#StartupsEverywhere: Omaha, NE

#StartupsEverywhere Profile: Grant Stanley, CEO, Bric

This profile is part of #StartupsEverywhere, an ongoing series highlighting startup leaders in ecosystems across the country. This interview has been edited for length, content, and clarity.


Gateway to the West is the Gateway to Innovation

We headed to the Cornhusker State to meet with Grant Stanley, CEO of Bric.  As a native Nebraskan, Grant is familiar with starting and growing companies in the state; Nebraska offers many resources to foster innovation. However, as Bric continues to grow, Grant is looking to new ecosystems to provide opportunities and networks not currently available in Omaha. The Omaha ecosystem needs the government to set examples for accessing capital and developing talent.

Tell me about you. What’s your background? Why did you start Bric?

I have been full-time with Bric since 2016. Prior to this, I was the CEO of Contemporary Analysis for eight years. Contemporary Analysis specialized in providing predictive analytics to Fortune 500 companies and political campaigns in the Midwest.

While at Contemporary Analysis I realized the need for a workforce analytics platform. Data science is primarily focused on transactions and things — ignoring people. This is because there are two unique challenges to applying predictive analytics to people.

First, data collection. People don’t like to be tracked. Second, applying the results. People will stop providing the data or game the system if the results are used to punish people. Bric fixes these problems through our user experience design. We collect the data as people plan projects and track time, and use predictive analytics to provide recommendations to managers instead of analytics and reports.

You have to put something in between analytics and a manager.

Why’d you get started in Omaha?

To be honest, I got stuck in Omaha. However, it is a great place to begin a business. When starting my business, Omaha was easy to navigate; it was clear what I had to do to get started. Omaha wants to help you get started and give you resources to do so. We also have really great designers and marketers.

What’s the most exciting or important development that has happened to the Omaha ecosystem in the last year?

It is exciting that Hudl is based locally in Nebraska, with offices in Omaha and Lincoln. The three founders were graduates of the Raikes School of Computer Science and Management at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Raikes has a real focus on combining engineering and business education. The University really got behind Hudl and gave them resources and assistance. Today, they have grown to over 600 people - which develops more talent for the state.

For a while, we saw an increase in coding schools; however, there’s only one left. The schools had a great teachers, but schools also need administrators. Without recruitment and resources for placement, coding schools are not successful.

What are some of the drawbacks to the Omaha ecosystem?

The ecosystem is handicapped by physical isolation. To start, it is the farthest major hub from another major hub. It’s almost 600 miles to Denver, Colorado and 500 miles to Chicago, Illinois. Des Moines, Iowa is closer, but it’s Iowa. This makes it hard to network.

The opportunity to find new customers and funders is limited. Local VCs are out of money for angels or seed rounds. You can raise money for real estate, but not for startups. Lots of people will give you some money, but not enough money to compete globally. The amount of money I can get pushes me to hire contractors — not long term hires. Also, there’s a lack of people. Most companies retain their employees and as a result, there is not a lot of business turnover.

Overall, we have a velocity problem. Hudl has been around for over 10 years. There are no spin-off companies to spread opportunity. Most of the big corporations have been around for a long time and many of them do not want to invest in anything they do not understand.

Are there specific public policies or government initiatives that have enabled startup growth in Omaha?

As a whole, Nebraska has a lots of programs. The Nebraska Innovation Fund offers a prototyping grant. They will match you up to $150,000 and the process was actually simple. We just had to send in our business plan and we received $50,000. There is a caveat though - you can only spend the money on developing your product. When growing my company, I would like to be able to spend it on marketing or a sales team.

This limitation encourages private investors to adopt similar restrictions. Investing in engineering has a clear outcome: building a product. However without spending money on conferences, ads, and sales, startups in Nebraska can’t overcome our physical isolation. The government can set an example encouraging startups to invest in both engineering and sales.

How involved are your government representatives in the Omaha startup space?

The government is certainly engaged with the Omaha startup space. Many government leaders are either in the space or close to it. In fact, someone who runs a startup is running for state legislator. However, higher up, leaders in the headquarters of Fortune 500 companies are most removed from startups.

From a policy perspective, do you have any wishlist items for the startup ecosystem?

I would like government to set an example: encouraging startups and investors to find that magic ratio of engineering and sales spend.  

Also, there is value in setting up accelerators with a philanthropic approach. Funders are then motivated in a different way. A good example is NMotion in Lincoln. Investors are just donors.  As a result, NMotion just looks for smart people who can build something cool.

Engine works to ensure that policymakers look for insight from the startup ecosystem when they are considering programs and legislation that affect entrepreneurs. Together, our voice is louder and more effective. Many of our lawmakers do not have first-hand experience with the country's thriving startup ecosystem, so it’s our job to amplify that perspective. To nominate a person, company, or organization to be featured in our #StartupsEverywhere series, email jen@engine.is. Give us your feedback here.