Expanding Our Ecosystem // Why TSC Invests in Events

Expanding Our Ecosystem // Why TSC Invests in Events

As you get to know The Startup Collaborative team and the founders in the fellowship, you can always see the energy and focus on building sustainable companies. With the focus comes a deep understanding of one’s customer and the market in which they operate in. With that customer knowledge and market validation, TSC matches up local and national opportunities for the fellows to participate in. We invest smarter in growing startups that are ready. 


Through product or sales momentum of each fellow’s business, they earn their way to be client-facing! It’s refreshing to provide valuable opportunities to form in-person connections in an increasingly digital world. Our goal is always to de-risk each intrapreneurial pursuit so we covered the cost for the event entry fee or make professionally printed pullup banners for the company or run digital ads to help promote the brand for pre and post-conference promotion or even attend the event as an extension of their team. The TSC team is here to support the fellows to radically improving the odds of success. Success is not overnight and doesn’t arrive without experiments, learning, customer focus and value creation. 


Here is an overview of the latest events our fellows participated: 


Omaha Fashion Week Pop Up Market –

One of our most recent event incentives was the Omaha Fashion Week Pop Up Market for the rise of our uniquely diverse direct-to-consumer companies that are transforming how we shop and how consumers make decisions online. Overall, the event was a success for each company and we all walked away with real customer acquisition and new partnerships in our sales funnel. Here is the list of companies that participated:


Stature – Event Headliner. Stature is custom-tailored clothing for taller women looking to embrace their height and love of fashion. How Stature works is 1) Select your style 2) Enter your lengths for customized fit 3) Stand tall to walk proud and rule the world. 

Chant Bags – Chant is an online shop combining fashion and sustainability through plastic bags made of recycled materials that are stadium and concert ready. You can pass through security lines with ease and style with Chant eco-friendly collection of clear bags that are stadium approved for your favorite live events. 

Scribe – Scribe is an online shop to buy and send greeting cards that are heartfelt without the hassle. They’re eliminating the worry of forgetting that special someone’s birthday — all the while supporting independent artists. You’ll never miss a chance to show you care.   

My Game Day Collections – My Game Day Collections is an online shop selling fully customized gameday clothing for women. They are helping you stand out in the crowd with fun, unique style pieces. Their process is simple – 1) Shop online to plan your game day attire 2) Choose your logo from a variety of team logos 3) Look your best to show pride and passion for your team.

HerHeadquarters – HerHeadquaters is a game-changing collaborating application for women entrepreneurs and freelancers within the fashion, beauty, entertainment, events and public relations industries. The application itself is a digital Rolodex of local and national brand partnerships to coordinate and work with like-minded fellow female entrepreneurs. Learn more about your premium pricing here and how powerful and convenient the process is to secure a big collaboration. 


Tech Crunch – 

As TechCrunch’s Disrupt SF conference is a requested destination for all startups in the U.S. It was exciting to hear RetailAware was accepted to the Startup Alley which is the heart of Disrupt SF where over 1,000 pre-series A startups and sponsors across all verticals showcased their tech products, platforms and services. Our very own co-founder of TSC, Erica, had the privilege to represent RetailAware to help advise and share how their technology can help brands and retailers measure consumer behavior and retail execution in real-time. 


Start Omaha – 

With Omaha becoming increasingly familiar and friendly toward entrepreneurial pursuits, programs like Do Space’s Start Omaha event provide countless resources for the startup inclined. This week-long event provides valuable drop-in work sessions for early-phase startups, where first-time and veteran entrepreneurs can ask questions, brainstorm on customer acquisition strategies, formulate pitch decks and more. 


Start Omaha’s opening night was kicked off with informative conversations from Dundee Venture Capital’s Allie Esch and serial-entrepreneur Brian Ardinger as Director of Innovation at Nelnet and founder with InsideOutside podcast. Immediately following, three of our Fellows participated in a “Pseudo-Slam”, presenting their companies to the diverse audience of industry experts and soon-to-be entrepreneurs. Paska Juma of Jamila and Billy Martin of Event Vesta began the presentations, with Xavier Jackson of Showcase rounding out the pitches. With a lively and inquisitive audience, all three teams were able to answer questions and receive feedback on their go-to-market strategies, strengthening future iterations of their pitch deck content — with one lucky participant receiving a free Professional Membership to Do Space.


1 Million Cups Omaha and Lincoln –

1MC Omaha and Lincoln is a perfect opportunity to share your traction and business model with a very engaged audience. 1MC is a free event to drink coffee, learn about local startups, ask questions and empower entrepreneurs with tools and resources to break down barriers that stand in the way of growing your company. Here are the TSC fellows that have recently presented:


Job Share Connect – Job Share Connect is working with employers to help them recruit and retain top talent by offering job sharing as a flexible work option. JSC is building the “unicorn employee” with two people. If you’re not familiar with job sharing, it’s when two people share the roles and responsibilities of one full-time position. Job sharing allows employees a way to maintain their career path while having the additional flexibility they need throughout different stages of their lives. Job Share Connect matches talent using a validated selection process to match job share pairs of similar and/or complementary skills based on the needs of a specific position. 

