Tag Archives: startup

Blockchain

July 26, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

To industries that depend on verification as a core factor of their business, blockchain technology has much to offer, according to Erica Wassinger, co-founder of The Startup Collaborative and senior director of entrepreneurship and innovation for the Greater Omaha Chamber. B2B recently caught up with Wassinger to get her take on blockchain and its benefits to companies in Omaha and elsewhere. 

B2B: Please explain what blockchain technology is. 

Wassinger: Blockchain is a new form of the internet. The distinguishing factor between blockchain and the internet as we know it now is the fact that blockchain is not controlled by any central entity or person. It’s completely decentralized and distributed. Think of it like a public ledger that can record transactions of any type. A simple parallel might be that it can be a supply chain for just about anything, including information. When you dig deeply into the industries of Omaha, you think about our density within the supply chain. We’re home to Union Pacific, Werner Enterprises, and some of these big logistics companies. Blockchain fits really nicely into the business models of those types of companies because it allows any organization or person to verify where something is on the supply chain. 

B2B: To make use of blockchain, you have to be appropriately credentialed, digitally, right? 

Wassinger: To an extent. Businesses can operate on blockchain, any person can cooperate on it. If you want to develop on the blockchain, it does require a certain level of skill. There are very few developers. I heard one source say there are as few as 1,300 true blockchain developers in the world. 

B2B: What are those individuals doing? Developing applications for different products? 

Wassinger: Yes. They’re thinking of different use cases just like we would for the internet, where we think of how to create a web platform or an app that solves a problem. Blockchain developers are doing that same thing for blockchain use cases. 

B2B: What are some blockchain use cases?

Wassinger: You see blockchain used in the food industry with the verification of crop growth product formation. For example, if, as a consumer, I want to eat a food, and it matters to me greatly that that is a wholly organic food, I might want to go all the way back to the point at which that was planted in the soil to figure out how the crop was treated, how often was it watered, when was it harvested, where did it go, and what happened to it at the next facility.

B2B: Is supply chain verification the most popular use of blockchain?

Wassinger: Yes, at least here in the Nebraska blockchain market, whether it’s the food supply chain or the information supply chain. 

B2B: What are some local use cases for blockchain?

Wassinger: Let’s dig into the economy of Omaha. We’ve got deep density in financial services— everything from payment processing to banking to insurance. All those bases are completely ripe for blockchain technology, especially when you think about the need for authenticating things. Think about insurance, for example. Wouldn’t it be great if, upon buying a new policy, you could record every transaction very simply? That’s happening now with certain insurance companies. They’re testing that, and some are live right now. You can also look outside financial services and into the food industry. There’s a startup we are working with called BlockEra that’s working on an ingredient-to-table verification process. You can also think supply chain logistics. For example, if I am Union Pacific and I want to watch my train go from here to there, and I want to know what freight was loaded, when it was unloaded, and all of the details of that experience, blockchain becomes very relevant. 

B2B: What about an international use case? 

Wassinger: The United Nations, which works with massive refugee populations, has a really interesting blockchain use case. As a refugee, your anonymity is important to you—the ability to transact in any environment is important. You also fully expect to have a physical wallet on you to carry cash. You’re going to be crossing borders and deal with this, that, or the other. So the United Nations looked at that. We can respect these people’s anonymity through leveraging the block chain by giving refugees tokens that will allow them to transact across any border. As they reach certain points in their journey, we can make sure that they have enough tokens to fuel that piece of their journey. 

B2B: The technology sounds great. How does anybody make money from it? 

Wassinger: A lot of people are still trying to figure all of this out. Because the transactions are happening on blockchain, they require use of cryptocurrency. When you hear “cryptocurrency,” a lot of people are going to initially think of bitcoin. But there are several others that come up, Ether being one. Ether is the cryptocurrency of choice for the Ethereum blockchain. Ethereum is an open- source blockchain that is hinged around the idea of a smart contract, which is a really transparent way of two entities agreeing on a value for something and then recording that agreement
transaction together. 

B2B: Is there anything you’d like to add? 

