Omaha, NE – Brain drain may be a concern for Nebraskans, but Populus Coworking has seen an influx of exciting companies from outside of the state.
Launched officially in August of 2019, Populus is a 9,500 SF shared office space at 26th and Farnam streets. The coworking space provides a home for small businesses, startups, and remote workers. It currently has about 70 members.
In February, VidaNyx moved its headquarters to Populus from Seattle. Invest Nebraska and NelNet Inc led a record series A of $5M to move operations to Omaha, NE, and bring on CEO Sara Boyd, previously CEO of the Omaha Community Foundation. VidaNyx is making several full time hires here in Omaha to fill out its local team.
Populus Coworking is also excited to welcome Techtonic out of Boulder, Colorado. The company recently opened an Omaha location after closing a $6 million Series B led by Camden Partners. “Techtonic is a transformative company addressing the overwhelming demand for tech developers,” commented Jason Tagler, Partner at Camden Partners.
John Bunting co-founded a startup studio in Las Vegas but recently relocated to Omaha. He recognized a need for this model in the Midwest and launched Beeso Studio with an HQ at Populus Coworking. Beeso Studio partners with startups to ensure their long term success by providing low-cost services for software development, project management, marketing, business development, operations, and advisement.
Additionally, Populus has welcomed remote workers from exciting companies like Redhat, which was purchased last year by IBM for $33 billion. The public company Altaba (AABA), formerly part of Yahoo, has executives at the space. Companies from Iowa and South Dakota are currently negotiating opportunities to land at Populus.
Nearly twenty new full-time jobs have been created in Omaha by Populus Coworking members and over $16 million in venture capital attracted since opening in August of 2019
Incredible businesses are building in the Midwest. Populus Coworking creates spaces to attract and support these organizations in Omaha.
Six months ago, I was an exhausted startup employee and became friends with an overworked journalist. Over a pitcher of beer, we discussed creating a podcast on innovation called The Commonwealth. I would host the show and land the biggest guests possible. My friend, Alec McChesney, would produce the content and manage distribution.
Since first putting our podcast idea on a napkin, this passion project has taken us on a wild ride. After building up some episodes, Alec left journalism to take a job as a Marketing Strategist at Firespring. My startup went through a restructuring and laid me off. This gave me the opportunity to focus on the show full-time.
The amount I’ve learned from each guest is tremendous; I can’t even appreciate it all just yet. However, these are currently my top takeaways since we started this show.
Use Disposable Resources | Amanda Valentine
Amanda Valentine moved to Los Angeles to follow her brother who was forming a new band. The brother would play lead guitar. Adam Levine would sing. They named the band Maroon 5.
Amanda started getting involved in wardrobe design for the band. She moved to Nashville to start her own boutique shop when she auditioned for Project Runway. She was voted off the show after a poor performance on Season 11. When season 13 rolled around, the producers asked if they could include her on a list of previous contestants for fans to vote back onto the show. She said yes.
Her friend, Adam Levine, Tweeted the link. All the Maroon 5 fans voted. She made that season and placed runner up.
“Most really successful fashion designers come from really wealthy families,” Amanda told me on the episode, “Zac Posen is funded by his family’s trust fund. Same with Tory Burch.”
She didn’t have a family trust. But, she did have a famous brother and leveraged that resource to help her succeed. Most people don’t have trust funds or famous siblings. However, many people have resources available to them that they don’t use because they are too afraid to ask.
Know Your Core Offering | Runza
Donald Everett is the President of Runza. His grandmother opened their first fast-food restaurant in 1949. The chain today is run by the third generation of Everetts, has 85 locations in the Midwest and is beloved by most that call themselves Nebraskans.
Runza has experimented with multiple menu items throughout the years, most recently a vegetarian Runza. Some have been incredible successes, while others have dramatically flopped.
When asked the approach Runza takes to these new menu items, Donald said, “At the end of the day, Runza sandwiches, fries, hamburgers account for 80% of our sales. The other things are noise. You have to make sure whatever thing you add to that menu isn’t a flippant decision. You have to make sure you know how it’ll impact the execution of your other products.”
Being the best at everything is impossible. Pick one to focus on. When adding something to that core competency, make sure it doesn’t distract from the rest.
It’ll Go Unexpected Places | Nelnet
Jeff Noordhoek is the CEO of Nelnet, one of the biggest student loan businesses in the world. I asked Jeff if he ever thought the company would grow to this size when he joined the team as the third employee.