FileFuseFileFuse optimizes collaboration between audio engineers and their clients. They enable real-time feedback to manage files and get paid in one centralized hub.

Imposter Syndrome // Should We Avoid or Embrace It?

Imposter Syndrome // Should We Avoid or Embrace It?

At The Startup Collaborative, we work with a wide variety of founders. They range from those who have started multiple companies to those who have never imagined themselves as an entrepreneur. One consistent aspect we often hear about from those who become successful — or who are well on their way — is the notion of Imposter Syndrome.


Imposter Syndrome is often described as that feeling of not deserving the successes you’ve rightfully earned. That somehow, you got lucky, and that the circles you now find yourself in, won’t fully accept you, your company or a presumed lack of expertise. Simply put, Imposter Syndrome can completely debilitate those susceptible to social insecurities.


So how do we feel about Imposter Syndrome at TSC? There are two ways to go about it, there’s the “fake it ‘til you make it” approach, putting on that expected persona to combat the idea that you might not belong…


…Or you can embrace your individuality. One of the most efficient ways to learn and challenge who we are is to take ourselves out of our own comfort zone. The fact that someone doesn’t “fit the mold” of an entrepreneur is even more exciting for our ecosystem. It’s paving the way for anyone and everyone to take that leap of faith, without the social restraints of being the next Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates or Jeff Bezos.


Our investment thesis actually provides you with a step-by-step approach to knowing every crucial detail about the company that you’re building. From market fit to the development cycle, even financial forecasting and creating your first (of many!) sales pipelines — we’ll be that sidecar on your journey toward building a company focused on longevity. 

We scour our ecosystem for individuals and teams who look at Imposter Syndrome and utilize it as a motivator, a means to prove themselves. We’re constantly on the lookout for people wanting to disrupt industries. And, as our world continues to rapidly change, disrupt what it means to “be an entrepreneur.”

Embrace What Makes You Stand Out

From Skill Building to Starting Up // A Q&A With UNO’s Dale Eesley

From Skill Building to Starting Up // A Q&A With UNO’s Dale Eesley

Dr. Dale T. Eesley is the John Morgan Community Chair in Entrepreneurship, Founder and Director of the Center for Innovation, Entrepreneurship & Franchising, and an Associate Professor of Entrepreneurship & Strategy.

Dr. Eesley received his Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin, Madison in Entrepreneurship & Strategy. He has been teaching and consulting in the field of entrepreneurship for over 18 years.

The Startup Collaborative is a proud supporter of CIEF and works alongside Dale to ensure that college students who are seeking startup opportunities and capital know the ins-and-outs of how to traverse that path in the Greater Omaha area. 


Q: Dale, tell us about the Center for Innovation, Entrepreneurship & Financing (CIEF).


A: The goal of the center is to be a leader for the development and support of student entrepreneurs, high-growth startups and research to promote economic development. We do this by exposing students in every field of study to the potential of entrepreneurship, preparing students to start and grow high-potential new ventures, and conduct research that encourages local business formation and success.  


In addition to our main courses in Entrepreneurship I and II, we offer entrepreneurial finance, social entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial selling, we also have faculty in other departments that incorporate entrepreneurship into their own courses in psychology, arts, political science, geography etc.  


Outside the classroom, we offer a wide variety of opportunities for students to experience entrepreneurship, build their skills and connect with the startup community.  Events include Breakthrough Weekend, the BigIdea! Pitch Contest, the Maverick Business Plan Contest, the Midwest Entrepreneurship Conference (April 3 and 4, 2020) and A Celebration of Entrepreneurship Gala and Awards.


We also offer many programs, such as the Entrepreneurial Living Learning Community, the Maverick Venture Fund, Stedman’s Cafe, Collegiate Entrepreneurs’ Organization, the Maverick Young Entrepreneurs’ Summer Camp (Jr. High) and the eFellows faculty consortium.


Q: Give us the 101-version on what you believe the difference is between innovation and entrepreneurship.


A: Everyone has their own definition of entrepreneurship, but I am happy to just view it as starting or owning a business or organization in a context where there is risk or uncertainty.  


Innovation can lead to entrepreneurship, but it has a much broader application to business and even your personal life. Innovation is a process of improvement and discovery, often applied to an existing problem or to create something altogether new.  


Q: What is unique about the entrepreneurial ecosystem of our region?


A: I am always amazed at how supportive our community is for entrepreneurs. It is not difficult to network and find individuals who can give advice or resources entrepreneurs need. I tell my students that if they had a good reason to meet with a billionaire, we probably could arrange that meeting in less than a month!


