Startland News’ Startup Road Trip series explores innovative and uncommon ideas finding success in rural America and Midwestern startup hubs outside the Kansas City metro. This series is possible thanks to the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, which leads a collaborative, nationwide effort to identify and remove large and small barriers to new business creation.
“The more that I meet with manufacturers and the more that I talk to people, my favorite question to ask is, ‘What sucks about your job?’” Haney said. “And then I just listen, because they are going to tell me everything that sucks about their job.”
Once she knows the pain points for every department throughout an organization, Haney and her two co-founders at Noviqu get to work; building customized safety, training, and compliance software solutions that help manufacturers digitize their paper-based processes.
In fact, Haney said, the inspiration for Noviqu — a member of the NMotion Growth Accelerator inaugural cohort — was born from hearing managers out-complain one another.
“The idea for Noviqu came out of a conversation of nothing but straight up bitching about work,” she said. “Literally five different managers having a bitch fest together in front of two totally random software developer strangers to let them know how crappy their lives were.”
Haney’s energized by the prospect of solving these problems and improving workers’ day-to-day experiences on the job, she said.
“You go on this journey with them,” Haney said. “What you find in common with all these conversations — and it’s across all industries, not just manufacturing — is, ‘I spend so much of my time and my brain power doing work that doesn’t matter.’”
“I would hate that, too,” she continued. “As a human, your brain is used to solving problems. That’s not solving problems, and that’s not exercising your brain. There’s so much more that a person can do to provide value to that company than sit in front of an Excel spreadsheet.”
Noviqu was officially founded in 2017, although the concept dates back to 2014, when Haney and her co-founder (and now-husband) Chad launched Tin Can Technologies in Columbia.
It was there they found the third co-founder of Noviqu, Austin Gardner, who also serves as the company’s CTO. Gardner joined Tin Can Technologies in 2015 as an intern with, in his words, “no real-life experience with programming.”
At the time, Gardner was studying computer science at Columbia College, and his most recent job had been at Bass Pro Shops. He applied after seeing the intern position in his university’s jobs newsletter.
Despite his lack of experience, Haney said, it was immediately evident that Gardner would be a valuable asset.
“Austin has worked with us on every single project that I’ve ever professionally built at this point, and he is a phenomenal human,” Haney said. “He came out of college straight into working with us and then continued with us forever, because honestly I could never let him go. He’s way too valuable as a software developer and as a co-founder.”
Gardner said the three Noviqu co-founders function as a family, which became especially true once Chad and Anna tied the knot.
“They joke that they would love to adopt me if they could,” Gardner said.
Moberly to NMotion
Although the company’s roots are in Columbia, that emphasis on family led Noviqu to operate out of nearby Moberly, a town of about 15,000 people located 35 miles north of the mid-Missouri college town.
The Haneys moved to Moberly to be closer to Chad’s two teenage daughters, at least until they graduate high school. After that, Anna said, the couple plans to buy an RV and travel for a couple years with their youngest daughter, who’s now 7.
“We wanted to make sure we were there for them as they grew,” Haney said. “Getting the older kids for 20 to 30 percent of their entire adolescence isn’t enough, so we moved to Moberly so we could get the kids 50/50. I would say that it was absolutely worth it.”
Even so, Haney knows that Moberly isn’t exactly the typical environment for a startup, which is one reason she applied for Noviqu to participate in the Omaha-based, 12-week NMotion accelerator.
“Part of the idea and part of the benefit to going through a program like NMotion is to get myself and our company back into an ecosystem where we have good people around us who understand what we’re going through,” Haney said.
“Because while we know a couple small business owners in our town, there’s nothing quite like the startup grind and the startup process that you don’t get in a traditional small business,” she added.
Haney said that the Noviqu team had other specific reasons for joining the accelerator program. First, they wanted to solidify and grow the sales process, and secondly, it provides a great opportunity to be paired with mentors who can provide ongoing guidance.
‘We need to do something better’
During the three-month accelerator, Gardner said, he’s mostly “held down the fort” on the technology side in Moberly as Anna travels to Omaha. Chad Haney is no longer involved in day-to-day operations.
The trio participated in the Techstars Kansas City accelerator in 2018, but Anna said they weren’t quite ready to scale at that time.
After what Haney described as a couple years of “letting it ride” following the pandemic, Noviqu has refocused its mission and now works with 10 clients on a recurring basis, with plans to scale up.
In the interim, the Haneys found a gym in Moberly where they now coach. Physical fitness provided a spark to get them — and Noviqu — back on track, Anna Haney said, noting that in work, fitness, and life “the pain is where your growth is.”
Ultimately, she said, Noviqu’s goal is to help other like-minded businesses grow, in part by allowing managers to be less overwhelmed by menial tasks.
“It just takes the right person in the right mentality to say, ‘OK, we’re not going to do this status quo of BS anymore. We need to do something better,’” she said. “Those are the companies I try to find, because those are the greatest customers for Noviqu, and that’s where the value to any business is going to be added.”
“If you can find somebody that cares enough to make your life better or to make it easier,” Haney continued, “then you know that you’re building something that works and you know that you’re growing.”
This story is possible thanks to support from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a private, nonpartisan foundation that works together with communities in education and entrepreneurship to create uncommon solutions and empower people to shape their futures and be successful.