Wassinger: I think about Omaha and the talent pools we have here. I keep coming back to this: we’ve got really a strong agribusiness talent pool, we’ve got a really strong talent pool in supply chain and logistics, and we’ve got an incredibly dense and strong talent pool as it relates to financial services, insurance, and payment processing. I think our region needs to embrace blockchain. We need more people in the core industries where blockchain stands to be a major disruptive source to test and dabble and experiment earlier with the technology to look at it and say what levels of verification need to happen in those industries. I would love to see that embraced because I firmly believe that blockchain will be very important to the future of Omaha’s economy.


Visit blockgeeks.com for more information about blockchain.

This article was printed in the August/September 2018 edition of B2B.

Erica Wassinger, co-founder of The Startup Collaborative and senior director of entrepreneurship and innovation for the Greater Omaha Chamber

Invest In Yourself

January 19, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

There is nothing easy about running a business. But if keeping going is akin to spinning grandma’s good china while juggling flaming knives as you tame a coterie of ill-tempered badgers with little more than a spork—while blindfolded—actually starting the business is doubly so. Ask me how I know, assuming I can manage to get the badgers tranquilized and carted back to Wisconsin.

One of the most difficult things about starting a business is acquiring money. And, if you’re thinking of striking out on your own after 15 years as a roofer, you’re probably not going to find an angel investor at the Colab Construction Incubator who wants to float you a year or two’s operating costs and a pallet of roofing nails. So, maybe you get a loan. Maybe your friends and family invest. Maybe you scrape along project-by-project trying to make the cash flow actually live up to its name. Regardless, you don’t have a fistful of dollars to drop on anything inessential. Which is why you absolutely must lessen your kung-fu grip and drop some bread on your brand.

Notice that I said “brand” and not “marketing.” While I do think you should start making a habit of spending actual money on marketing as soon as possible, I believe in putting first things first. And your brand is first. Because you shouldn’t market what you don’t yet have figured out.

Chances are, you didn’t set aside much (any?) startup money for brand development beyond promising your cousin with the mad Creative Suite skills a case of microbrew for doing your logo. I understand the desire/ necessity to be as frugal as possible. But while it is technically possible to fix your brand later, it’s neither strategically nor financially sound to go that route.

So, here are the things you should consider paying money for from professionals who know what they’re doing: Business name, brand platform, logo, color palette/design standards, tone-of-voice, and doughnuts. Even if you think you have a good name for your company, at least consult someone with no emotional attachment to it or an in-law relationship to you. If you don’t know what a brand platform is, that’s all the more reason to have one—it will keep you focused on doing the right things while targeting the right people. The logo, standards, and tone- of-voice are the embodiment of your brand in the marketplace—it’s easier to stand out when these are done well. The doughnuts speak for themselves.

Combined, these elements give you a foundation for your business that should last for years. And it is even possible to find really great people and agencies who can do them at a cost that won’t cause heart palpitations. Also, even though you can list these things as expenses on your tax return, it is best to consider them investments. Because that’s what they are. And you’ll never have to pay capital gains tax on the brand equity you start building today.

Jason Fox is a freelance creative director and writer. He can be found at jasonfox.net and adsavior.com.

This column was printed in the February/March 2018 edition of B2B.

Four Steps to Strategic Planning for Startups

Photography by Bill Sitzmann

One of the keys to starting a new business successfully is having a strategic plan in place. This helps companies determine their direction, plan for the future, identify opportunities, and anticipate issues. It also helps companies keep up with changing client needs and market trends, stay ahead of the competition, unite employees around a shared vision, and ultimately make better business decisions. Although a strategic plan is critical for business success, it can be difficult for new owners to know where to start.

Start with your vision. What do you want your company to be like three to five years from now? Be specific. What will you have achieved? What will your competitive advantage be? What will your culture be? How will people work together? How will your company treat customers? How will people communicate with one another? What markets will you have tapped into? How will people make decisions? What new services will you offer? How will people demonstrate accountability? What will your reputation be? How will other organizations and the surrounding community view your company?