Q: What is the most beneficial impact you’ve seen CIEF make for students?


A: We empower students to believe that they could either start or own a business, even early in their careers. We expose them to many entrepreneurs and small business owners, and they come to realize that they are just as smart and capable.  


Q: We’d love to hear about Breakthrough Weekend, how did that get started?

A: Startup Weekend ran four years ago in partnership with TechStars, CIEF and the Startup Collaborative. After the first year, we realized we had the ability to run the event without TechStars assistance and so Erica renamed it Breakthrough Weekend and we have been running it together since then. The Startup Collaborative created a great program that moves the teams through the first four badges in their program in just one weekend. Students love the structure and it is very well-suited to the types of students and ideas we get at BW. I hope the Startup Collaborative shares its program with more universities, it works very well.


Q: Are all UNO students eligible to participate, regardless of major?


A: Definitely. I would say half our students are from the college of business, a third of our students are from PKI, and the rest are a wide variety of other majors, other universities and community members.  


Q: What is the most valuable takeaway students receive from Breakthrough Weekend?


A: Perhaps the most valuable takeaway is that if you have an idea, you can improve your odds of success by carefully listening to your customers and testing your assumptions. Another big takeaway is simply meeting a lot of different people who are interested in innovation and entrepreneurship and the many programs that exist that are willing to help them.


Q: What’s next for CIEF and UNO’s entrepreneurial initiatives?

A: CIEF provides a lot of programming each year, and with current staffing, it can’t add much more in the near future. Instead of adding one more event, we will be focusing on obtaining major grants or donations that could support incubator space on campus, grow the Maverick Venture Fund so that we can invest more in our students and alumni and additional personnel to mentor our students and increase the output of quality research.

Our Takeaways from NVCA + Berkeley’s VC University

Our Takeaways from NVCA + Berkeley’s VC University

The National Venture Capital Association and Startup@Berkeley Law partnered to democratize access to education on venture capital for emerging funds. The result of this partnership: VC University, most recently hosted at Tulane University’s Freeman School of Business. 

TSC Cofounder Erica Wassinger was awarded a generous scholarship to VC University and shares her takeaways. 

There are very few mentors geographically within reach that have the muscle memory to guide me through constructing, raising and managing a venture fund. The ones I do have I hold very closely and pester frequently with questions. 

I needed to expedite my muscle formation on venture capital fund development and management. I wanted to learn from teams that had seen and executed thousands of term sheets, hundreds of follow-on funding rounds and dozens of successful exits. That led me to VC University

Questions rattling around in my head prior to VC University included:

  • How could I accelerate success by avoiding common failure points? 
  • How could I sharpen my dealmaking skills so they were both founder-aligned and future-investor friendly? 
  • What do the great VCs know that I don’t?
  • In our current fund and for our future fund, am I fully aware of our bright and blind spots?

Some of the key takeaways:

Fund thesis = Fund construction and vice versa.
At face value, these are not intertwined functions of a venture fund, but if you are promising any type of return they must be intimately supportive of each other.

Our current fund is built on an objective set of customer-related triggers and a tight geographic radius — our thesis. Yet, our fund’s construction was not as tightly defined as it should be. We built our initial term sheets on what we considered a one-size-fits-most traditional venture model.

While these customer-related triggers act as our due diligence – and many of our co-investors’’ due diligence too – they don’t necessarily take into consideration how our terms will convert later based on the startups’ profitability or subsequent rounds of venture capital.

As a result, we are exploring new variants of term sheets to better serve our founders for the long haul.

If you want the deal, get the deal done.

It was eye-opening to me just how much information we have on an angel-stage deal, comparative to nearly all investors before we get to the term sheet.

By nature of TSC’s methodology, we are riding shotgun to a founder for no less than four months but more likely a year prior to making an investment decision.

We know the founding team’s tendencies, superpowers, and Achilles’ heels. And, more importantly, they know ours. If they want us as a partner in their business for the next 10+ years and vice versa, then let’s make this deal happen.

We could stand to be more flexible on terms. We are toying with an additional set of criteria that supports a more tailored, founder-aligned valuation. Some valuation considerations are incredibly well outlined in this recent post by Bill Gurley.

Not all deal flow is created equal, term sheets can evolve.

Perhaps one of the most glaring differences between what is happening in Silicon Valley vs flyover country was the prolific use of KISSs, SAFEs and Convertible Notes in early-stage deals. Outside of Convertible Notes, we have not yet seen an abundance or even a pattern of KISSs and SAFEs hit the midwest. 

I’ll admit that I am sold on the value of Convertible Notes as the easiest means to get a deal done and can set the proper stage for a company’s first act, second act and third act of financing. 

