March 24, 2022
(Jacob Baker - NSN Business)
Nebraska has a golden opportunity to become the startup state. Over the years, Nebraska has retooled to increase tech investment. The state has added institutions such as Lincoln's Innovation Campus and groups such as Invest Nebraska or Nebraska Angels. These investments have already begun to pay off. In Lincoln alone, startup companies raised nearly $300 million during 2021, a record-breaking year.
Nebraska holds many advantages when compared to other startup states. One of the most important is Nebraska’s cost of living is well below the national average. Entrepreneur Kirk Zeller, a 20-year veteran of Silicon Valley, elaborated that due to the cost of living, what would cost $10 million of investment in Silicon Valley would be a tenth of the price in the Good Life.
Nebraska also holds advantages in education. The University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha is one of the nation's premier medical colleges and acts as a hub for investment. UNMC not only produces top talent for the state but also helps with the research and development of products. Zeller, who has two healthcare startups based in Nebraska, said that UNMC has not only worked with him at external sites but also internally at UNMC.
Many cities in Nebraska have made huge investments as well. Norfolk, NE, for example, has significantly invested in to schooling with Northeast Community College. The Omaha Planning Board has recently approved the Urban Core Redevelopment Plan aimed at bringing thousands of jobs into downtown Omaha. They have also enticed tech giants such as Google and Facebook/Meta to build centers in Papillon, an Omaha sub-division.
The greatest advantage that Nebraska holds over other states is being “Nebraska Nice.” Zeller explained that in Nebraska, people are willing to give up the single most valuable item: their time. He cited calling Tony Goins, Nebraska’s Director of Economic Development, to ask him if he had any time to talk. Five minutes later they were discussing business strategies over coffee.
To ultimately capitalize on Nebraska demeanor Zeller said “What I ultimately want to do is I want to have a Nebraska work ethic with a Silicon Valley sense of urgency.”
Nebraska has further avenues of promoting startup businesses through the many nonprofit and for-profit organizations in Nebraska. One such organization is Nebraska Angels. It is comprised of over 100 investors and has invested more than $44 million through 60 portfolios since its inception in 2006. Another organization is Grow Nebraska, a nonprofit aimed at helping small businesses market themselves to the state.
Since 2011, Nebraska has grown from ranking last with venture capital raised to 29th in 2020, having raised $185 million in capital.
Nebraska is investing in a startup future through many means. Nonprofit and for-profit organizations are sprouting up, and many government agencies have joined in with cities investing in infrastructure, as is the case with Omaha Urban Core Development. Finally, the public has rallied behind industry veterans such as Zeller who contribute to the spread of knowledge. With those factors, Nebraska will become the “swing for the fences” state that many envision. -30-