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Amid breast cancer and pandemic, Omaha woman launches startup

Amid breast cancer and pandemic, Omaha woman launches startup

Nebraska employers are getting creative — and sometimes more generous — as they try to fill vacancies during the state's acute labor shortage. Nebraska has tens of thousands of job openings at a time when Nebraska's unemployment rate is 2.2%, its lowest since the state began collecting unemployment data in 1976.

On March 29, 2020, Kelly Mann and Jason Bogner were gearing up for a memorable week.

Their startup company, AuditMiner, was set to receive an undisclosed investment from an Omaha-area venture capital firm. The investment would have followed a $35,000 grant from the Nebraska Department of Economic Development awarded in fall 2019.

That week indeed proved to be memorable — but for the wrong reasons.

On that Sunday, Mann discovered a lump on her breast.

After undergoing a biopsy, Mann, now 38, learned on Wednesday, April 1, 2020, that she had stage 3 breast cancer.

At that time, Mann felt that she and Bogner, now 42, were just a few weeks away from launching AuditMiner. Conceived by Mann, a certified public accountant, in February 2019, AuditMiner can be used by large employers to handle their company’s auditing process for employee benefit plans, specifically 401(k)s, via a software program.

With the situation exacerbated by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Mann had to balance her aspirations with her cancer treatments at Nebraska Medicine while also raising her three young children — who were all stuck at home thanks to the pandemic — with her husband, James.

“There were definitely some decisions that needed to be made about what takes priority” she said. “Obviously, it was my health.”

So she and Bogner rejected the initial investment offer, which came from The Startup Collaborative, a venture capital firm co-founded by Erica Wassinger and Nathan Preheim. But they never stopped working on AuditMiner.

As she progressed through 17 months of cancer treatments, Mann worked when she was able. The treatments proved to be draining, particularly when she had to go through radiation and chemotherapy simultaneously.

Some weeks, she was so exhausted she couldn’t even get out of bed. Other weeks, she had just enough energy and worked with Bogner to make sure that the startup would be able to launch when the time was right.

“My body might have been tired. But my mind was still going so I could sit at the computer, talk to Jason on the phone and do things,” she said.

Bogner, meanwhile, stayed by his business partner’s side. Having met Mann through Wassinger at Pacific Springs Golf Club in west Omaha in September 2019, the two immediately clicked. For Bogner, who provided the technological expertise, there was never a question of whether he would continue to stick with Mann.

“I can’t direct those decisions that she is able to (envision),” he said, although he can put them into practice. “I can create whatever she says ...”

Mann added, “He said to me, ‘Without you, there is no company.’”

Wassinger and Preheim, who now lead Proven Ventures, stuck with Mann throughout her struggle. What stood out, Preheim said, was the strong business partnership and trust between Bogner and Mann.

“It’s hard sometimes just to be able to take a step back and defer to somebody else,” Preheim said. “Ultimately, we invest in people.”

Mann appreciates how Wassinger and Preheim stood by her.

“I never felt that they defined me because of cancer. They knew me before cancer. They saw what I accomplished through cancer, but it never came up,” she said. “When you go through something like that, you just have a stronger relationship with them.”

By the time January rolled around, Mann began to feel like she could work full time on getting AuditMiner off the ground. When it came time to launch last spring, Wassinger and Preheim extended another investment offer.

Although the parties repeatedly declined to disclose the dollar figure of the investment, it appears to be quickly paying off. Mann said AuditMiner has about 40 customers from 25 states. Customers consist of CPA firms who otherwise would have to manually enter the data.

Wassinger said she can’t think of another startup she’s been involved with that has generated as much revenue as AuditMiner has in such a short time — a sign the startup is winning over an industry that Wassinger and Mann said takes a very conservative approach to new technologies.

Normally, according to Mann, it takes an independent CPA firm about 60 to 100 hours to conduct a 401(k) audit. AuditMiner’s software platform can shave off 10 to 20 hours, as it can, among other steps, standardize audits and handle mundane data entry, thereby saving companies money.

“Right now, there literally is no other option for CPA firms,” Mann said. “We don’t have any direct competitors.”

Despite having launched just a few months ago, AuditMiner is already starting to attract repeat customers. Mann said 50% of the company’s customers are repeat customers. Customers pay $350 every time to use AuditMiner’s software.

Once the AuditMiner software platform matures, Mann envisions it shaving off 80% of the audit time.

“Our product is solving a real problem. It’s not just out there because you can do it; it’s out there because it’s needed,” she said.

AuditMiner’s customers, Wassinger said, “Not only have adapted, but they have completely sort of bought into this model and done it at such a rapid rate.”

AuditMiner joins another Nebraska fintech (financial technology) startup, Logica, in Proven Ventures’ investment portfolio.

Almost five months after AuditMiner launched, Mann received a welcome update about her bout with breast cancer: After finishing her last chemotherapy treatment Aug. 20, she was found to be cancer-free.

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