But, I am not yet sold on the traditional fund model that anticipates only one or two deals should return an entire fund. Perhaps it is our homegrown geographic thesis. Perhaps it’s my goal to see more sustainable companies grow for the long haul. Hell, maybe it is my inability to ride the waves of boom or bust in startup land.

Whatever my bias is in this one, I am growing even more keen on models like Indie.VC and Earnest Capital. And, Fred Wilson’s recent blog post on the Great Public Market Reckoning only fanned the flames on this thinking. 

All that opining to say, VC University was hands-down one of the best experiences I have made thus far in my career. The NVCA and Berkeley team helped me leapfrog years of skinned-knee lessons. If you are considering more angel investments or launching a fund, it’s a no brainer. 

Meanwhile, follow these great minds on Twitter for ongoing education:

Adam Sterling @adambsterling

Director, Berkeley Center for Law and Business

Maryam Haque @nighthaque

SVP of Industry Advancement, National Venture Capital Association

National Venture Capital Association @nvca

Startup@BerkeleyLaw @StartupBerkLaw

Behind the Founder: Ross Harding // Scribe

Behind the Founder: Ross Harding // Scribe

Often, startup stories focus more on the product and company than they do the people that made them possible. We at The Startup Collaborative have found that our mission statement to allow everyone an unbiased investment thesis to building their own tech-centric company allows us to step aside and let the entrepreneurs be center stage. The Behind the Founder campaign is meant to do just that —  let the stories of those who call themselves TSC Fellows be told from their own perspective.

What’s your name?

Ross Harding

Where are you from?

I was born in Anchorage, Alaska but I grew up in Omaha. After going to the University of Virginia, I moved back to Omaha and that’s where we’ve been working on growing Scribe.

How did your upbringing influence you today?

I think I owe everything to my upbringing. Though I’m naturally curious I think ambition and a love of learning are cultivated. Without my parents’ encouragement and guidance, I don’t think I’d have the drive or interest to start a business. 

Whether you’ve met them or not, who is one REAL person that has influenced you?

I have a friend named Ishmael who has inspired me since day one. He’s an immigrant whose parents both passed away before he was 21. Despite a period of homelessness, no college education, and life dealing him a rough hand, he has gone on to become an incredibly successful software developer and entrepreneur. His grit and drive remind me that I can do anything I put my mind to.

Who is one FICTIONAL character that has inspired your life/career and why?

As strange as it may seem, I find Michael Scott inspirational. As a manager, he sets his employees up to be self-sufficient and responsible. Though this is through his own shortcomings and not by design, I still think it’s a good reminder that people can and do manage themselves. They just need an environment in which to do so.

From a sketch on a napkin to officially starting up, what triggered the inception of your company?

I originally felt the need to start a company in the greeting card space after several fruitless attempts to buy greeting cards. I was increasingly frustrated by the process and selection. Finally, in February of 2018, I tried to buy a card for my uncle’s birthday and my grandparents’ anniversary. After spending forty-five minutes at two stores and only buying one card I was pissed off. I called Jesse and told him we needed to do something.

How did the founding team meet?

Shortly after coming into this world I found myself sharing a room with him. He’s my brother and about two years my senior. 

Within The Startup Collaborative, what level was the most challenging for you, your company and why?

I personally found Level 3 // Messaging the most challenging. While Jesse is very brand-focused, I’m not. I tend to pay attention to operations and logistics. I like the numbers and processes that make up a business. Jesse doesn’t find these things all that interesting and instead focuses on brand, marketing, artwork, etc. Messaging was probably easy for him but I hadn’t given a ton of thought to the story Scribe was telling. This made the messaging stage challenging for me, but it was also fun to think through these aspects of the business I had brushed over initially.  

Within The Startup Collaborative, what level has been the most rewarding for you, your company and why?

I think it was the first two levels that I found the most rewarding. Prior to joining The Startup Collaborative, we only had an idea and didn’t know whether it was a good one. The team at TSC gave us some quick validation when we joined. But far more exciting and promising was the feedback we got on our initial customer surveys. Seeing the frustration people had around greeting cards and the excitement they seemed to feel when we explained our solution was all the encouragement we needed to really dig in and start building a business. 

Presently, what does a typical day look like for you and your company?

Since we haven’t officially launched, Jesse and I are still working other jobs, so we mostly work on nights and weekends. I usually go to Jesse’s house and we talk through ideas, send emails, etc. I handle fulfillment from my apartment.

What’s next for you and your company?

We launch on October 16! At that point, we’re going all-in on acquiring users, fine-tuning our offerings, and ensuring we have product-market fit.

More Venture Capital Deals than Anyone in the State // A Q&A With Invest Nebraska

More Venture Capital Deals than Anyone in the State // A Q&A With Invest Nebraska

Ben Williamson is a senior associate and general counsel for Invest Nebraska, the state’s most active venture capital fund. Invest Nebraska is funded through the Nebraska Department of Economic Development and, in our humble opinion, is easily one of the best examples of economic development with a tangible return.