“The short answer is I had no idea it would get to this level. This idea for this business came about when Mike (Dunlap), who’s speaking later on the episode, and a friend Steve Butterfield came together and said we’re going to start a company. They approached two friends—I was one of them—with the idea that we’d finance student loans.
“At the time I remember thinking: ‘This is a big risk, it’s a startup company. If we made it to 10 people, in my mind, we’d be highly successful.’ Here we are, 23 years later, with 6,800 employees. We have 560 open positions today.”
Jeff continues: “At the time, I had no idea what it would get to. But that’s the beauty of life.”
Value Diverse Experiences | Buildertrend
Buildertrend is a construction management SaaS company in Omaha, Nebraska. After emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, I was able to get time with its three founders.
Buildertrend started with Jeff and Steve Dugger building websites and software in their parents basement. The freelance work allowed them to create products that solved problems across a variety of industries. After making a website for a construction company, word got around with local home builders wanting a website. Jeff and Steve saw the pain point and brought on their high school buddy with sales experience, Dan Houghton. Thirteen years later, the company has 500 employees with software that’s used around the world. Without dabbling in multiple industries and projects, Jeff and Steve wouldn’t have been able to discover the construction pain point.
It Takes Times | The Commonwealth
Creating this show has given me the ability to speak with some remarkable and renowned individuals. We built up some episodes before launching the show. When we released the first episode, we didn’t get thousands of hits overnight. Podcasts grow primarily through word of mouth, which takes time to develop. This project has been consuming, frustrating, exciting and overwhelming… depending on the time of the day.
We have a specific vision where we want this show to take us. If achieving it were easy, everyone would have a well-known podcast. It doesn’t happen overnight. But the first step in building anything is laying the first brick.
Just across the river from Omaha, only moments away from Downtown, are the 65,000 people of Council Bluffs. Between the Bluffs and Downtown Omaha is the mighty Missouri River. But there’s more than just the river that stands between the two cities. For a long time now, there have been stigmas and assumptions that separate the cities.
Entrepreneurs, though, should be careful not to overlook Council Bluffs. The area has a lot to offer, and its leadership is ready and able to support and nurture new companies.
What makes Council Bluffs unique for startups? A lot says Niki Ferguson, who works as the Manager of Entrepreneurial Development at Advance Southwest Iowa Corporation. “Some great things are happening on the east side of the river,” Niki said in our interview with her. “For example, we have an awesome art scene that includes the new PACE building, the Harvester artist lofts, and public art.” The Pottawattamie Arts Culture Entertainment (PACE) project is a $27 million undertaking that will be complete in early 2020. According to the Omaha Wolrd Herald, the building will house the new American Midwest Ballet, Chanticleer Community Theatre, Kanesville Symphony, and the Kitchen Council for entrepreneur chefs.
“There is also a big push for community building and revitalization projects, as seen on the 100 Block, west Broadway corridor and the riverfront,” said Niki. “Not to mention, Blink – free community wifi.”
For some time, there has been a debate in Omaha on the use of our riverfront property. Council Bluffs, though, has stepped up the game on their side of the river. The area includes performance space, new class A office, condos, parks, and more. It’s a very vibrant scene.
The Southwest Iowa area knows how essential startups will be to their future. Niki was clear, “Entrepreneurs will always play a huge role in the economic vitality of our city.” She continued, “they will be the ones who develop solutions to our challenges. Council Bluffs will welcome, and is ready to support, those innovative solutions.”
Perhaps the most significant advantage Nebraska entrepreneurs may have when considering Council Bluffs is the ability to establish an Iowa presence without going far from home. Establishing a headquarters in Iowa opens companies up to a whole new world of relationships, resources, and opportunities. Iowa offers its entrepreneurs and small business owners some incredible incentives. Here are a few of those opportunities:
The Iowa West Foundation
Since its inception, the Iowa West Foundation’s grant program has awarded more than $430 million. The organization funds non-profits in education, economic development, and healthy families.
With awards up to $500,000, the Iowa Innovation Acceleration Fund promotes the formation and growth of businesses that engage in the transfer of technology to competitive, profitable companies that create high-paying jobs.
The Targeted Small Business (TSB) program is designed to help women, individuals with minority status, service-connected disabled veterans, and individuals with disabilities overcome some of the hurdles to start or grow a small business in Iowa.
