Startup bus tour coming to metro area with $100K check

August 3, 2016

OMAHA – The bus stops here: Omaha will be the first stop this fall on a half-million-dollar startup tour and contest organized by a venture-capital firm led by Steve Case, the co-founder of America Online.

The “Rise of the Rest” bus tour will visit Omaha and Lincoln, Nebraska, before continuing on to Denver, Salt Lake City/Provo, Albuquerque and Phoenix from Oct. 3 through Oct. 7, the Omaha World-Herald reported.

The tour will invest a total of $500,000 – $100,000 to a startup company at each of the five locations. Eight to 10 startups will be pre-selected to participate in the five pitch contests, said Case, who founded his Washington, D.C.-based investment firm, Revolution LLC, in 2005.

Area startups can submit an application online for the pitch contest now through Sept. 7 at f6s.com/riseofrest.

The winner will receive a $100,000 investment from Revolution, which is led by Case, who started AOL in 1985. Case, along with local leaders and people from the startup scene, will judge the contest.

For Omaha and Lincoln, where the tour will stop Oct. 3, it’s the opportunity to shine on the national stage, members of the local startup community said.

Technology allows people to build “amazing companies anywhere,” said Dusty Davidson, co-founder of Flywheel, an Omaha technology startup. “A lot of interesting and impressive things are happening in the Omaha and Lincoln area.”

Flywheel helps companies build and manage websites built on the Wordpress platform. In April, the company announced that it had raised $4 million in a recent round of funding; at the time, Davidson said he hoped to grow from 35 employees to 80 by the end of the year.

Erin Dyer of the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce said the “Rise of the Rest” stop is a “great testament to the growing entrepreneurial scene being cultivated in our region.”

“Startup founders are quietly building amazing companies right here that are often overlooked by those on the coasts,” said Dyer, the chamber’s coordinator of entrepreneurship and innovation. “This is an opportunity to showcase to the rest of the country all the exciting things we have to be proud of.”

The startup tour first took to the road in 2014 with the goal of bringing together local entrepreneurs, investors and local government and business leaders and shining a light on startups across the country, Case said.

It’s the first time “Rise of the Rest” has visited the five locations, including Omaha/Lincoln. The five stops were chosen from hundreds of nominations and crowdsourced online.

“We opened it up for communities to nominate themselves,” Case told The World-Herald on Thursday. Omaha and Lincoln’s startup community made an impressive push to be on the bus route, he said.

Case said he expects to receive about 100 applications from local startups. He and his partners at Revolution will narrow it down to eight to 10 contestants. Case said he has not yet selected the contest venue.

In each city, Case said he plans to “write a $100,000 check to a local entrepreneur, visit fast-growing startups, meet with elected officials, host a big celebration-of-entrepreneurs party and shine a spotlight on the startup community.”

He said he’d be joined by partners from Google for Entrepreneurs, Salesforce for Startups, Engine, Startup Grind, Tech.co and Village Capital.

Davidson, of Flywheel, described a $100,000 investment amount as hitting the sweet spot because “it’s enough money for people to quit their jobs and focus on something full time, but not enough to be wasteful. It’s just enough to get to the next level.”

Mark Hasebroock, who founded venture-capital firm Dundee Capital in 2010, said a $100,000 investment could “make the difference between making one or two key hires that can really ramp up a company.”

Hasebroock was a founder of Omaha-based Hayneedle.com, an e-commerce firm that sold earlier this year to Jet.com.