Identify the roadblocks. They could be policies, procedures, attitudes, etc. Sometimes they are obvious, sometimes less so. Consider what issues exist for your new company. Limited startup capital? Hiring warm bodies instead of true talent? Unfocused marketing strategy? Outdated technology platforms? Inconsistent pricing model? Squirrel syndrome? Figure out what could get in the way of achieving your vision and write it down.

Identify your strategies. What actions will you take to destroy your roadblocks and achieve your vision? These strategies may be projects, initiatives, events, etc. For example, what will you do to overcome an unfocused marketing strategy and achieve brand recognition? Establish partnerships with recognized brands? Identify competitive differentiators? Generate strategies for each of your roadblocks and be as specific as possible.

Nail down the specifics of implementation. What strategies will you focus on in your first year? What specific, measurable, action-oriented, realistic, time-bound steps need to be taken? Who will do what and when? Divide your first year into quarters, and drill into the specifics of what will take place in each quarter to keep your plan moving forward. As you look at your overall plan, consider whether the timing seems feasible and whether anyone has too much on his or her plate. Prioritize and rearrange as necessary. Next, decide how you will hold yourself and others accountable to the plan. Schedule regular follow-up meetings, and review and revise your plan each year.

Startups face many risks, but some of them can be avoided through proper strategic planning. Regularly review and revise your plan to keep up with a fast-paced, ever-changing world.

Lauren Weivoda, M.A., is a​ ​human​ ​capital​ ​strategist​​ at Solve Consulting LLC.

This column was printed in the February/March 2018 edition of B2B.

Big Omaha

May 24, 2017 by
Photography by Big Omaha

Rewind to May 8, 2009, and you will find a community of 400-plus graphic designers, entrepreneurs, creatives, developers, small business owners, and even a handful of investors seated in tidy rows at KANEKO in the Old Market. It was a first-of-its-kind conference for Omaha.

Many of these people knew of this event through casual conversations—mostly on Twitter—about a little-known conference coming to town called “Big Omaha.” It was the brainchild and second-born of friends Jeff Slobotski and Dusty Davidson (the previous year’s Silicon Prairie News being their firstborn). The two recognized a movement and a simmering energy surrounding the local tech community. It was a cadre of women and men who decided start-up and tech success could happen not on the West Coast but in their own backyards.

The inaugural Big Omaha sold out 10 days prior to the conference. The energy it created has sustained these past eight years. The result? Omaha is now a destination for start-ups seeking new ideas, new energy, and even new money in the form of investors.

“Big Omaha provides inspiration for people to start something,” explains Brian Lee of AIM, a not-for-profit organization that promotes technology to empower people, enhance organizations, and create brilliant communities. Lee serves as managing director of Big Omaha and Silicon Prairie News.

Two years ago, Big Omaha and Silicon Prairie News were acquired by AIM. Although the ownership structure has changed, the Big Omaha experience remains true to what Slobotski and Davidson created with the first conference in 2009.

“Big Omaha has had a huge impact on our community,” Lee says. “It is part of a larger movement in the past eight years that started with Big Omaha.”

Now the conference welcomes a sold-out audience of 700 attendees with guest speakers in a range of tech- and entrepreneurial-based industries who have crisscrossed the globe. When the speakers take the stage, the majority are candid about their successes and their failures, which they are encouraged to share in engaging, meaningful, transparent, and memorable ways.

“We ask our speakers to address overcoming challenges, which helps our audience find inspiration,” Lee says. “In the Midwest, we appreciate authenticity. Hearing those struggles helps a lot.”

Part of the splash of Big Omaha’s first conference in 2009 was its clever cow branding, developed by Omaha-based Oxide Design Co. The cow visuals have remained, although design duties changed hands in 2015 from Oxide to Grain & Mortar.

Now that Big Omaha is owned and operated by AIM, its goal is to cover costs through sponsorships and ticket sales, Lee says.

The conference continues to be a hot event. Tickets that cost as much as $599 are scooped up annually by local, national, and even international attendees.