The Startup Collaborative is a proud co-investor alongside Invest Nebraska. We are also grateful to have Ben serve as an adjunct. 


Q: Ben, tell us about Invest Nebraska.


A: Invest Nebraska exists with a mission to build a better future for our state by providing financial and operational assistance to high growth companies, advancing the entrepreneurial economy, and attracting out-of-state capital to Nebraska. Though Invest Nebraska was created in 2002, it really became impactful with the passage of the Business Innovation Act, introduced in 2011 on behalf of Governor Dave Heineman and passed unanimously by the Legislature. Invest Nebraska partners with The Nebraska Department of Economic Development and receives an appropriation under the Business Innovation Act that provides the resources to make direct investments into Nebraska companies. The fall of 2012 saw Invest Nebraska make its first equity investment under the Business Innovation Act and Invest Nebraska continues to help grow Nebraska’s economy by assisting entrepreneurs and investing capital in those companies that have high growth potential. Since 2012, Invest Nebraska has invested over $20M in capital in Nebraska start-ups – those investments have been matched by ~$90M in co-investment and those companies have gone on to raise ~$140M in subsequent capital.


Q: Tell us what it means to take capital from Invest Nebraska means.


A: We are industry agnostic, but we require companies to be based in Nebraska and they must have at least a 1:1 match to our investment from private co-investors. Next, we target “high-growth” companies, or companies that have innovative or proprietary products within a large obtainable market and that demonstrate early traction with a scalable business model. We primarily make equity investments (which includes convertible notes) but do occasionally offer traditional loan capital as well. Ultimately, our goal is to be a great partner to our portfolio companies and provide as much value as possible through operational assistance and our network of investors and advisors


Q: In the lifecycle of a startup, where does capital from Invest Nebraska fit in? 


A: We invest at various stages of a company’s life cycle, but primarily invest at the “seed” stage. To us, that means post-MVP (minimum viable product) and usually post-revenue but typically the first round of “institutional” capital. We write checks of $100k to $250k and often lead investment rounds. 


Q: If a startup wants to earn investment from Invest Nebraska, what milestones should they hit?


A: There are currently two ways to get an investment from Invest Nebraska: through the Startup Collaborative or directly through Invest Nebraska. The companies that we help fund who make it through the Startup Collaborative modules are generally earlier than companies in which we invest directly but TSC’s milestones are well defined and TSC provides great tools for success. For direct investments, it really depends on the type of company. Regardless of the company, they must have a working MVP or prototype as mentioned above. Additionally, for example, for true B2B software as a service (SaaS) companies (i.e. business to business software with a recurring subscription fee) we like to see market validation in the form of material revenue. Conversely, a biotechnology or medical device company may be more capital intensive and take years to generate revenue. In those cases, we would instead look for formal intellectual property, prototype tests, and experiences and/or repeat founders. At the end of the day, whether you’re seeking investment or not, it’s essential to get an MVP into the market as soon as possible and start trying to sell it to customers before committing time, money, investment, or burning the boats. 


Q: How – and when – does a startup need to start talking to you about venture capital needs?

A: If it were up to me, I would talk to every startup at least a year before they even consider raising capital. To go even a step further, I’d love to talk to them at the point when they’re deciding whether it makes sense to fully pursue this idea. There are tons of resources available for companies at the business planning stage and it is really important to think about capital needs and business strategy as early as possible.


Q: You are a big proponent of taking capital only when capital accelerates growth, talk a bit about that.


A: This is certainly one of the most self-sabotaging opinions that I hold. Venture Capital is probably inappropriate for 99+% of companies and frankly, I think companies should only raise money (i) if they absolutely have to (i.e. the capital intensive companies I referenced above); or (ii) if they have significant market validation and are growing quickly. Most companies I talk to don’t fit into either category, which isn’t a bad thing. It just means you should consider not raising capital, and “bootstrap” your company – by the way, this is a perfectly valid way to run a business. I fear that founders see other companies talking about raising money on Twitter and think “I’m supposed to raise money.” File that under the category of “Worst Reasons To Raise Money Ever”. 


To clarify, when I say “raising capital”, I mean raising a formal round of financing typically including institutional investors. I think it’s nearly always acceptable to take grant money or raise money (i.e. $0-200,000) from “Friends and Family” to get started as long as the investors’ expectations are aligned with yours!!


Q: What are some of the things founders need to consider when it comes to capital?


A: When it comes to capital to get a business off the ground, I often see founders complicating the financial modeling process. It’s important to look primarily at two things: (i) the baseline cost required to develop an MVP that you can put into the market and start making money; and (ii) the unit economics to ensure that your product is capable of achieving necessary margins (i.e. top line revenue per unit minus the cost of goods). If you can cover/raise the baseline MVP cost and the unit economics are good, then you only need to ensure your product solves a real (and compelling) customer problem that people (whom you don’t know) are willing to pay you for.


