Solution Seekers: Local Tech Firms Gain Momentum

Nebraska is home to a wide range of innovative tech startups. Many are identifying avenues for growth. 

Kathryn Pauley has good reason to feel optimistic. As creative lead, she and her team at Crescent are powering startups, businesses, and individuals through an environment plagued by uncertainty with a smart cash management platform. 

Pauley described the growth in Crescent over the past year as “exponential.” 

“As is the goal of any pre-series A startup, we’ve been hard at work to achieve our product market fit,” Pauley said. “It’s a grueling process that involves months of research, interviews, product development, and trial and error.”

She said the company is seeing “positive traction” among early clients and investors after acquiring considerable knowledge from earlier product iterations. 

“We’re seeing a notable shift in behavior in how companies manage their idle capital,” Pauley added. “Companies keep capital on hand for numerous reasons — be it to fund payroll, pay for inventory, a rainy-day fund — and those funds typically sit in bank accounts earning next to nothing as they wait to be deployed.

“With recent rough economic conditions, more and more companies are warming to the idea of turning their idle capital into earnings for growth (while maintaining liquidity and safety).”

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Pauley characterized Crescent as a “complementary layer,” putting cash to work without interrupting daily operations.

Going forward, she sees the uncertain economic and market conditions as requiring businesses of all sizes to carefully consider capital and resource allocation.

“As a young company, this is a perfect opportunity for us to continue to build trust with new clients and prove the value Crescent can bring to businesses,” Pauley remarked. “The more options we can give to our clients in curated yield opportunities, the better they can diversify their portfolios and prepare for hostile economic conditions.”

She said the plan is to add yield and investment sources, using their technology to quickly “plug in” new, high-performing yields without service interruptions.

“Earlier this year, Crescent shifted from a [business-to-consumer] to a B2B company,” Pauley stated. “After months of product exploration and research with our new client base, we’re excited to expand our yield offerings across asset classes and continue releasing new features that further reduce friction for businesses.”

Beyond that, she said, the company is poised to add new talent to the team. 

Automation in 2023

True to its name, Retail Aware’s smart solutions support retail environments nationwide. 

CEO Keith Fix described year-on-year growth for the in-store data collecting company as “transformative.”

“This year we grew our top line in our core business, spun up a new hardware manufacturing facility as part of the Granary campus in Ralston, and expanded our in-store sensor offering to automate real-time out-of-stock alerts for clients such as beverage distributors,” he summed up. 

All of these bright spots have been driven, according to Fix, by the need for automation and real-time, actionable data within an environment plagued by supply chains that have yet to catch up from the pandemic. 

“We saw labor shortages hit especially hard at the beginning of this year,” Fix added. “Coupled with tremendous consumer demand coming out of the pandemic, the timing is right for clients to make the technological investments needed to support current growth and get ahead of rapidly shifting consumer behavior.”

Fix indicated that he is also buoyed by artificial intelligence (AI) advancements; notably, he referred to applied and generative AI as one of the “major disruptive tech themes” going into the new year.

“For those unfamiliar, applied AI is exactly as it sounds,” he explained. “It’s applying artificial intelligence to solve specific problems across industry. Whether that’s helping power Bear Robotic’s Servi robot that busses tables in restaurants, or better fraud detection systems for banks, to even talent management solutions — we’ll see AI baked into more tools than ever.”

Fix said that he is also bullish on generative AI, which, he noted, “may have its breakout year in 2023.”

This flavor of AI uses code to automatically generate text, images and videos.

Fix has been one of the thought leaders in AI for a long time. But it is only now that he is seeing related tools become “commonplace.” 

“SaaS tools without AI will feel like the pen and paper of yesteryear,” he stated.

Furthermore, for 2023, the biggest opportunities can be boiled down to one word: “automation.” And it’s been a long road.

“Starting with self-checkout, to now cleaning robots, electronic shelf price tags, and automated shelf stock sensing technology … the goal is to reduce overhead [and] eliminate mundane/manual tasks, allowing workers to be more productive, engage with shoppers and improve store performance,” he said. “This is in direct response to managing rising labor costs, high turnover and worker shortages.”

He indicated all companies, regardless of industry, need to become more efficient and use automation to solve such challenges. Retail Aware is taking a hard look, as Fix said most are, at various areas of spending and “throttling down” to adjust for macro-environmental headwinds.

“We’re starting to the see signs of softening demand in consumer spending — it’s hidden behind retail sales totals because total spend is higher comparatively to 2019,” he said. “Consumers are getting less for more money. This uncertainty will trickle down and impact how and where businesses invest in the next year.”

Moving Forward

Transportation has certainly been no stranger to headwinds, no less the challenges related to the shortfall of drivers to get our goods from point “A” to point “B.” DriverDOC’s software was designed to elevate how those drivers are deployed, taking the headaches out of the process and elevating client-companies’ performance. 

CFO and Treasurer Julia Kolar described its growth as “two-fold.” 

“First, is incredible growth in the tech stack to provide [application programming interface] and integration capabilities for our customers and additional features to better serve the data needs of the supply chain,” she said. “Second, is an increase in the diversity of customers served to include brokerages, internal logistics departments and logistics companies.”

The greatest factor contributing to such growth, according to Kolar, is customers’ direct and valuable feedback about their product. 

“The overall mission of driverDOC is to take the logistics industry paperless, but many in the industry rely heavily on physical paper and manual data entry,” she stated. “In order to hit the long-term goal, we are taking our customers on a journey one step at a time to transform their back office into a data-centric, efficient, paperless operation.”

Kolar underscored how customer feedback and cooperation in sharing current processes is “key” to successfully identifying the “right next feature” for driverDOC.

Introducing Employee Benefits

Leadership with Breeze, an online disability insurance company, isolated a new product that resonates as benefits remained “top of mind” with open enrollment in full swing. 

That product, Leave by Breeze, was characterized as a “paid parental leave insurance solution” for employers to manage this benefit cost-effectively and inclusively. In an announcement provided by Breeze, it was noted that the leave solution enhances the existing turnkey platform – products spanning short-term and long-term disability and critical illness insurance. 

“As both a business leader and father of three, I’ve seen first-hand the need to rethink how we provide financial support to individuals and their growing families,” said CEO and co-founder Colin Nabity.

In fact, Breeze was described as aiding insurtech’s ability to cover maternity or paternity leave stemming from childbirth, adoption or foster parenting. 

“Leave by Breeze,” Nabity continued, “enables us to provide income protection coverage during parental leave, and it coordinates with our employer-sponsored disability insurance plans.”

By way of Breeze, a reported 19% of stateside workers have access to paid family leave through employers. The sticking point, according to the firm, is the administrative capacity for employers to budget, launch and manage such programs.

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