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Oak Barn Beef

Oak Barn Beef ships dry-aged beef products direct to customers.

As the 2017 Nebraska Beef Ambassador for Nebraska Cattlewomen, Hannah Esch traveled across the state providing beef industry education.

And when a third grader told her eggs came from cows because they're next to the milk in grocery stores, Esch, 21, decided something needed to be done.

"I got a lot of comments like that and just realized the huge gap between producers and consumers," she said. "And it was always something that I've been really passionate about and so I've tried to educate and fill that gap a little bit."

In April 2018, the senior animal science major at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln founded Oak Barn Beef, where she works as owner and operator. The company sells beef from her family farm in Unadilla straight to consumers.

Oak Barn Beef and four other companies recently took part in the NMotion Spring Cohort, a seven-week program that works with businesses to develop new strategies. The event ended Wednesday with each company presenting a five-minute pitch.

But this year saw a first for NMotion: Every person making a pitch was a woman. The other companies involved were Canary Sound Design, Modern Ferret, Sapahn and TextyPitch.

"It's superpowerful that so many women entrepreneurs are as successful as they are," Esch said. "I think it's so empowering to young females to see these women running businesses, being moms and rocking it all, too."

Esch qualified for the cohort by being one of two winners of UNL's New Venture Competition last month, held by the Center for Entrepreneurship and College of Business. Oak Barn Beef received $25,000, which was used to purchase more cattle.

Annie Crimmins, CEO of Canary Sound Design, said she was happy to take part in the cohort after her company was selected.

"I think that one of the things that was great was each woman connected to the NMotion Accelerator was passionate about their product, they were well-informed and NMotion was a receptive accelerator that allowed us to kind of learn and grow in these roles," she said. "Their support exceeded our expectations."

Canary Sound Design, founded in 2016 by Alistair MacDonald, developed the CanaryBox, a hardware and software tool that connects with a patient's monitor during surgery and lowers the volume of any music playing when vital signs deteriorate.

"When you're listening to something at an appropriate level and it's below your level of focus, sometimes it can actually improve your focus," Crimmins said. "But in an emergency, we want the music to go away."

Crimmins, a former ICU nurse, said the CanaryBox measures vital signs such as heart rate, blood pressure and oxygen saturation. Operating rooms can get noisy, she said, with sounds reaching up to 130 decibels, close to the pain threshold.

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Communication is crucial during surgery, Crimmins said, and monitoring sound levels is key.

"Sometimes people will say, 'Why even have music?' But music can make a difference," she said. "It can make people focus, improve motor skills for surgeons and improve team dynamics."

Canary Sound Design received $75,000 last August from the Nebraska Department of Economic Development and Lincoln Partnership for Economic Development. The company used the funds to hire Communication Systems Solutions as a manufacturer. Vanderbilt University also plans to use the CanaryBox in a study this summer.

By participating in the cohort, Crimmins said she was pushed out of her comfort zone when it came to commercializing Canary Sound Design's product. She met with mentors to better understand the company's customers better and find out what investors want to see.

Canary Sound Design worked on a process that would allow it to find early adopters and receive feedback. But in a workplace as vitally important as medicine, the company had to be careful with this, Crimmins said.

"It's a slower process for us than for something like a software application. There are way more steps for getting stuff approved, tested and certified," she said. "But I think that for us, it was important for that stuff to be done."

Esch said Oak Barn Beef focused on its marketing efforts and how they can be used to grow the company. Because of her need to educate people on beef production, the company has a heavy social media presence, most prominently on Instagram.

"As a sixth-generation rancher, I can share my expertise with our 4,000 followers and customers to help them feel more connected to the source," Esch said. "And I really believe in transparency and being able to see how (our cows) are raised and how we treat them."

Oak Barn Beef developed a subscription box when working with mentors at the cohort. The company decided on a 12-pound box that includes a variety of meats sent to the customer once a month.

Esch said she's taken all she’s learned from the mentors and uses it daily in her work.

"You have to start somewhere," she said. "A lot of these founders of big companies now were just taking the first steps, like we were, a few years ago, which was kind of cool to see."

Crimmins said she's seen an "I can" mentality in Lincoln.

"I was a really lucky to be a part of the Spring Cohort," Crimmins said. "Because every single one of the women that I met were just superstars."

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7241 or cspilinek@journalstar.com.

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