Karen LinderNov 27, 2014 08:00AM ● By Judy Horan
Linder’s dream to become a music teacher received little encouragement from her teachers at Lincoln Northeast High School. So when she learned that a biology class was being held in the school’s only wing that had air conditioning, she wandered into a “cool” vocation as a scientist.
Her career as a cytotechnologist studying cells at the University of Nebraska Medical Center included founding and directing the UNMC School of Cytotechnology. That experience gave her confidence to start her own company, Heartland Pathology Inc.
She sold Heartland Pathology in 2011 after 10 years to pursue other activities. She later founded Tethon 3D with her husband, Dr. James Linder. The 3D printing company began commercial operations in March 2014.
But Dr. Linder had little time for their new company after he was named interim president of the University of Nebraska system that year. She took the lead as president and CEO of the 3D printing company.
A look at printing that makes three-dimensional objects shows abundant possibilities. 3D is used for fine arts, medicine, in manufacturing prototype parts, and by architects to recreate retro items no longer available.
A prime example of how 3D printing works comes from an island in the Mediterranean Sea. Creighton University archaeologist and professor Erin Averett unearthed rare objects in Cyprus that could not be removed from the country. Her problem was solved when Tethon 3D recreated them in three dimensions from digital photos provided by the innovative archaeologist.
An entrepreneur herself, Linder is an “angel investor” for other entrepreneurs. She and her husband seed startup companies through their investment company, Linseed Capital. The Linders look for innovative ideas with high-growth potential.
“One in 10 startups gets to the level to be successful enough to make up for the other nine, according to national statistics,” she says. “We hope to do better than that for our companies.”
One of the first investments for Linseed Capital when the business started in 2008 was in SkyVu Entertainment, a company that makes video games. Linder serves on SkyVu’s corporate board.
Linder discussed the company with B2B over a latte and a vanilla Diet Coke in Aksarben Village, just a few doors away from where the start-up company is now housed. Ben Vu founded the company with his brother, Hoa, in the basement of their Vietnamese immigrant father’s home. At press time, SkyVu’s Battle Bears game had 36 million downloads.
Linder says Ben Vu is the type of entrepreneur they are looking for, one with a good education, skill sets, and experience in his field—he once worked on Hollywood animation projects.
“We like him,” she says. “Ben Vu is very talented and has the level of common sense that we seek to make an investment.”
Linseed Capital also has persuaded companies to move to Nebraska by offering funding and less expensive startup costs. Bulu Box moved from San Francisco and Travety moved from New York City.
The Linders are members of the Nebraska Angels, a network of investors that meets and evaluates applicants.
She also serves on a committee that reviews grant proposals for Women Investing in Nebraska (WIN), a philanthropic organization initiated by the University of Nebraska. Funded by members, grants of about $80,000 each are earmarked every year for a Nebraska nonprofit and for a University of Nebraska project.
The lack of encouragement and a “cool” biology classroom that drew her away from music in high school hasn’t stopped Linder’s love for the arts. She is a painter, a sculptor, and a writer.
She serves on the board of directors of KANEKO and the Museum of Nebraska Art in Kearney. Linder also serves on the board of governors for her alma mater, Nebraska Wesleyan University.
What would successful businesswoman Karen Linder tell her 16-year-old self? “Don’t worry about what others think. Don’t dumb yourself down. If you’re strong in math skills, don’t be afraid people won’t like you.”