Leap Ventures launches in Omaha to provide capital and relational funding
A couple weeks ago, Adam Nielsen of GoodTwin Design started a bit of buzz around Omaha with a tweet:
Adam was retweeted several times, and so too was John Gustafson, who wrote:
The latter of the two is one of Leap Ventures' three founders, and Adam, as indicated by his tweet, designed and launched their site.
Earlier today, John Gustafson and Dave Milligan, two of the three founders (the third, Jeff Hanson, was out of town) sat down with me for their first interview about their new endeavor. They shared their goals for it, their reason for starting it, their backgrounds, and how it differs from other concept accelerators.
The mission of Leap Ventures is to help launch seed-stage concepts, which is a growing need in the region. Leap plans to sponsor and invest in 10 to 12 concepts per year. Each concept will receive $10,000 to $20,000 of funding as well as mentoring support from the Leap founding members and mentors. Over a period of three to six months, the concept and a working prototype will be developed and tested.
All three are originally from Nebraska but each have lived and worked elsewhere. They're eager to bring their experiences and relationships from outside the state to Omaha. Along with finishing the details of the fine print, they're in the process of finalizing their list of mentors (which is the relational funding™ they're offering).Their site is live and they're currently taking applications.
Dave is originally from Lincoln, and after attending UNL, he moved to the D.C. area to attend law school and later practice law. In 2006, he returned to Omaha to set up a patent practice at Husch, Blackwell, Sanders LLP. He felt it was the right time to start Leap after returning to Nebraska to find a lot of people with ideas and with concepts. "If I was able to share some of things not to do or things to do, that I had learned out on the East coast," Dave said, "it could help them really avoid a lot of mistakes and a lot of heartache."
John is originally from West Point, and his background is mainly in early-stage venture capital. He began his career at Heartland Capital in Lincoln, a turn-around venture fund, and then worked at Odin Capital in Omaha, a $40 million fund. With his experience at the two, he founded Ideation Ventures in 2005. As to why he felt it was time to start Leap, he said that at Ideation he works both with investors and companies, but his clients have tended to be in the early- to growth-stage side of the business. "What we really saw was a need for the early-seed and prototype stage."
Jeff Hanson is originally from Omaha, and has worked for The Walt Disney Company and General Electric as well as co-founding InTouch Communications, a communication equipment and service provider. Most recently, he worked for an early-stage life-sciences fund in Ohio, the Ohio Innovation Fund. "In that environment, he was also part of an initiative to spur more high growth business in that region," John said, "so he has a lot of experience with these concept accelerators, as well."