees will boost their bottom line. Handing out gift cards, buying a ping pong table, or changing the dress code won’t suffice anymore and especially with the new generation of workers. (Centennials, not Millennials). The key is understanding your workforce, and SOLVE can help you get there. With a background in Organizational Psychology, our team helps companies understand human behavior in the workplace using theory, research, and data to inform best practices. We partner with companies to increase the accuracy of hiring decisions, develop effective leaders, and create great cultures to engage and retain top performers. We also help ensure that those strategies are aligned, consistent, and connected to their culture. Our team provides results-focused services/tools and ongoing, customized support to ensure people problems are SOLVED.”
Median – Median is the newest company on the list, founded only last month (June 2017), but its two founders, Ben Stevinson and Derek Homann are excited about their new venture. Median is a customer service platform specifically designed to make real time support chat as fast as possible. It has built-in custom screen sharing technology that doesn’t require end users to install any special or clunky software. It makes service easy for agents as they can immediately get on the same page as the people they’re helping, instead of wasting time either trying to explain a screen to a customer or a customer downloading a piece of software so they can see their screen. It fundamentally changes the conversation of research and trying to understand what someone is telling you to one of diagnosis and problem-solving. As a beta tester, this one is truly helpful and a much-needed addition to anyone’s toolbox.
Retail Aware – Retail Aware is a joint collaboration of three already successful entrepreneurs Preston Badeer and Keith Fix. They are capitalizing on the newly forming IOT space by providing a new way to collect and use data in the retail space. Especially designed for owners of multiple locations (think franchisees), it gives them a way to see and understand previously untrackable data. Using sensors owners can test marketing effectiveness of store layout, product placement, and new store experiences. They can even A/B test in different stores. The results are given by the minute and displayed in well-designed dashboards.
As you might have guessed, based on what we do, these companies have a common thread. They are all using data to change their niche. It comes in many forms: BI, IOT, Predictive Analytics, Prescriptive Analytics, Machine Learning, and AI. These are just the tip of the iceberg. There are others, many others. Companies like: ScoutSheet, SkyVu, Kiai, and Rodeo Analytics are all on the brink of this list. (perhaps we should have another list next year) All of them are companies that are revolutionizing their niche and are run by bleeding edge leaders focused on using data and tech to update how we do business. In the future, these will be the companies to watch out for and our eleven will be the big companies everyone will have heard of. But, until then, you heard their names here first.
Now go and make sure you brag about these companies to all of your non-Nebraskan friends.