Big Omaha could move to a larger venue, selling more tickets and earning more revenue. But Lee says from his vantage point, the Big Omaha culture isn’t about a bottom line.

“Our goal is not to outgrow KANEKO. We want to preserve the charm and the experience (of Big Omaha) for as long as we can.”

Part of this charm is the togetherness. Everyone who attends Big Omaha hears the same speakers in the same order. Speakers are encouraged to remain the entire two days of the conference, immersing themselves in the experience and networking with Big Omaha ticket-holders. (The pre-party and post-party have become a popular part of the two-day conference.)

Graphic design, architecture, tech innovation, and entrepreneurship ideas abound here. UNL architecture students provided an art installation in 2016, and a guest speaker in 2015 and 2017 was fashion entrepreneur Mona Bijoor, a favorite among the fashion designers and fashionistas
in attendance.

The conference’s first row is filled with familiar faces each year. One of them is Megan Hunt of Omaha, who has attended every single Big Omaha since 2009.

“I remember the incredible momentum that had built up in the Midwest startup community for this event,” Hunt recalls. “The desire we all had for a space to come together, share the work we were doing, and learn from the superstars in our field was palpable. The way that Dusty and Jeff harnessed that energy and built Omaha’s reputation as a hub of entrepreneurship is nothing short of legendary.”

Hunt has owned a web-based bridal design company, a co-working space, and, most recently, a web-based clothing retailer known as Hello Holiday that also boasts a very visual storefront in the heart of Dundee.

“I love going to Big Omaha because, for me, running a business is not just dollars and cents and strategy around growth,” Hunt adds. “It takes a lot of creativity and ingenuity. Big Omaha is my favorite conference because they do understand this so well, emphasizing how interdisciplinary business and technology can be, and welcoming artists, musicians, designers, and writers—people who may normally be in the minority at
other conferences.”

Big Omaha 2017

Big Omaha returned to KANEKO for the ninth consecutive year May 18 and 19. Below is the lineup of speakers.

Joe Ariel, co-founder and CEO of Goldbely

Mona Bijoor, managing partner at King Circle Capital and founder of JOOR

Christina Brodbeck, founding partner at Rivet Ventures

Daniel Burka, design partner at GV, formerly Google Ventures

Shirley Chung, chef and owner at Steamers Co.

Baldwin Cunningham, vice president of strategy at Brit + Co., co-founder of Partnered

Diana Goodwin, founder and CEO of AquaMobile

Alex Klein, co-founder and CEO of Kano Computing

Brandon Levy, co-founder and CEO of Stitch Labs

Mitch Lowe, co-founder of Netflix, CEO of MoviePass

Margenette Moore-Roberts, global head of inclusive diversity at Yahoo

Nish Nadaraja, former Yelp brand director, partner at Rich Kid Cool

Brian Neider, a partner at Lead Edge Capital

Vanessa Torrivilla, co-founder and creative director of Goldbely

Shandra Woworuntu, founder of Mentari

Matt Zeiler, founder and CEO of Clarifai

Visit bigomaha.co for more information.

Big Omaha participants try virtual reality goggles at a previous year’s event.

This article was printed in the Summer 2017 edition of B2B.

The Silicon Trail

March 28, 2017 by

When United Airlines’ first daily nonstop service flight from Eppley Airfield to San Francisco International Airport eased away from the gate in September 2016, Randy Thelen made certain he had a seat.

The senior vice president for economic development at the Omaha Chamber of Commerce saw the importance of that 7 a.m. flight—believed to be the first regular nonstop service between the two cities in a quarter century. Shortly after 9 a.m., he was on the West Coast, in the fertile Silicon Valley, ready for business.

Despite Omaha’s firm footing in the Silicon Prairie—with tech giants like PayPal, Google, LinkedIn, and Yahoo all maintaining a significant presence in the metro—Omaha long struggled with a serious shortcoming when it came time to recruit more. The same shortcoming didn’t help local technology startups secure financial backing from the apparent over-abundance of thick wallet in the Bay area.

