Nebraska: Home to Great Startups On the Silicon Prairie

wet green prairie with a cloudy blue skyNebraska is finally making waves as one of the top STEM and technology hubs in the United States.

Last month, WalletHub conducted a survey ranking geographical shifts in U.S. employment, according to digital reporter Seth Augenstein. Many of the usual suspects were still ranked high as the best metro areas for STEM jobs: Silicon Valley in California, the Austin-Round Rock metro area in Texas (thanks to employers like Dell, 3M, Hewlett-Packard, and IBM), and the Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue triangle in Washington (thanks to Microsoft, Boeing, and Amazon).

However, even though the Silicon Prairie didn’t make the list, a report from Laboratory Equipment notes that while the Lincoln area may not be the largest hub, it’s still poised to become a competitor for Texas’ Silicon Hills: “Compared to Palo Alto or New York City, Lincoln enjoys—and uses—a low cost of living and high quality of life to attract companies and employees to the formerly sleepy town. Startups from the town also have the advantage of being the big fish in a small pond, rather than the reverse that is typical in the Northeast and California.”

Nebraska’s cost of living is a big advantage; for example, the median home in San Francisco sells for $1.1 million and the median home in Lincoln is just $158,000. So, startups need less capital, making it easier to build and to live. The article continues, “A main element that affords Lincoln so much success is enhanced access to the University of Nebraska. Startup owners in the city have applauded the university system, calling it a supportive community for entrepreneurs. In fact, the city and university have agreed to turn the old state fairgrounds into an innovation campus for high tech firms. If that’s the case, why would a startup ever leave Lincoln, Nebraska?”

In February of 2015, CBS noted, “Today, Lincoln is becoming a mini Palo Alto, home to more than 100 software startups. And once-abandoned buildings now house coworking spaces and incubators.” However, software startups aren’t the only ones booming, in Lincoln and elsewhere. For example, Chief Industries, once a Grand Island-based startup, has grown into a full-fledged manufacturing corporation. Today, the company and its subsidiaries manufacture everything from grain and bulk feed storage to factory-built modular residential homes and wastewater treatment systems.

Essentially, the last few years have seen national organizations recognize what we in the Midwest have known for a long time: For manufacturing, technology, and data, there is virtually no other business climate as amenable to growth. Inc. called Silicon Prairie the “Friendliest Tech Hub Ever,” thanks to the prairie state of mind. “Beyond business approach, there’s is a great sense of community in the Silicon Prairie startup community. ‘Everyone genuinely wants to help one another succeed,’ reveals Jonathan Herrick, Chief Sales and Marketing officer and Partner at St. Louis-based Hatchbuck. The marketing automation and CRM company has seen funding and mentorship get easier for tech startups to secure, since they started back in 2012.”

The challenge? Well, for manufacturers and startups, it’s still a challenge to attract talent. According to CBS, 75% of investments in 2015 went to California, New York, and Massachusetts, which is where both investing and therefore, strong workforce capabilities, then end up. However, analysts say that this type of balance is changing, with the numbers slowly leaning toward investing back into the Midwest.

It’s an exciting time to be a Nebraskan, and we couldn’t be more proud that national recognition is finally being bestowed on our Silicon Prairie—but there’s a long road yet to go.

photo credit: Wet Prairie via photopin (license)