With respect to fundraising capital, the biggest thing founders need to consider are incentives and expectations. If an investor and founder incentives/expectations are misaligned, everybody loses, period. Perhaps more obviously, founders also need to understand dilution and how different forms of capital affect dilution (P.S. this directly impacts incentives, as well). Lastly, founders often try to raise money at way too high of valuation at the seed stage – I think there is ego tied up in achieving a high valuation, even though it has nothing to do with the actual value of the company.  This is super counterproductive as companies that do this almost never achieve the traction subsequent to that fundraise to raise at a higher valuation the next time they raise, which has big time detrimental effects. 


Q: What’s one more thing you’d like to add? 


A: Founders: read and learn as much as you possibly can – if you need recommendations, I have them. Lastly, A robust startup ecosystem is based largely on relationships…so let’s get coffee! Or beer!

Are YOU Ready to Startup?

Behind the Founder: Keith Fix // Retail Aware

Behind the Founder: Keith Fix // Retail Aware

Often, startup stories focus more on the product and company than they do the people that made them possible. We at The Startup Collaborative have found that our mission statement to allow everyone an unbiased investment thesis to building their own tech-centric company allows us to step aside and let the entrepreneurs be center stage. The Behind the Founder campaign is meant to do just that —  let the stories of those who call themselves TSC Fellows be told from their own perspective.

What’s your name?

Keith Fix

Where are you from?

Norfolk, NE but raised in Omaha

How did your upbringing influence you today?

I had a middle-class upbringing for the most part. However, when my parents separated, my mom and I ended up in a shelter. I started building websites for cash going into middle school, which is what led me down the path I am at today.

Whether you’ve met them or not, who is one REAL person that has influenced you?

I’ve been so fortunate to have many amazing business role models in my life. However, as it relates to my current tech startup (and I’ve told him this story before), if it weren’t for Dusty Davidson I probably wouldn’t have stayed in Omaha. 


He came and spoke to one of my undergrad classes. He sold me on the idea that you could have a meaningful impact in a community like Omaha. He helped me see that you can start, grow and exit a tech company right here in the Silicon Prairie. At the time, venture money was only in the San Francisco Bay Area, startups weren’t cool, entrepreneurship wasn’t a buzzword, and developers didn’t seem to stay in Omaha. So, this was nuts! 


But my dude practiced what he preached. At the time, Dusty had a software consultancy called Brightmix here in town. He’d later go on to co-found Silicon Prairie News, Big Omaha and co-found/raise venture money for Tripleseat which moved to Boston and Flywheel which just sold for an undisclosed amount to WP Engine after growing to several hundred employees. 

Who is one FICTIONAL character that has inspired your life/career and why?

This sounds bad, but I’m a non-fiction guy. So, I can’t say offhand. 

From a sketch on a napkin to officially starting up, what triggered the inception of your company?

I was running a digital signage integration business. Our largest end-users were brands selling into brick-and-mortar. The lack of data and visibility at the shelf level made it impossible to prove ROI on the fixtures and displays they were putting into stores. There had to be a better way. 


After I sold my integration business, I moonlit on the problem with a technical partner until we built the initial solution. What was important is that we built alongside our customers, using both my domain expertise in the space combined with real-world validation, testing and failure. We were never married to a specific technology or idea, but rather the problem(s) we were solving for our customers. 


It didn’t become a real viable business until we landed our first large customer last year. So you could say we were an overnight success two years in the making. 

How did the founding team meet?

I can’t stress how important it is to be involved and connected to the community you want to work in. If you want to build a startup, it’s the technology/startup organizations, groups, meetups, and events you need to be plugged into. 


Over the years I’ve been active in local events/orgs like 1 Million Cups (fun fact: I was an ‘OG’ presenter at Kauffman Labs in KC), Big Omaha, BarCamp, TechOmaha, UNO’s Collegiate Entrepreneurs Organization, Pipeline, NMotion, StartupWeekend, Startup Collaborative and more. I’ve also attended out of state events like the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Vegas, SXSW in Austin (this year was my first!), and others in San Francisco, Chicago, Denver/Boulder, and NYC. 


It’s taken a lot of mileage, but every great partner I’ve worked with has come from this network. Our founding team included. One of our members came from Collaborative, another from Big Omaha/UNO C-E-O, and another who I met through networking – we previously worked together on another project. 

Within The Startup Collaborative, what level was the most challenging for you, your company and why?

They all had their challenges. The hardest part for me was staying focused on the next deliverable while also operating the business. We had so many moving pieces to our business – designing, building, executing hardware, software, store installs, vendors, sales, customer support, fundraising, building out the team, etc. – looking back its overwhelming to even think about everything that’s gone into getting us even to this point.