Getting from Silicon Valley to Omaha’s corner of the Silicon Prairie was more than a hassle. It usually required at least one connecting flight, stretching a three-hour nonstop flight into nearly a full day of airplanes and airports … and that’s the delay-free version.

“As much as we don’t want location to be a barrier, there’s a very real situation where Silicon Valley investors won’t fly somewhere if they have to switch planes,” says Dusty Davidson, the CEO and co-founder of Flywheel, an Omaha-based startup that builds and hosts WordPress websites. Davidson is also known for his role in creating Silicon Prairie News and one of the largest entrepreneurial tech conferences in the region, Big Omaha.

“It’s not the connection, it’s the time,” he adds.

The required connecting flights cast a pall over Omaha’s distinct advantage as a low-cost jewel compared to the Silicon Valley. Omaha’s lower cost of living and more affordable housing helps save companies on their largest expense: wages. Add in the various business incentives available from the state, along with a strong talent pool and sound infrastructure, and Omaha makes an attractive option for startup and established tech companies, with that notable exception.

“We came up short on the connectivity or on the flights in and out of Silicon Valley,” Thelen says.

Then United Airlines made San Francisco’s International Airport the nation’s 25th airport with regular nonstop flight services to and from Omaha. This spring, a 26th regular nonstop Omaha route will open between here and Houston via Southwest Airlines.

“Now, we’ve taken away that competitive disadvantage, and we’ve been able to promote it as an advantage,” Thelen says. “It really has changed the conversation as we try to continue to build that pipeline between here and Silicon Valley.”

“The ability to have direct service does have an impact on the businesses that choose to do business here,” says Nancy Miller, vice president of operations at Travel and Transport, a national travel booking company based in Omaha. “I think it helps Omaha businesses.”

That an airline would add a regular nonstop flight to San Francisco lends credence to claims of Omaha’s growth as a potential hub in the Silicon Prairie.

“The Omaha economy really seems to have been doing well over the last couple of years,” says Dave Roth, deputy executive director of the Omaha Airport Authority. “It’s just a really positive combination of Omaha and the airlines for those additional flights.”

Omaha has popped up on several national lists as a new hot spot for tech startups. SmartAsset named Omaha the best city in the nation to work in tech in 2015, and Nebraska has been No. 3 on Forbes’ list of Best States for Business for two years running.

Thelen used his first flight to the Silicon Valley to meet with a dozen tech companies, some who already have outposts in town, and few others he’d like see set up shop.

“For the cost of one hotel stay and a pretty simple flight in and out, you can get two full business days of work without the hassle of changing planes and the risk of getting delayed,” Thelen says. “The convenience of business travel just went up exponentially, and you can expect that connectivity to continue to grow.”

Executives headquartered in San Francisco can more easily visit and engage with their Midwestern operations. Or, employees based in Omaha can more efficiently meet with leadership in Silicon Valley. Officials at PayPal and LinkedIn—which employ about 2,800 and 300 people, respectively, in the Omaha area—say there is frequent travel between the Silicon Valley and their operations in Omaha, but exact figures were unavailable.

“To have firms like that, that now have much, much easier access back and forth, frankly it makes our location all that more integral to the operation because it’s a simpler connect now,” Thelen says.

He added: “That simple flight makes a big, big difference.”

And even homegrown startups can take advantage. They can get twice as much done on recruiting trips from the valley, whether they are looking for talent or financing.

Davidson, the CEO at Flywheel, says the increased connectivity will indeed make a big difference for local companies raising money. There still remains a lot of work to put Omaha “on the map” with more sources of local capital and slowing the export of the state’s top technology talent, to name a few.

“I don’t know that you’re able to look at [direct flights to San Francisco] and say, ‘Hey, look, we solved the problem,’” he says. “I think there’s 50 things that are contributing, and what you really want to do is, just one at a time, start whittling away.”

Visit omahachamber.org for more information.

This article was printed in the Spring 2017 edition of B2B.

Year of the Startup

November 17, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The emerging startup accelerator scene supports creative-minded risk-takers looking for an edge to follow their passion and bring their ideas to fruition.

