Chapman and Company provides many economic development organizations with advice regarding their entrepreneurial ecosystems. The most frequent advice provided is 1) finding your community’s entrepreneurs and 2) telling their stories.
Functionally, this is not just about knowing that startups exist – but being able to provide specific name and thesis to each. For example, many Nebraskans may know that there is a startup company called – “Workshop” or “CompanyCam” – but few could accurately download these company’s basic theises statements to a potential buyer or interested party. And yet, when we discuss how to leverage the community most effectively, startups often ask for help getting their targeted customers to pay attention.
So, how can we do this more effectively. First, we have to find more startup companies or put into our mind places that these companies often troll for customers. According to Pitchbook, forty-eight companies in Nebraska have raised money since January 1, 2020. [This level of fund raising actually puts the Nebraska Tech Collaborative, a workforce initiative of the Aksarben Foundation, on track for its 2021 goal for the entrepreneurial ecosystem’s vibrancy.]
Here are some examples of companies that have raised significant rounds:
- Monolith Materials has raised more than $120 million over the last eighteen months,
- Opendorse has raised more than $10 million over the last two years,
- CompanyCam has raised more than $5 million over the last eighteen months,
- LeverageRx just had a large raise last month,
- Pinata has raised millions of dollars over the last eighteen months,
- Workshop was founded by Dusty Davidson and Rick Knudtson, co-founders of Flywheel, and has raised millions of dollars this year.
These companies are joined by tens of others, but the point is that many Nebraskans could not give a good thesis statement for any of the six companies listed. Each is in the start-up or scale-up phase. Each has been growing rapidly and actively raised venture dollars. And yet, we as community members do not necessarily know where to find these people or their stories.
There are three primary places that a reader could find a startup story. Silicon Prairie News is the bell cow for the region – writing and producing strong, solid content about startups. While their production of startup stories has decreased over the last couple of years – each of the six companies listed above has a strong story written about the founders and the basic thesis/idea. A local startup, called Mug.News (which is owned in part by Chapman and Company), has been writing regular stories about the Nebraska startup ecosystem for the last year. Their Midwest Funding Report updates individuals about venture deals completed in the week previous – including Monolith Material’s very large raise in June. Traditional sources, such as newspapers and television stations, cover the startup ecosystem. For example, Matt Olberding of the Lincoln Journal-Star has written some excellent articles over the years – including this one from last week.
The second primary way to find startups is to be intentional at activities that are well attended by startup company founders. For example, One Million Cups in Lincoln and Omaha is a consistently good opportunity to hear from (via a short presentation) founders and often meet others interested in the startup ecosystem. Events like Startup Grind (Omaha) and Open Coffee (Lincoln) also represent strong opportunities to interact with founders and other folks interested in the ecosystem. These events mark a means to share information about cool startups and to better understand the goals of the companies discussed.
Finally, this summer nMotion (Lincoln’s Gener8tor associated Accelerator) has been working with five companies to help them establish a strong foundation for growth. Like many organizations, nMotion produces press releases and other tools to learn about their companies, but they also provide a pitch night where local citizens can check out their local startup scene. Not only will current nMotion companies be present, but so will many past companies and current funders. These one-off opportunities are often the best chance to meet scale-up companies in the midst of their scaling activities.
Other organizations, such as the AIM Institute, the Lincoln Partnership for Economic Development (LPED), and the Omaha Chamber, host regular events targeted at high growth, technology startups. We encourage you to attend these events and remember to find the entrepreneurs and be capable of telling their stories.
 Workshop is a software-as-a-service company that provides small and medium sized business with premier internal communications tools. The company replaces or improves email and internal message boards – such as Slack or Trello. CompanyCam provides an image based punchlist tool for building contractors. Essentially, the company’s toolset starts with images that can be refined and annotated to ensure good understanding. These images can be sent to customers, sub-contractors, or other interested parties easily.