Within The Startup Collaborative, what level has been the most rewarding for you, your company and why?

Hands down, the fundraising level. It was that external validation we’ve built something bigger than ourselves. But don’t be fooled, it’s like jumping into the next chapter where the obstacle course just gets bigger and you just extended the time clock enough to get to your next milestone.  

Presently, what does a typical day look like for you and your company?

There is no typical day. My days are mostly spent stalking/emailing/talking to customers, traveling to industry events/trade shows, meetings, putting out fires, taking care of business needs, working with the team, laying out roadmaps/plans/budgets/proposals and the many nuanced tasks that seen to creep up throughout the day. 

What’s next for you and your company?

Sky’s the limit. Our vision is to connect the world’s retail. It’s not often you have the right ingredients to make really impactful change in an industry, but our team, partners, investors, and customers are incredible and hands down the group that can help pull it off. 


My three priorities for the rest of the year are (1) tightening up our current offerings, (2) securing follow-on orders from existing customers and (3) closing a few key new accounts. Business 101 stuff. But easier said than done, right? 


We’re launching new wireless micro sensors and announcing a new product next quarter. Traveling to London to meet with strategic customer/partner next week. Doing more speaking engagements (find me! —> www.groceryshop.com/speakers). Exhibiting at TechCrunch Disrupt in San Francisco the first week of October! 


And so much more.

First Steps to Starting Up // Download our Free Pre-Validation Packet

First Steps to Starting Up // Download our Free Pre-Validation Packet

Our inherent belief is that anyone can become an entrepreneur. With our unbiased and objective-based approach to building tech startups, we can help accelerate both first-time and long-time entrepreneurs.

Taking those first steps into starting a company can be incredibly intimidating, though. The most common question that people ask is: “How do I get started?”. With our Pre-Validation Packet, we’ve simplified this process even further. Condensing both LEVEL 1 and LEVEL 2 of our methodology, we challenged the traditional accelerator and incubator approach to provide everything the public would need, available with full transparency.

Your first step? Simply schedule a brief, digital conversation (what we like to call “virtual coffee”) with a TSC team member. This will help to ensure that our process is clear, as well as allow anyone the ability to dive deeper into any questions they might have toward building a startup. 

The next step? Download the Pre-Validation Packet and get to work! Think about that problem that you want to solve and who would most benefit from a solution to start compiling a customer list. No matter what your intended solution might be, this is your chance to conduct market research. Removing your own bias to the solution might feel uncomfortable, but it is imperative to gain the most sincere and crucial feedback from the customer. 

Through surveys and interviews, which we provide clear step-by-step processes to complete, founders are able to tap into what the market is most adamantly looking for. The logic behind this is simple: Build a tech-based solution that the customer and industry are desperate for. We’re looking for ideas that swing for the fences, all while solving those BIG problems for their customers. Rather than you hoping you come across that idea yourself, let your customers tell you themselves!

How to Prepare for the Nebraska Angels // A Q&A With Stephanie Luebbe

How to Prepare for the Nebraska Angels // A Q&A With Stephanie Luebbe

Stephanie Luebbe is the executive director for the Nebraska Angels. She joined the organization in early 2018. Stephanie joined the angels after a career at Hudl, Conagra Brands and Walmart, where she specialized in market development and merchandising. Since joining the angels, she’s elevated the organization’s operations and increased the number of active angel investors in Nebraska. 

The Startup Collaborative is a proud partner to the Nebraska Angels and works alongside Stephanie to ensure that fellows who are seeking capital know the ins-and-outs of fundraising from angel investors. 

Q: Stephanie, tell us about the Nebraska Angels.

A: The Nebraska Angels network was formally organized in 2006 to provide structure around angel investing in Nebraska, making it easier for startups to find investors and for angel investors to manage funding requests. Our mission is to provide high-quality investment opportunities to our members while building the entrepreneurial community. Over the last decade, our members have deployed over $27M in early-stage, high growth companies. Members are passionate about start-ups and helping entrepreneurs scale with the necessary capital. The Angels’ portfolio consists of forty-four companies, with two notable exits of EyeVerify and Flywheel.

Q: Give us the 101-version on what angel investment means.

A: Many entrepreneurs seek capital (other than their own funds) at some point during the life cycle of their business. Where capital is sourced often depends on the industry and maturity of the business.  The various sources of capital include grants, friends & family, angel capital and venture capital. Angel investors will most often invest through convertible preferred stock or convertible notes. 

Q: In our region, when do the Nebraska Angels like to invest in a company?

A: Entrepreneurs tend to seek angel investment when an injection of capital is necessary to take the company to the next level in terms of market penetration, customer acquisition and key hires to expand the team.  Tangible metrics include a product that’s live in the market with some level of a customer base that is paying for the product and/or service. This can vary significantly by industry, however, for a SaaS business model we like to see monthly recurring revenue of +$20,000. Most Angel rounds are usually in the range of $250,000 to $3,000,000 for capital raised. 