Sebastian Hunt, 25, is passionate about giving entrepreneurs like himself a nurturing space to test out their concepts. The University of Nebraska at Omaha economics graduate interned with various local employers and surveyed the area startup community when an idea struck him for a by-application, curriculum-based residency program serving new entrepreneurs. That inspiration turned into Year of the Startup.

Launched in 2014, the program operates out of a humble house at 4036 Burt Street in the St. Cecilia Cathedral neighborhood. Hunt and co-founder Jason Feldman, 28, room there with young residency fellows whose startup ventures range from making bio-fuels to providing night owl shuttle services. They are a millennial bunch who favor sneakers and sandals. They take informal meetings to nearby CaliCommons and Lisa’s Radial Cafe. They variously hunch over laptops or tablets and carry smartphones as appendages.

This communal work-live space model for business mavericks is new to Omaha. The usual startup accelerator is a concentrated, 90-day, off-site program. Omaha has a few of these, notably Straight Shot. Hunt saw a need for a program that invites a broader range of people into the accelerator fold and supports them much nearer to the start of their dream than other programs.

“We feel like we can take people at very early stages because we are four times as long as the average program,” says Hunt, who adds that Year of the Startup is also not tech-centric like many programs tend to be. “In our model we substitute intensity for duration. I think a lot of the learning here comes through unstructured, serendipitous interactions we have that is not curriculum-based, it’s just happenstance.

YearoftheStartup2

“With a house there are so many different ways you can bring ideas and people together. I think that’s maybe that critical binding agent and sense of place that helps accomplish things.”

He says in this intimate environment “there’s no other choice but to immerse yourself in the setting,” adding, “We’re always hanging out in the living room or out back talking about startup stuff—monetization strategies, capitalization tables, vested equity entity structures.”

“It’s this immersive experience of camaraderie, of these natural flows and idea generation,” Feldman says.

Hunt says, “This is very difficult to get bored with because there’s always somebody whose business is either in crisis or growth stage or some interesting part of the curve.”

“How could we get bored when we’re creating a platform with four startups and all we get to do is ideation,” Feldman says. “It’s a constant buzz we get from interacting with these startup founders and helping them build their ideas.”

Built into the program are activities that encourage fellows to break out of their comfort zone and to offer honest criticism of each other’s ideas.

Hunt compiles multiple data points on the startups.

“We’re developing really deep insight about how do people start successful businesses.”

The program utilizes mentors from the entrepreneurial community.

“We bring in people who are experts in specific areas to talk on those topics,” Feldman says.

“They get ideas flowing,” Hunt says of the mentors.

Feldman says he regularly covers with fellows “the major components of what you need to look at to start your business,” and then mentors like Mike Kolker, owner of graphic design firm Simplify, teach lessons about operational efficiency and “how to simplify running a business.”

Hunt is a newcomer to all this and goes by instinct as much as research to support his vision.

“I just had an irrational confidence, market insights, and a great theoretical background thanks to primary research I completed and to lessons I learned from Phillip Phillips, Michael O’Hara, and Art Diamond in UNO’s economics department. I read constantly about who the players were in the startup world, so I was fairly prepared.”

Even though he directs a startup program, he only started participating in one himself (Venture School). He acknowledges Year of the Startup is a by-the-seat-of-your-pants experiment.

“Coming out of college I had student loans and not a ton of money. I’ve held two jobs to finance the project. Now the project is financed by a combination of me working and renting out one room. One-hundred percent of the money our entrepreneurs pay in rent will be returned in full and so everybody has a strong incentive to follow through with the program. That may be what makes us sustainable.”

He’s working on securing corporate sponsorship for the program. Meanwhile, he wants to help get participating startups to the next level.

“We’re functioning like a pre-accelerator at this point. We want to get our startups profitable and then refer them to the Straight Shots, so they can focus on growth in a pure accelerator program.”

