It’s been yet another wild year. The pandemic continues to be a concern, and people are ready to get back to normal. Here’s what that might look like.
As we did last year, Silicon Prairie News reached out to entrepreneurs, investors, business leaders and government officials across Nebraska to get their take on 2021 and see what trends they think we will see in 2022.
Let’s first agree to rebrand “2022” into the “Double Deuce”. We know how much damage 2020 and 2021 did to the ‘20s brand. Double Deuce helps reset expectations and position this year as one filled with verve and brash energy.
My two predictions for the Double Deuce:
Nebraska will have its largest startup exit to date. We have a couple potential homegrown unicorns in strong positions for a purchase or IPO and the capital markets are hungry. More exits lead to more wealth creation events thus spawning higher risk taking angel investors and a wave of new startups led by seasoned early employees.
Greater regional cooperation between Lincoln and Omaha, as well as the rest of the state. COVID accelerated technology adoption and showed you could build startups from anywhere. Thanks to the largesse of Federal and State funding flowing towards entrepreneurship and infrastructure, we have ample resources to get more founders into the arena and the smart move is to work together as a network, not competing nodes.
The Problem: Omaha (Nebraska) lacks a scalable way to re-engage those young people who have given up on the system of education, inspiration or are simply “sleepwalking” through their K-12 years.
We have Enough: We have enough “brick and mortar” locations ready to help young people once they decide what they want to be or have been assigned to for remediation. Nebraska has a healthy and robust set of nonprofits and dynamic educators, however without a solution that can reach every teen in their primary method of exploration (cell phone) and connect them with their future career (creating real hope)…we will never address these two issues.
Lack of Hope: Matthew Mims is a mental health and school counseling professor at the University of Nebraska at Kearney. He said, “Now that they’re in high school that has to have adapted to COVID, the reality isn’t matching what their hopes were or their expectations.”
Chronic Absenteeism: The Department of Education report indicated chronic absenteeism jumped to 22.4% in 2020-21, compared to 14.7% in the previous school year.
Solution: Leverage technology to reengage youth through a gamified manner that matches how they currently interact with the world through their cell phones. This type of engagement will funnel them to the right education or nonprofit pathway, apprenticeship/internship and make school relevant again, all while providing data to the young person and stakeholders.
John Bunting, CEO/Founder, Beeso Studio
We constantly work with tech startups and founders. From our experience, in 2021 the startup ecosystem began to normalize. By mid-year we saw an increase in the number of new startups; many founders decided to jump back in and start a new venture. Investors started investing again, with several startups in our portfolio raising additional investment. Also, in-person events returned; the events hosted by the Omaha Chapter of Startup Grind had good attendance and the attendance numbers remained steady throughout the year.
As for 2022, we think AI/machine learning will continue to be a focus of many startups. There are multiple industries that have not embraced AI/machine learning and startups will build B2B SaaS solutions for these industries. Additionally, we think there will be a lot of interest in the metaverse. Facebook (now Meta) has brought the metaverse mainstream and startups will capitalize on this. I think the opportunity with the metaverse is in digital assets and the convergence of digital transactions into physical. I think 2022 will see a lot of growth and renewed interest in tech startups.
Greg Daake, Principal & Creative Director, Daake
How could humanity go through something so jolting as the pandemic and not be forever changed by it? In 2022 the Great Reprioritizing will continue. More people will seek alive and dynamic over efficient and disciplined. Employees and employers will continue to play “chicken” on how attendance affects contribution. Culture (values and the behaviors that are rewarded) will be restated in terms that are allegorical in nature. Accomplished leaders will peel off and choose to do something else leaving room for the next generation. The most successful of this next generation will be people that genuinely want to make a difference. The least successful will be those interested in being influential or persuasive. With skepticism at an all-time global high, people with conviction will be followed and offered leadership roles.
In 2021, Nebraska reached a new record of venture capital activity. The final total will likely surpass $300M. Some key contributions to this activity was some later stage deals like Virtual Incision’s Series C, Company Cam’s Series B, and Monolith’s Series C. It also was encouraging to see another year of strong demand for Nebraska Department of Economic Developments Business Innovation Act Programs. There will be a strong demand for the programs when the next fiscal year begins. Looking ahead to 2022, I expect coworking and incubator spaces to bounce back with a strong year as more companies, large and small, try to have a more flexible work environment and smaller footprints. I am particularly excited to watch the entrepreneurial ecosystems in greater Nebraska take steps forward. Exciting initiatives to watch include Intersect in Norfolk and CoFound in Grand Island.
Closing the Workforce Gap: The Good Life is Calling
Nebraska has gained the national spotlight for its low unemployment and resilient economy during the pandemic. Our way forward involves changing the narrative about our state by sharing the real story. “The Good Life is Calling” marketing campaign will ensure people in and outside of Nebraska are aware of many wonderful opportunities. This is a lever in growing a talented workforce.
Here are factors that winning firms and startups — and our state as a whole — must consider in 2022:
Retention: Internships and Apprenticeships
Hands-on work experiences are a way to attract, retain and train employees. Recruit interns their freshman year in college, retain them through their sophomore year, and if goals are exceeded, make them a job offer their junior year. Upon graduation, that student becomes a member of your team.
Acquisition: Recruit like a Coach
CEOs should strategically implement an out-of-state recruitment plan — a bit like our Husker athletic teams. Travel to HBCUs and articulate the value of your firm (joining a mission-driven team), including an inclusive culture and a competitive wage. People will relocate for the right opportunity. Leaders must be intentional about recruiting from out-of-state.
Upskill: Retrain and Train
As technology continues to permeate all industries, training for new skills becomes mission critical. Firms looking to optimize for growth and increased profitability must match skills with the new demand driven by our consumer marketplace. Leaders must not only identify present skills but skills of the future. Now is the time to build skills pathways to get ahead of the game.
SkillBridge: Recruit Veterans
Offutt Air Force Base has thousands of talented leaders that can help fill opportunities. Around 800 to 1,000 Veterans from Offutt leave the military every year. Recruit them.
Prediction: If we can execute in a maniacal fashion with the highest level of intentionality, we will start to close the workforce gap. I foresee Nebraska leaders doubling down on the above and making a difference.
Brian Ardinger, Director of Innovation, NeInet
The only thing certain for 2022 is uncertainty. From technology shifts to talent wars to COVID, we’re living in an environment of accelerating change. We will all have to get good at being adaptable, resilient, and resourceful. Because of this, innovation will become a hot topic and high on the priority lists of every entrepreneur and business leader. 2022 will be a call-to-arms for everyone to build some entrepreneurial muscles—to become what I’m calling an “Accelerator.”
An Accelerator’s job is to explore and experiment in ever-changing environments and to take ideas and expeditiously transform them into reality. The ability to quickly adapt and create value from this new unknown will be the super skills needed for today’s hyper-uncertain environment.
To keep pace, you’ll want to learn how to explore, engage, and experiment with new ideas. The best way to do this quickly is to spend time in the startup ecosystem. Engage with entrepreneurs as a teammate, mentor, investor, or advocate. Start building your innovation competency by building, making, testing, and trying—be it a side-project or a stand-alone startup.
Your goal for 2022 and beyond should be to grow these Accelerator skills in yourself, your team, and your organization. There’s never been a better time to become an Accelerator, and I can’t wait to see what you create!