Midlands Business Journal February 19, 2021 Vol. 47 No. 8 issue

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Midlands Business Journal • FEBRUARY 19, 2021 •




NEBRASKA A section prepared by the staff of the Midlands Business Journal

February 19, 2021

pany is headquartered. “They will then likely expand to a few additional hospital sites,” Farritor said. “The company is also planning to develop a family of specialized MIRA devices. The first robot is designed for colon resection procedures, and the company will develop even smaller devices for operations like hernia repair and gallbladder removal.” Michael Dixon, president and CEO at UNeMed, the technology transfer and commercialization office for the University of Nebraska Medical Center and the University of Nebraska at Omaha, said the main role of UNeMed is to help leverage the research that occurs at the universities. “Our role is to identify ways to protect these discoveries so we can convince companies or startups to invest the money needed to take it to product,” Dixon said. “We’ve found that one of the best ways to commercialize a new technology is to form a startup around it,

while growing and building that technology so when it matures it can be purchased or acquired by a larger company.” Last year, UNeMed had five startups and is projected to help more this coming year. “There’s also that double bottom line of helping the local economy by building more businesses, which we’re really happy to see,” he said. UNeTech, a translational research institute and startup incubator for UNMC and UNO, has also been a great support structure, Dixon said. According to Joe Runge, associate director of UNeTech, there is a lot of risk in early stage technology and there are resources that are necessary to make the chances more successful. “We are graciously supported by state government and federal grants,” Runge said. “We try to provide that support for infrastructure. Our job is to help connect people with the people who can help them accomplish what they need to be successful.”

Ben Williamson, principal and general counsel at Invest Nebraska in Lincoln.

Local startups continue to push new innovations by Gabby Hellbusch

Those who work within the local startup ecosystem say it is thriving in Nebraska. According to Ben Williamson, principal and general counsel at Invest Nebraska, a robust startup ecosystem is a result of a confluence of factors, networks and infrastructure. “This includes a baseline need for availability of capital, mentors, entrepreneurs and human resources, and is reliant on collaborative and intentional participation from service providers, post-secondary institutions, funders, the corporate sector, Dixon state and local government and communities and infrastructure and educational partners,” Williamson said. “To be completely candid, Nebraska has historically lagged behind in most of these areas. But the good news: we’re getting better at every single one of those areas and there has never been a better time to be an innovator and entrepreneur in Nebraska.” At Invest Nebraska, the mission is to promote community and economic development by identifying, supporting and investing in high-growth, high-impact companies

across Nebraska. “Generally speaking, I expect continued growth and improvement of our startup ecosystem,” he said. Shane Farritor, co-founder and chief technology officer at Virtual Incision, said the company is pioneering the use of mini robots for general surgery abdominal procedures with the goal of bringing the benefits of minimally invasive surgery (MIS) to patients everywhere. “It’s widely accepted that MIS is best for patients, resulting in a shorter hospital stay, faster recovery Runge and reduced use of narcotics following surgery,” he said. “Virtual Incision’s MIRA (miniaturized in vivo robotic assistant) is a first-of-its-kind portable platform designed to increase access to MIS for patients, reducing their recovery time and overall cost to the health care system. MIRA weighs just two pounds, is about the size of a person’s hand and can be easily transported from room to room.” Additionally, Virtual Incision will soon start enrolling patients in a clinical study of MIRA in Nebraska, close to where the com-

Only in Nebraska — inside FEBRUARY 19, 2021




VOL. 47 NO. 8

LoCo Omaha satiates hunger for locally-owned food delivery service by Michelle Leach

With robust lumber industry, Sprenger Midwest sees steady growth in near future. – Page 2

40 er d Un 40 Korensky develops winning entrepreneurial strategy with Appsky. – Page 4

ln co state n i L lE a Re

Commitment to startup support system fuels tech sector growth. – Page 24

When LoCo Omaha launched in December, it represented the start of a local alternative to national third-party meal delivery services and threw a lifeline to struggling homegrown restaurants and families facing hunger amid the pandemic, building upon the state’s rich history of co-operatives in other segments of the food system. “From the pilot program, we had 42 local, independent restaurants participating,” said co-founder and General Manager Clay Seaman in early February. “We have almost 20 signed up to be a part of the delivery service going forward. Another 20 to 30 restaurants, some with multiple locations, are close to confirming.” Restaurants don’t have to be members to use the service, whose model was adapted from four-yearold, Iowa-based Chomp.delivery by Co-op attorney Jason Wiener and local counsel Bill Kutilek of Lincoln’s Crosby Guenzel. “This type of co-operative serContinued on page 21.

California Tacos owner Brad Bogard, left, and LoCo Omaha General Manager and co-founder Clay Seaman … Unique co-operative model feeds food insecure families through program partnership; presents a lifeline for local restaurant sector through pandemic. (Photo by MBJ / Becky McCarville)

Omaha-based startup driverDOC poised to accelerate growth after capital raise by Becky McCarville

Targeting transportation and trucking companies with fewer than 20 trucks, which is about 97% of the industry, driverDOC founder and CEO Josh Kolar has focused his SaaS platform to help alleviate the mountains of paperwork piled on truck drivers as they transport goods across the U.S. — bringing document efficiency to a fragment-

ed industry and providing real-time data throughout the supply chain. “The inefficiencies of the trucking industry cannot be solved without first considering the perspective of the driver, analyzing their challenges and then providing them with an effective tech solution they never even imagined,” he said. “Their jobs include the operation of Continued on page 21. CEO Nyeshia Fernandez … Headband wigs support strong start for experienced stylist/entrepreneur’s one-stop for beauty essentials.

Omaha’s J. Monae Beauty Supply gains quick traction as online shop by Michelle Leach

From left, founder and CEO Josh Kolar, CFO Julia Kolar and Head of Product Design Thang Nguyen … With a $400,000 capital raise secured, the logistics startup taps into “opportunity zone” advantages, digitizes supply chain paperwork to help truck drivers.

The pioneering Omaha-based and Black-owned online beauty supply store may have only launched on Small Business Saturday last year, but J. Monae Beauty Supply has already had such demand for its practical, yet fashionable headband wigs that CEO Nyeshia Fernandez has restocked them “several times.” Now the serial entrepreneur-licensed cosmetologist has big plans in store to build upon such early traction.

“Although I’d love to open a brick and mortar at this time, I felt it was best to just launch online until the pandemic is over,” Fernandez said. “By 2022, we’ll have a brick and mortar so that all of our customers can come shop with us in person. We currently have one event lined up where we’re going to educate a group of young ladies on how to properly take care of their hair, as well as give some styling tools and products away. Hopefully we can Continued on page 30.

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