As Year of the Startup moved into a larger house in Omaha’s Little Italy district on July 1 and a new class of fellows arrives, Hunt says there are “interesting talks happening right now to bring this to other cities.” He and Feldman say economic development agencies are willing to pay a license fee for them to do startup houses in other cities. The partners are having proprietary software developed that will enable new startup houses to replicate their branded Omaha model.

They look forward to engaging with the emerging 10th Street cultural district but may keep the midtown house to accommodate growth.

Hunt and Feldman believe they’re catching the wave, or tipping point, of a big new startup rush and they’re betting their model is poised to be a niche player in this wild frontier of entrepreneurial prospecting.

YearoftheStartup3

Aviture

February 27, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

In 2004, Mark Griffis founded Aviture as a response to Lockheed Martin’s request that he subcontract for them on a long-term project. The former Air Force officer turned serial entrepreneur had been consulting for the defense technology corporation when they asked him to stay with the project. “I had two days to come up with a name,” Griffis recalls.

Fast forward to 2013. Aviture had grown from a small startup into a stable software development company with enviable contract relationships with large corporations such as Lockheed. And Griffis decided it was time for Aviture to walk away.

Working for a Lockheed or a Northrup is great, he says, but it wasn’t helping Aviture move forward. “Let’s make a difference as Aviture without necessarily needing the support of a larger corporation.”

When a few contracts came up for renewal last summer, “we just decided we were done,” Griffis recalls. “We had enough work of our own, and we focused on getting this new space.” Aviture moved into a contemporary office space near I-80 and 132nd St. in the spring of 2013.

Ryan Wade, Aviture’s Vice President of business development, would put the company’s turning point back even further. “2010 was about realigning our customer base,” he says. Being choosy about the contracts they accepted meant a smooth transition into product development while not leaving Aviture’s consulting side behind entirely.

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So while Aviture is still handling some government projects (like UAV [Unmanned Aerial Vehicle] mission planning software), the company is moving into the commercial sphere, focusing on web development and data analytics. “Everybody can put a dot on a map now,” Griffis says. “But what are you going to do when you have 1,500 dots on a map? What are you going to do with that information? Those are the types of problems we want to solve.”

His goal for Aviture is to provide data analysis that’s easily visualized and absorbed so that businesses can get back to work quickly. After all, 1,500 dots on a map create a blob of information that’s difficult to wade through, if not useless.

For military operations, Griffis points out, missed opportunities from poor data analysis can put lives at stake. “In the business world, it’s not as dire,” he says, “but if you miss an opportunity, your business can definitely suffer. That’s what we try to offer insight into.”

According to Griffis, the same technology that can solve the problems of military mission logistics can be put to work solving problems with 3D surgical imaging, concussion analysis, or back-of-the-house restaurant management. “Understand what a customer is trying to do and why,” he says. “Then you can apply the technology.”

“We look at things from a business perspective,” Wade adds, “which I think is unique in tech. We have experience in developing and actually bringing products to market.”

Creating products that clients can easily apply to their own businesses means that Aviture employees have to have a strong desire to learn. “It’s not just coding,” Griffis says. “It’s not saying go make this widget. It’s understanding why, always asking why.”

To find those people, Griffis launched a second part to Aviture’s 2013 pivot: a technology business incubator attached to Aviture. He calls it The Garage. “My dream would be to create this pipeline where people come in with Aviture, find their passion in The Garage, and follow it out.”

The new incubator, he says, is a risk-mitigated way to get involved in Omaha’s startup environment.

About four fledgling business ideas are active in The Garage. Some are still very early stage (“part of this is education,” Griffis explains. “About mentoring them. Is the market there? What are the distribution channels? How are you going to raise money?”), and some are ready to move out (Huntforce, a trail camera management company, is going into its second round of funding).

All of the business concepts represented in The Garage exhibit Griffis’ desire to encourage Omahans to create on the next level of innovation. “I believe we don’t need more coders,” Griffis says. “We need more technology leaders, people who know how to apply technology.” Promoting this philosophy, Aviture hosted Hack Omaha last year, a weekend hackathon where programmers attempted to create useful products from city data.