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Technology fuels adventure for hunting and fishing startups

If Heath Roehr was honest, he’d rather be outside than at his desk.

More specifically, he’d rather be slinging a fishing rod with a few buddies out in western Nebraska than sitting behind his computer writing code.

Roehr is one of the co-founders of Powderhook — a free online marketplace that connects users with locations to hunt and fish. The year-old startup touts more than 20,000 hunting and fishing locations across 11 states and launched its first beta in mid-February.

“Traditionally, the greatest entrepreneurs solve the problems around them,” said Roehr, vice president of product development at Powderhook. “Here in the Midwest it’s a great Nebraska problem to solve and we’re excited to solve that not only for Nebraska but for the rest of the world.”

But Powderhook isn’t alone in its efforts to help the hunting and fishing community. Omaha-based HuntForce is working in the same space with a web-based application that allows hunters to quickly organize photos from trail cameras.  Both startups emphasize efficiency, allowing hunters and fishers to get out of the office sooner to start an adventure.

According to U.S. Fish and Wildlife data, Americans spend more than $90 billion annually on hunting and fishing. HuntForce and Powderhook aim to help people put that money to better use.

Powderhook started in 2013 from co-founder Eric Dinger’s love of the outdoors and an “access for all” mentality.

There’s an “access problem,” explained Roehr, because before people can enjoy a weekend of hunting or fishing, they have to find a location. Historically, this meant asking a friend of a friend of a friend or knocking on a stranger’s door to ask to use their land.

But with Powderhook, users log in, pick a location, pay and go.

The team has a 50-state roll-out plan for Powderhook. When it’s complete, one out of every five acres in the U.S. will be on Powderhook’s website.

“The phase that the company is at is a real cool one,” said Roehr, who joined Powderhook six months ago. “We’re growing really fast … We’re getting a tremendous amount of consolidation and feedback from our users.”

Roehr said the concept for Powderhook is similar to Airbnb or VRBO, other shared economy companies that allow users to pay for service or get paid for providing services.

“At its core, Powderhook is not new,” Roehr said. “A marketplace online has existed for a long time, tools in the outdoor space have existed for a long time, but the way we’re executing them is new.”

Powderhook gives users the ability to interact with other individuals and rate various locations based on their experiences. Roehr said the team at Powderhook is now turning its focus to more data-driven analysis to give users the best experience possible.

It’s a way to use technology in a space where technology typically isn’t used, Roehr said.

HuntForce’s father-son team — Jim and Ryan White —  is using technology to fuel the use of trail cameras, which hunters use to track deer and other animals with more precision.

In the last four years the trail camera industry has grown 20 times, with retailers selling 5 to 6 million trail cameras each year.

But problems arise when a hunter spends two to three hours downloading and sifting through the photos, Jim White explained. With HuntForce, the process is whittled down to a few minutes, allowing users to individually profile each animal they are tracking.

HuntForce’s services are priced per month, ranging from $9 to $99 depending on the number of profiles and photos the hunter wants to store online.

“HuntForce is there to make these hunters more successful in a more efficient manner,” Ryan White said.

“And it fills a void that most hunters have had a problem with for years,” Jim White added.

The Whites moved to Omaha from their homes in Kentucky last June to be a part of Straight Shot, Omaha’s first tech accelerator. The Whites had applied to six accelerator programs to help grow their idea for HuntForce. So when they received the call from the accelerator’s founder, Mark Hasebroock, Jim and Ryan White quit their jobs, sold their houses and moved to the Midwest without a back-up plan.

“It was an opportunity that we’d be foolish to turn down,” Jim White said. “It was a gift to us to get this and do something we’ve always wanted to do.”

The Whites immediately started developing a website and fine-tuning HuntForce before going public on Jan. 6.

Now, they’re traveling to trade shows and talking with nationally known hunters in preparation for the busy season in June.

HuntForce has established partnerships with seven different TV shows, like Crush and Major League Bowhunter. In January, Game&Fish Magazine named HuntForce one of the 15 best hunting and fishing apps for 2014.

“I think the industry is genuinely really excited about it,” Ryan White said. “As soon as you see it click in their minds … their face just lights up and they’re excited about where this is going.”

The Whites said they weren’t always sure where their startup idea was headed. There were bumps in the road and disappointments along the way, but it’s all part of the story that makes HuntForce what it is today.

“People thought we were crazy giving it all up and coming here,” Jim White said. “They didn’t think this kind of thing happened anymore.”

It all started with a love of hunting — a love that was passed down from father to son and eventually led them to start a business.

HuntForce and Powderhook both aim to help hunters and fishers enjoy their sports. And both are led by hunters and fishers who understand the outdoors.

“We’ve done it all our lives,” Jim White said. “It’s a lifestyle thing.”