Every good startup needs a heist team
June 7, 2022

I’m a huge fan of heist movies. I love watching the crew come together, the ridiculously overwrought plan, and then watching everyone improvise as it all goes wrong. What’s more rewarding than seeing a quirky group of specialists overcome a series of challenges to accomplish a thing none of them could’ve done alone?

Startups are like a heist movie. It starts with assembling a crew around a project. Those early days when entrepreneurs meet inventors feel like assembling the crew. Watching prototypes fail and investments fall through feels like the twists and turns of the heist.

The self-pacing treadmill felt like that. Invented by students and engineers at UNO, it was a project with uncommonly strong interest across the fitness industry. Name-brand companies sat on teleconferences and watched demonstrations of an early prototype in the university motion capture lab. A fitness executive flew to Omaha, tried the prototype, and declared it as effective of a self-pacing treadmill as he had ever seen. 

UNeTech assembled the crew. It started with Dr. Brian Knarr, head of the innovative University of Nebraska of Omaha Biomechanics Prototyping Core Facility. Brian took an original invention, made by students and engineers, and translated it into a functional product concept. Next, was Mr. Doug Miller. A veteran fitness engineer and willing student of entrepreneurship, Doug has grown into the role of leading a startup company with patience and determination. Additionally, Proven Ventures provided essential support to Doug as Impower Health became a legal entity and connected Doug to the last crew member: Ben Jackson. The sales Ying to Doug’s engineering Yang, Ben and Doug provide balanced leadership for a company with ambitious goals.

That team secured an initial investment, from Proven Ventures and Invest Nebraska. In addition, the state of Nebraska Department of Economic Development provided a matching grant, giving Impower its first infusion of capital. That capital is already being put to good use. In a manner of days, Impower is taking two prototype treadmills, by truck, from Omaha, Nebraska to the 2022 IHRSA conference in Miami, Florida. The world’s largest fitness conference, organized by the Global Health & Fitness Association, IHRSA is where the world will see what Omaha’s known for the last year: the next big thing in fitness is Impower Health’s self-pacing treadmill.

Seeing the plan come together, however, I realized: startups aren’t exactly like a heist movie. When the plan comes together and the thieves take the score, get away and the movie ends. Impower’s story didn’t end at the first investment or at the first grant. Impower’s story won’t end if it is declared the toast of IHRSA or when it sells its millionth treadmill. There’s no finish line, just unlocking of ever-larger achievements and a whole new slate of challenges. It’s just heist after heist after heist.

For UNeTech, it’s not about the take: it’s the give. IHRSA will be Doug and Ben with support from Proven Ventures. It will be a UNeTech-free, University-free affair – and that’s exactly the point. The final scene of the heist movie will frame UNeTech watching Impower disappear over the horizon – onto bigger and better. The credits roll but the audience stays – waiting for UNeTech to re-appear and knowingly present a new mad opportunity to another quirky specialist. The clip sets up the sequel: there’s always the next crew. 


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