Nebraska startups on the rise

Startups like LifeLoop (pictured above) are finding support and success in Nebraska. (Photo by Ben Bohall, NET News)
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October 19, 2016 - 6:45am

It’s a part of the American dream - starting your own business. And for many Nebraskans, that dream is now closer to being a reality than ever before. 

Unlike some college students, David Nguyen knows exactly what he wants to do when he graduates. He’s going to open his own restaurant.

“I had the idea of combining French and Vietnamese food together since the Vietnamese are mostly influenced by the French… I’m trying to take a new approach to casual food and fine dining.” Nguyen said.

At the Rise of the Rest Lincoln event,  AOL’s co-founder and renowned businessman Steve Case (left) hosted a pitch competition, awarding a $100,000 investment to a local entrepreneur. (Photo by Ben Bohall, NET News)

Nguyen is spending the afternoon at the Rococo Theatre in Lincoln. It’s the Rise of the Rest event, a biannual tour across the country promoting startups and entrepreneurship. It was started by AOL’s co-founder and renowned investor Steve Case. Case is hosting a pitch competition, and the local entrepreneur with the best business plan will earn a $100,000 investment in his or her startup. Nguyen is hoping to watch and learn.

“I’ve got to know how to do a quick pitch. I’m going to listen to them to see how they do it and try to craft my own ideas from it,” Nguyen said.

The theatre is packed - mainly with people in their early to late 20’s - listening intently to what Case has to say. It’s the kind of scene you’d expect to see in major cities like New York or Los Angeles, not Lincoln. But that's changing.

Brian Ardinger is managing director of NMotion. It’s a startup accelerator based in Lincoln.

“Obviously, there are inherent benefits to being in the Midwest from a cost perspective,” Ardinger said.

At the FUSE coworking space in downtown Lincoln, entrepreneurs (like NMotion), telecommuters, and creatives work in a collaborative environment. (Courtesy photo)

Here at a large co-working space downtown, he and his company advise aspiring entrepreneurs. Ardinger says he's seen significant growth in Nebraskans wanting to start their own businesses, particularly in the tech industry.

“The runway for an early stage company where every dollar counts goes significantly farther here than it would in Silicon Valley," Ardinger said. "There’s also a mentor network that ties them to the right people.”

For some Nebraska startups, finding the “right people” meant looking no further than family. Amy Johnson is the co-founder of LifeLoop. It’s a software platform for senior living communities that allows family members, residents, and staff to better connect. The idea initially came when her husband’s grandmother was moved to a senior care center and the family felt they were left out of the loop on her condition.

“We felt like we missed some pretty key warning signs in her behavior pattern that would have been nice to see so we could have gotten her into a higher level of care quicker,” Johnson said.

Since the company's launch in January 2015, LifeLoop has raised over $800,000 in investments.

“There is energy and support in the community around startups,” said state senator Adam Morfeld, who represents northeast Lincoln in the Legislature.

To watch an interview with LifeLoop co-founder Amy Johnson about being an entrepreneur in Nebraska, click here

He says it’s become more of a priority for Nebraska lawmakers to encourage the growth of small businesses through local and federal subsidies. The state has struggled in the past to attract outside talent and investors. Seventy-five percent of investments in 2015 went to three states - California, New York, and Massachusetts. Morfeld hopes that will change.

“It’s important to make sure we have resources that can be matched with local and other federal resources to ensure startups have the necessary capital to be able to be successful and get across stage 1 and stage 2, and actually have their first customer,” Morfeld said.

Now with several customers, LifeLoop represents a success story for Nebraska startups. The small company has begun to expand its team and is working with major clients like Immanuel Communities. Johnson says the group is even looking to move out of its co-working space into its own offices.

“My advice is just to take the leap. That’s the hardest thing. You’ll learn so much. There’s going to be stressful times. It’s not always going to be fun, but that’s any job. The rewards are definitely worth it,” Johnson said.



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