Terence Bowden hops pond to build UNL Innovation Campus accelerator

It was a gloomy, wet evening in Dublin when Terence Bowden's phone rang as he left work at 7 p.m. to walk to the train in the rain. 

His former boss was calling from sunny Arizona. Would he be interested in hopping the pond to start an accelerator in the middle of America at the University of Nebraska's new Nebraska Innovation Campus (NIC)? 

"Yeah, I could be interested," he said. 

He arrived for a marathon two-day inteview in the midst of an April blizzard, slightly panicked as to how he would get to Lincoln if his plane was diverted. It wasn't. 

His next trip to Nebraska was in the midst of a July heat wave and he had to turn around within a week when his second son was born a month early.

Despite everything Mother Nature threw at him, he was not deterred.

The avid mountain biker arrived for good on Aug. 31, with trilingual family in tow. His wife is Chinese and he also speaks Irish at home.

In the six months since, he has experienced half of the Nebraska seasons and has become a regular in Lincoln's "very energetic" startup scene. Indeed, anyone who meets him can tell he is energized by the challenge of building the NIC Business Accelerator from the ground up.

"It's nice to be in at this early stage," he said. "I love building things. It's a thrill. It's a passion. When you get up in the morning, it's not another day in the office."

Bowden is particularly suited for the task. He has five college- and graduate-level degrees and certificates, has helped manage and sell two startups, helped scale another business into a global market and has experience in manufacturing, design, engineering, marketing and business.

"I can talk the business, I can talk the engineering, I can talk the marketing, I can talk the style," Bowden said. "I have experience with all of them." 

Oh, and he already helped run an accelerator acclaimed as the seventh-best in Europe and co-founded another for students.

That experience impressed upon Bowden the fact that an entrepreneur's background can shape what they get out of an accelerator. Experienced entrepreneurs, he said, "know how to network and they know how to use the network. The network is a major part. That can open doors." 

But the NIC accelerator will be a little different from those he experienced in Dublin, especially in one respect: it will focus on every field but software.

He wants NIC to complement the existing startup scene, he said, and "software is looked after very well here." It will also have a bigger mentor pool drawn from all over the globe and will work closely with NIC's Maker Space, a pairing Bowden believes is unique in the United States, if not the world.

The accelerator will start taking applications in May and Bowden aims to begin the first nine-month program of workshops in September, if NIC construction is complete. The "deal" also will include an investment of up to $20,000.

As Bowden's recent blog entry suggests, mentoring will be a vital aspect. That's what Bowden is working on now: recruiting mentors in a wide variety of fields, particularly manufacturing. He also wants to hear Nebraskans' business ideas so he can get a feel for what the applicants might be like and start planning the curriculum.

"It's a true Nebraska effort, and we need Nebraska to get behind us," he said.

Article by: Patti Vannoy, Silicon Prairie News