Here are some other stories about Big Omaha's influence on Omaha and Lincoln businesses:
>> Four years ago, Ben Pankonin was visiting with another attendee during a break during Big Omaha when he realized the attendee, Matt Secoske, was at a similar turning point in his career.
Both entrepreneurs had been working in the startup world and had helped start other companies, but both were looking to move on to their “next big thing.”
“It turned out Matt's experience and high levels of finance background was of significant benefit to us, as well as his background technically,” said Pankonin, whose background is in business and computers. “It was a pretty good match.”
So right after Big Omaha, the two began growing Pankonin's kernel of an idea for Social Assurance, a company that could help banks, brokerages and insurance companies market and find new customers using social media platforms. Together, Pankonin and Secoske sensed the need for regulated companies to protect their security when presenting marketing materials.
At the time, they had no customers and the idea was “in startup terms in the 'back of the napkin' stage,” Pankonin said.
Today, Social Assurance, based in Lincoln, works across the U.S. with some of the largest and oldest financial institutions across the country.
“Here we are four years later,” Pankonin said. “Together, we're growing our team and it's been an adventure. Big Omaha and the whole Silicon Prairie News community has been a significant part of it.”
>> Courtney Rodgers was talking with a group of people at a conference afterparty last year when she admitted she was considering quitting her job and starting her dream business. Soon the conversation shifted from light to more serious.
A couple of employees of Elevate, a brand strategy and design shop in Omaha, urged Rodgers to evaluate the situation from a philosophical perspective instead of a business one. That's when Rodgers realized that her job needed to be something she really loved. Her current one wasn't.
“It threw me over the edge,” she said. “Literally, the day I got back to work, I quit my job.”
After working part time and figuring out what direction she wanted to pursue, Rodgers and co-founder Ella Wirtz opened Boutique Window, an online platform that allows local retail stores to share their merchandise. A month after Big Omaha, both women were working full time on the business.
Today, the Lincoln-based Boutique Window continues to sign customers on to the platform as Rodgers and Wirtz develop new functionalities and prepare to launch a marketing campaign. Rodgers said she's happy with her choice and says she got the push from Big Omaha.
“I don't think I would have followed through had I not gotten the encouragement,” she said.
>> At last year's Big Omaha, Ben Vu wasn't looking for funding. He was there to learn a few things and meet some new people. One of those people turned out to be Paul Lee, a partner in Chicago-based venture capital firm LightBank.
The two hit it off and continued talking in the weeks to follow. Eventually, Vu, co-founder and chief executive officer of SkyVu, an Omaha-based transmedia entertainment company that creates mobile social games and licensed consumer products like Battle Bears, accepted a sizable investment from Lee's bank and several others, marking Vu's first venture capital round.
“That round allowed us to accelerate our growth into the rest of 2012,” he said, declining to disclose the investment amount.
SkyVu has been in business since 2009 and the company's Battle Bears games have grown significantly since, recently surpassing 25 million downloads. Meeting Lee and securing funding from LightBank gave the company added confidence in making hiring decisions, Vu said.
Though not all are directly related to the LightBank investment, SkyVu has added 12 employees to the now 40-person team, increased advertising, launched a top-selling game to the Google Play platform for Android phones and brought in a landslide of new users over the holiday season since the investment.
Vu said he owes that casual meeting with Lee to the makers of Big Omaha.
“They provide the foundation for great things to happen — serendipitous things to happen,” he said.