By Dan Guttenplan, FNF Coaches Managing Editor
Silicon Prairie is an area of Nebraska that is home to many new tech start-ups that have changed high school football for the better. The secret behind the innovation might be the University of Nebraska and Tom Osborne.
For Nebraska coaches, the Shrine Bowl can sometimes feel like a tech convention – with many of the new start-ups in the area looking to audition their products. One particular product stood out at last year’s game as coaches from various Nebraska schools – unfamiliar with each other and the differing coaching styles – attempted to communicate on the field.
The coaches utilized GSC Coach-to-Player™ technology, which allows communication from a coach’s handheld transmitting device into a player’s helmet headset. The coaches could use the technology to communicate with players, get a feel for the different coaching styles, and determine how their respective skill sets fit with the staff.
“It allowed the coaches who weren’t used to working together to get on the same page as fast as the players,” said GSC Co-Founder Jamie Schnakenberg. “The coaches became more productive because of C2P. It was great for the coaches in this region because they got to test this new technology. And it was great for us to be able to test it on a local level.”
Silicon Prairie is home to many technology test-runs similar to the one GSC conducted at the Shrine Bowl. Some of the biggest tech companies in the football industry – like HUDL, GSC, HD Endzone Cam, and EliteForm – are based out of this part of Nebraska from Omaha to Lincoln.
The concentration of so many high-tech football companies in Nebraska is no coincidence. Many of the founders and developers attended Jeffrey S. Raikes School of Computer Science and Management at the University of Nebraska Lincoln. Raikes was the President of Microsoft until 2008, and he started a school that offers students a chance to accelerate their careers and develop into the innovators of tomorrow.
“It’s been really fun to watch the Midwestern area become a new hotbed for innovative companies to develop and grow,” Schnakenberg said. “With the university so close, there’s a development of incubators and small businesses.”
The Raikes School has served as a launching pad for tech companies in just about every field. Many entrepreneurial students have picked up on the love for football in the region and aspired to create tech companies in the sports industry. Former Nebraska head coach and athletic director Tom Osborne has served as somewhat of a consultant for students looking to develop products for coaches.
Skip Cronin is the director of the Silicon Prairie-based company EliteForm, which specializes in strength training technology that uses 3D cameras and computer software to evaluate the effectiveness of athletes’ workouts. The venture group that funded his company received feedback from Osborne before going to work on the EliteForm platform.
“Osborne is a pretty savvy guy, and he said we need to get rid of these units that measure bar speed with hooks and strings on the end of the bars,” Cronin said. “He asked if we knew of a better way to do this. Guys who are much smarter than me discovered how to do it.”