Lincoln entrepreneur shifts gears to help modernize top-secret military information | Local Business News

How does one go from starting a company highlighting daily deals at restaurants and retailers to helping to modernize the military’s nuclear forces?

For Mailani Veney, it was as simple as the government asking her to help.

Mailani Veney

“Just like my neighbor Scott Frost, when he goes on recruiting trips to Hawaii to recruit for football players, our government recruits people to help with different areas of need,” Veney said.

She said she was recruited based on her background as an entrepreneur “and as a person who gets things done.”

Veney had co-founded Heated Concrete Solutions, a company that won the inaugural Nebraska Business Plan Competition in 2006. She later went on to found DealAnyDay in 2015, a company with an app that focused on offering people deals from businesses tailored to their location. Within a few years, she rebranded the company as LocalAnyDay and focused the app on getting businesses in front of customers on a regular basis.

She was still running the company in 2019 when she got a call from Air Force Maj. Rob Slaughter inviting her to come to a Department of Defense software factory in Colorado to explore some innovative developments.

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Veney said she initially told the Air Force she wasn’t interested in trying to win a contract because she had too many other things going on.

But she eventually changed her mind.

“One of the reasons I said yes was that I understood the severity of the need,” she said. “Our government needs us and they need small business to innovate.”

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She quickly formed a new company, Kana Systems, found a secure place to do top-secret work and went about hiring new team members.

The need her new company focused on was how to get real-time information to “warfighters” so they could make the right decisions about whether they were ready to fight.

What she confronted was a disorganized system that relied on data housed on several different legacy computers and a process that took a half dozen people several weeks to hand process information.

“We actually went in and with our Nebraska-based company, we were able to build them a tool that automated that process,” Veney said.

That tool, which Kana Systems developed in 10 months, used various technologies, including artificial intelligence and machine learning, to shorten the time it had taken to process information from weeks to about 30 minutes, and it cut the staff needed for processing from five people to one.

The tool became a valuable part of the “Can I Fight Tonight” dashboard used by the U.S. Nuclear Command Control and Communications Enterprise Center at Offutt Air Force Base.

Adm. Ronald Fritzemeier, director of the center that’s part of the U.S. Strategic Command, said the dashboard provides vital information on the readiness of forces based on available data.

“But to actually measure it and to know it in something close to real time has frankly never been doable without this kind of data and analytics,” he said in a news release.

Veney said the success of her company was made possible by the federal government’s Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer programs. Kana Systems received a nearly $1.5 million contract through the program to create the tool for the Air Force.

The Air Force has a specific program, called AFWERX, which acts as a kind of venture capital fund to help it recruit startups and small companies.

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Slaughter, the Air Force major who recruited Veney, runs that program.

“Kana Systems hit a home run with what they were able to do and accomplish with STRATCOM, but they are one of many successful small businesses that are just doing amazing things for the department,” he said in a video on the AFWERX website.

Veney agreed that there are many small businesses like hers filling critical roles in government contracting, and said she wants to get the word out to other Nebraska companies about the billions of dollars in contracts that run through Offutt every year.

“We demonstrated the capability to be nimble when attacking a huge technology challenge. And we’ve shown that a can-do attitude produces results,” she said. “This leads the way for other innovative companies in Nebraska to produce positive results for our government.”

Reach the writer at 402-473-2647 or [email protected]

On Twitter @LincolnBizBuzz.