In economic development circles, business recruitment and retention are often associated with large companies and hundreds of jobs. The Lincoln Partnership for Economic Development (LPED) is adding a focus on recruiting early-stage startups through its LaunchLNK initiative.
“We decided from an economic development perspective that it makes sense to look at recruiting startups for a variety of reasons,” said Christina Oldfather, LPED’s Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurship. “We can have a broader impact with smaller companies.”
One driver for the initiative is a recent study by Dr. Eric Thompson of the Bureau of Business Researchat the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. LPED commissioned the study to look at how Lincoln’s startup community stacks up against measures of ecosystem health developed by the Kaufmann Foundation.
“Lincoln does pretty well with startup density, but we ranked low in churn,” Oldfather said. “If we want to continue to grow, it makes a lot of sense to bring in startups from outside the community. When you bring new people into your community, you create opportunities for new ideas and collisions.”
Drive for the initiative also came from the LPED board chairman.
“Marc LeBaron really encouraged us to think outside the box and be more innovative in our economic development and startup community building strategies,” Oldfather said. “How do we take what we are doing to the next level?”
Oldfather has spent the last several months putting together LaunchLNK, which includes a $25,000 grant and support services for startups that move to – or stay in – Lincoln for at least one year.
“There are a lot of things that go into making a startup successful,” she said. “What can we add that will help them take off?”
In addition to the grant, assistance with tax consulting, legal issues and office furnishings are being offered by local partners.
“HBE is providing a little over $4,000 of free services for the first year to help startups with tax consulting and preparation,” Oldfather said. “Cline Williams will customize a package of legal services pro bono for the first year, and Eakes Office Solutions is offering a $2,500 package of product delivery and installation services – even if it’s not Eakes equipment. They will also offer complimentary space planning and sourcing services to help startups find affordable office furniture. We are really excited to have these partners on board with us to help startups grow.”
“We’re looking at connecting LaunchLNK companies with space options like FUSE, Turbine Flats or Innovation Campus when we find out what makes sense to them,” Oldfather said. “Locating at one of these spaces is a great way to get started and have a built-in network in Lincoln.”
LaunchLNK is prepared to offer up to five grant packages annually and has a second one in the works. Canary Sound Designs, a company co-founded by two physicians that adds intelligence to surgical suite music systems, is relocating its primary operations from Montana to Lincoln.
“Two of the co-founders are in Lincoln, and the other is in Montana where most of the work has been done up until now,” Oldfather said. “It’s an exciting thing to help make happen.”
“There are no guarantees that a LaunchLNK company can get a state grant,” Oldfather said. “But if they’re getting a $25,000 grant from us, they can leverage it as match.”
What are the main criteria for selecting startups for LaunchLNK?
“The biggest test is that it’s a scalable company,” Oldfather said. “It doesn’t have to be tech, but that’s usually an emphasis. We want them to have validated and sold something to somebody. We’re looking for potential more than anything else. We are also looking for companies in verticals that are representative of industries present in Lincoln for potential corporate customers and partnerships.”
“The Arch Grants program is very similar, although at a much larger scale,” she said. “43North is similar with the intent of bringing in companies and increasing the number and density of startups.”
Even if an initial startup idea doesn’t work out, LaunchLNK brings new talent into the community.
“Ideally they’ll grow and hire people here in Lincoln,” Oldfather said. “If they come and work for another company here, that’s talent we’re bringing in. If they leave, we have the connection to that person and their network. It increases our network.”
“The potential is there for some good wins,” she added.