LINCOLN — Ben Blecha took the presentation floor and began unveiling his business plan.
His company and product, he said, would bring relief to consumers as the tough economic haze looms over some in Nebraska and many across America.
Scientifically, his product is a considerable improvement over what the market currently has to offer.
Imagine being able to keep your closest companion alive in his waning years when few other options are available or affordable? Blecha said his product — orthopedic braces for dogs and other animals — can do that.
Friday, Blecha's Ace Ortho Solutions was one of six groups competing in Invest Nebraska's East 2 West Venture Competition. The event, held in a packed conference room at the headquarters of human resources consultant Talent Plus, featured six competitors from a wide array of business, all homegrown in Nebraska.
All were trying to prove worthy of a $10,000 investment from Invest Nebraska, a nonprofit supported by the Nebraska Department of Economic Development and other agencies to spur entrepreneurship in Nebraska.
The winner — Pro-fit Performance Club Fitting: Jim White, Greg Johannesen, and Rob Harshbarger of Lincoln — also received an option for a $50,000 equity investment that would give Invest Nebraska an ownership stake in the company.
Pro-fit uses software that helps a golfer find a club with the right balance and fit.
"It allows us to really take this product to market sooner than we would have," White said. "It was a great exercise for us."
He said they heard about the competition just a week and a half ago and put their business plan together over last weekend.
During Friday's presentations, a lot of the buzz focused on Blecha's doggie braces, which he's currently building from a facility in Benkelman, Neb.
In fact, even before the winner was named, the event already had paid off. In a matter of minutes after his presentation, Blecha was approached by Marcus Tooze, founder of GIS Workshop Inc. of Lincoln, with some potential investment opportunities that would be available to Ace Ortho through the state.
Immediately after Tooze and Blecha exchanged handshakes, Blecha was welcomed with an outreached hand offering the business card of a digital marketing professional wanting to help with Blecha's marketing efforts.
"Wow, thank you so much," Blecha said.
The devices he makes can be used to support dog limbs after injuries instead of opting for expensive surgeries. Or, in some cases, in tandem with the surgeries during the rehabilitation period.
Compared with an operation to repair a dog's anterior cruciate ligament, or ACL, which can cost upward of $5,000, Blecha's braces provide an option for owners to skip the surgery and opt for the permanent brace for between $300 and $500 instead.
After each 15-minute presentation, the six-judge panel peppered each presenter with questions. The judges included Jeffrey Baske, managing partner of Omaha finance advisory firm Charter Hill Partners; Gary Hamer, acting director of the Nebraska Department of Economic Development; Kent Knudsen, senior vice president at Mutual of Omaha and an Invest Nebraska board member; Scott Kleeb, co-founder and chief executive of Energy Pioneer Solutions and the 2010 competition winner; Kimberly Rath, president and Managing Director at Talent Plus; and Toze.
Throughout the competition, questions exposed holes in each business plan and tugged on potential downfalls. Were the financial projections realistic? Is the business scalable? Are you going after the right target market?
But the panel also gave praise when warranted.
After Blecha's presentation, for example, Kleeb and Toze urged Blecha to play up the emotional ties between potential customers and their pets. Toze said he would have been a customer after his own dog suffered a leg injury.
Invest Nebraska has hosted similar events across the state since 2009 and this one drew the most applicants, 18.
"During these challenging economic times, Nebraska's entrepreneurs continue to amaze us with their innovative ideas," said Dan Hoffman, executive director of Invest Nebraska.