Q: As a startup, what are the key things you should do to prepare for fundraising?

A: Engaging our group early on in the process will allow for in-depth discussions and assessment of the most optimal fundraising path with our members and syndicate partners. Specific materials that are required for an application include a pitch deck, anticipated terms, cap table, historical financials and a Pro-forma of at least three years. Also, ensure you seek legal counsel that specializes in startup formations and financing transactions prior to pursuing investors.

Q: What questions should entrepreneurs anticipate from angel investors?

A: Early-stage investors will want to understand the journey of the company, starting with what motivated the idea for the business to how scalable your operations are. Rather than preparing the “perfect pitch” for investors, consider telling a story that others can relate to, peppered with data and metrics that make the investment opportunity appealing. Every entrepreneur and start-up faces challenges along the way, and angels will want to see how you can learn, lead and pivot through those times. Check out this list of questions as you assess and prepare for taking on outside capital. 

Q: What is the entrepreneur’s process from the application on your site to securing funds?

A: The estimated length of the entire process is around 60 days from submitting an application to the collection of funds. A step-by-step guide of the process can be found here. If our members are not interested in funding a company, we try to reach that answer in a much shorter window as well as provide feedback to help founders with future fundraising efforts. Every angel investor approaches their decision-making process differently; our goal is to help streamline the process with centralized diligence efforts, organized meetings, etc.

Q: What are the top reasons an entrepreneur is not selected to present to the Nebraska Angels?

A: In most cases, the timing is too early to capture investor interest and founders are asked to come back once they’ve gained more traction in the market. Another limiting factor is the size of the attainable market and whether it can support growth that could eventually provide angels with a +10x return on their investment.

Q: What’s one more thing you’d like to add? 

A: Raising capital is not easy and usually a lengthy process. The more you can learn and understand about taking on outside investors before actually doing so is highly encouraged. Take the time to apply a valuation to your company and prepare your presentation.


Behind the Founder: Joshua Hample // Certified Cell

Behind the Founder: Joshua Hample // Certified Cell

Often, startup stories focus more on the product and company than they do the people that made them possible. We at The Startup Collaborative have found that our mission statement to allow everyone an unbiased investment thesis to building their own tech-centric company allows us to step aside and let the entrepreneurs be center stage. The Behind the Founder campaign is meant to do just that —  let the stories of those who call themselves TSC Fellows be told from their own perspective.

What’s your name?

Joshua Hample

Where are you from?

Originally, Victoria, British Columbia

How did your upbringing influence you today?

My parents always encouraged me to explore, ask questions and never be satisfied with the status quo. This also meant that I needed to get off my butt and spend time outside and my room was never clean enough for their liking but it certainly laid the foundation for who I am today.  

Whether you’ve met them or not, who is one REAL person that has influenced you?

Elon Musk – he’s a visionary and is always finding ways to challenge the way things are done. 

Who is one FICTIONAL character that has inspired your life/career and why?

Tony Stark comes to mind – clearly, the fictional version of Elon also finds creative and innovative solutions to the world’s most complex problems.

From a sketch on a napkin to officially starting up, what triggered the inception of your company?

There was a clear problem that needed to be solved. With all the technology we have at our fingertips it is shocking that there are still people meeting strangers in parking lots with cash to buy/sell their phones.

How did the founding team meet?

We were trying to find ways that our respective businesses could do work together unrelated to Certified Cell. 

Within The Startup Collaborative, what level was the most challenging for you, your company and why?

The first few were the most difficult for us because we wanted to run before we would walk and the difficulty was overcoming my initial frustration and realizing the process was what we truly needed. I am definitely thankful we slowed down and did our due diligence in the beginning – it was game-changing for us.  

Within The Startup Collaborative, what level has been the most rewarding for you, your company and why?

It’s certainly always nice to get to a point where you trigger funding because money is a tough nut to crack at times. To know there is a group of intelligent people who have validated your business to the point where they’re making the decision to invest in your future is a very liberating feeling. 

Presently, what does a typical day look like for you and your company?

Can I insert a picture of someone with their hair on fire here? The word “hustle” comes to mind and there is no other way to describe it. Is starting up easy? No, it’s not but the time, energy, passion, and love you put into the business doesn’t feel like work. Instead, you’re growing something for you and your family and even though some days feel like you’re trying to run in quicksand there are others that feel like you’re flying. Comparing the days of working for someone else and the days working for yourself – there are infinitely more days where you feel like you’re flying.

What’s next for you and your company?

We are going to keep up the hustle. We have aggressive goals for the company and we know it’s going to take everything we have to achieve those goals.

See? Everyone Can Startup!