The same day Luis López and his brother, Danny, were accepted into Omaha's Straight Shot startup accelerator for their new company, corporate America called.
The 25-year-old Central High grad had received a job offer from Gallup. But he turned it down, choosing to take an entrepreneurial risk over a predictable salary and benefits.
“I can always apply for a job in the corporate world,” he said, but it's not every day that one's company is accepted into an accelerator program that offers $20,000 in investment, more than 300 mentors and more than $75,000 in in-kind services.
The risk paid off, López said last week as the 90-day program wrapped up. The López brothers' startup, CardioSys — which uses predictive analytics to calculate a person's risk of developing conditions like heart disease and diabetes based on factors such as age, blood pressure and lipid profiles — came out of the program with a group of nine advisers.
One of those advisers is Bruce Lichorowic, who was recently recruited to head Trak Surgical Inc., a company that developed out of the University of Nebraska Medical Center's commercialization branch, UNeMed, in hopes of changing the way joint replacement surgeries are performed.
“That's where we made our most progress,” Luis López said.
Whether it was investment dollars, valuable mentors and advisers, networking that led to partnerships and connections with established area companies or a physical workspace shared with other founders, all seven startups who participated in Straight Shot's inaugural class are coming away with something they didn't have going into the program 90 days ago.
Networking opportunities for the involved startups also included possible investors who attended the accelerator's culminating event, a Demo Day at Aksarben Cinema on Thursday night. There, about 400 people, including investors and mentors, packed a theater to hear pitches from the seven participating startups who then fielded questions from the audience via social media and from a panel of four investors.
Kelly Hoey, founder of Women Innovate Mobile, an accelerator program in New York City for women-founded startups focused on mobile technology, was one of the investor panelists. Hoey said she was impressed by the diversity in age, relationships and life experiences among the founders. “A lot of them didn't fit the (startup founder) typical mold,” she said.
Other investors on the panel included Patrick Meenan of Arthur Ventures in Minneapolis, Blair Garrou of the Mercury Fund in Houston and Dave Knox of startup accelerator the Brandery in Cincinnati.
Hoey said she was particularly impressed by BuyNow, which allows users to buy something with one text because of its global approach. Texting is still very relevant to the rest of the world where smartphones are not the norm, she said. She also said she was impressed by HuntForce, which helps hunters track their trail camera data, because of the potential to expand the service to other areas, including national parks, zoos and conservation areas.
One participating startup, Business Exchange, came to Omaha from Croatia by way of San Francisco. The Web-based service is like Angie's List for companies that provide services or work with other businesses, allowing them to make referrals and reviews.
With help from Straight Shot, founders Zlatko Turkalj and Toni Milovan were able to create a partnership with the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce, which is opening up the service to their members for free in order to serve as focus groups to test and improve it. Turkalj said the company is looking to expand those partnerships nationally, including to chambers in Atlanta, Manhattan and West Palm Beach, Fla.
Business Exchange is in private beta now and negotiating investment offers and soft commitments from venture capital firms in Omaha, Turkalj said.
“Then, it was a newborn baby. Now it's six months old,” he said of the company after 90 days in Straight Shot.
Straight Shot Managing Director Faith Larson said the accelerator — founded by Mark Hasebroock of Dundee Venture Capital — has learned a few things after its inaugural class, too. It held several community events throughout the roughly three-month program, and Larson said next year it may host fewer but larger events.
Larson said the accelerator also may work on potential offshoots of the brand, such as coding classes or a development academy. “Straight Shot can be a mechanism to attract and develop talent in the region,” she said.
Luis López said CardioSys is hoping to land some investment in the next month or two, and is now looking at applying for a short-term health industry-focused incubator program in California, which the founders were connected with via Straight Shot.
In the long term, however, López said that with its strong community of medical and insurance providers, Omaha is CardioSys' home. At Demo Day, the startup was voted crowd favorite. “I was surprised. It's an honor to have people excited about what we're doing,” he said.
After 15- and 16-hour workdays and little sleep, López said he was looking forward to a short vacation. But it's “back to work on Monday.”