Startup couple got their start at UNL
John and Ella Wirtz give back to a place that has made all the difference – the Raikes School
She was gorgeous. She was brainy.
She was great at Cranium.
“Ella’s got a good competitive spirit,” John Wirtz says, smiling at Ella, his wife of seven years.
“That’s a nice way to put it,” she says.
They don’t remember the moment they met. But they know where they met – in the middle of UNL’s City Campus somewhere inside the Kauffman Academic Residential Center, home to the Raikes School.
A place that has made all the difference.
Says John: “There was definitely an element of fate.”
The two were scholarship students not long ago in the J.D. Edwards Program, which was renamed the Jeffrey S. Raikes School of Computer Science & Management in 2008. The Raikes School is based on a residential model of education and strives to develop the next generation of technology business leaders.
The students live and take classes inside the Kauffman Center. They stay up late and bond. They bounce ideas off one another.
They play Cranium.
Back in the day, John and Ella lived on the second floor. Their rooms were just down the hall from each other. They suspect they met in the Kauffman lounge or in a classroom.
John graduated from UNL in 2005. Ella graduated a year later. They both went on to get master’s degrees in business at UNL, too. They’ve just hit 29 and 31 and still look like students, especially when they wear their matching The North Face backpacks around downtown.
Yet they now are a power couple in the startup world.
John is one of the founders of the famous Hudl, a software company for coaches whose clients include many NFL teams.
Inc. Magazine named John and the two other Hudl founders – Brian Kaiser and David Graff, two other Raikes School graduates – among its “30 Under 30” a few years back.
Ella recently launched her own buzz-worthy startup, Boutique Window, an online marketing platform for retail stores that launched last year and already has clients across the U.S. and Canada.
They credit their years in the Raikes School for much of their successes.
Says Ella: “The Raikes School did an amazing job preparing us for what came after school. We feel lucky to have been a part of such a high-caliber program that gave us the technical, business and communication skills that have proven to be so important to our success thus far. The Raikes School has had a profound impact on our lives – both personal and professional. John met his co-founders while in the program, and we hire Raikes School graduates for our businesses. We met our closest friends while at the Raikes School.
“And, we found each other.”
It’s late afternoon.
They’ve just walked home from the Haymarket, which is home to both of their businesses. They live in a downtown Lincoln condo with high ceilings and exposed brick. Their large windows overlook O Street. Their two Goldendoodles, Sasha and Indy, hang near their feet.
It is kind of cool, they say, that they live a short walk from campus and the fateful place they first met.
“The energy in the evenings at the Raikes School – that was a lot of what got us fired up to eventually start a company,” John says. “We were surrounded by such amazing peers that it inspired a lot of confidence, because everybody is talking about what they want to accomplish. We were able to live in a great building together and study in a program that is compelling enough that it can compete for students who want to go to Chicago and Stanford and MIT.
“There’s only a handful of truly world-class institutions across the country that you can say are leading the nation in what they do. And the Raikes School is one of them.”
One of the goals of the Jeffrey S. Raikes School of Computer Science & Management is to foster an environment of entrepreneurship. If you, like John and Ella, would like to help support the Raikes School, please consider giving online or contact the foundation’s Laine Norton at 800-432-3216.
Information Technology is one of the priorities of the Campaign for Nebraska, now in its final year.