Tech Brews is a program by the Technology Association of Iowa. For those familiar with 1 Million Cups, Tech Brews is a similar concept. The event happens monthly in Council Bluffs and is hosted at the Kitchen Council space. It’s an excellent opportunity to meet and connect with local entrepreneurs and builders.
John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Centers
Members of the Iowa startup community will be able to access the John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Centers at Iowa Universities. There is strong support for founders in Iowa’s university system. Building in Council Bluffs gives entrepreneurs the ability to engage these excellent programs.
Growing the Bluffs is good for Omaha as well. It’s common knowledge in economic development that there is momentum and energy in density. When density is high, good things happen. Council Bluffs is just minutes from downtown Omaha and selecting this as a primary home or secondary headquarters is likely better for Omaha’s density than building on the far western or southern edges of the city.
What’s next for Council Bluffs? Probably a lot. The Bluffs is also an extension of the Omaha Chamber of Commerce and part of the We Don’t Coast collective. “I think Council Bluffs is the next up and coming neighborhood in the metro,” said Niki. “All of the players from the city, county, non-profit organizations, business owners, etc. all work collaboratively for the same common goal: to change the narrative and showcase the opportunities.”
She continued, “I would challenge anyone to come across the river and spend some time here. Come check out the 100 block, attend an event at Baylis Park, and visit Downtown. I guarantee your opinion will change. There are opportunities in CB for businesses and startups, as well as an awesome quality of life. I’m excited about the future of Council Bluffs!”
You can learn to be an entrepreneur. Like many things in life, there isn’t one type of personality or set of skills that make a great founder. Too often, people look at a few successful founders and draw a single set of conclusions. For instance, we might find that three or four successful people have a great morning routine. We may then assume that to be successful, we also need a morning routine. But this is no different than finding that the Apple co-founders are both named Steve, so you’ll only find success if you are also named Steve.
While many people are born with a disposition towards taking risks or learn grit early in life, this doesn’t mean things can’t be developed over time. In the following syllabus, we will outline key materials that aspiring entrepreneurs should study. This is a living and breathing document that we will continue to update over time. Bookmark it and check back often for new content and excellent references.
There are so many dynamics to a startup. The very idea of innovation requires the exploration of new, different, and unique ideas. Entrepreneurs must break with traditional rules and ways of doing things to blaze an original path forward. Great founders aren’t created by reading a few books. Still, it would be foolish to assume that the study of theory and wisdom of others isn’t helpful. On the contrary, rules aren’t strategically broken without first understanding them.
The intention of this syllabus on entrepreneurship is not to be an exhaustive resource. This is intended, instead, to a curated resource of the top content for aspiring founders.
What is entrepreneurship
It might seem like an obvious question with an easy answer, but it often is not so easy. Some might consider only venture capital type tech companies as entrepreneurship. Others might think of any small business owner. Still, some might think of any sales job or side hustle as entrepreneurial.
Many grow up understanding entrepreneurship because they have a parent, friend, or other family member creating things. Others grow up with no concept of what it means to start something new and create economic value. Here are some resources that help answer these questions.
Entrepreneurship: A Working Definition
“For some, it refers to venture capital-backed startups and their kin; for others, to any small business. For some, “corporate entrepreneurship” is a rallying cry; for others, an oxymoron.”
There is a big difference between freelance work and starting a company. Primarily, companies intend to scale and employee people. Freelancers are creating a job for themselves. Founders generate employment for others. Freelancing is an essential and rewarding career, but it is very different from entrepreneurship.
Seth Godin Startup School: Freelancer or Entrepreneur?
Seth discusses creating a monopoly, describes the differences between freelancers and entrepreneurs, and talks about how a business is connected to marketing.
There is a difference between entrepreneurs and inventors. Though we might often think of innovative people like Thomas Edison, our interest here is on the ability to innovate and take that to market. Here, we want to explore the great capitalists and company builders of the past.
Biography: John D. Rockefeller, Senior
“The impression was gaining ground with me that it was a good thing to let the money be my servant and not make myself a slave to the money…”
Henry Ford was nearly 40 when he founded Ford Motor Co. in 1903. At the time, “horseless carriages” were expensive toys available only to a wealthy few. Yet in just four decades, Ford’s innovative vision of mass production would not only produce the first reliable, affordable “automobile for the masses,” but would also spark a modern industrial revolution.
How America’s First Self-Made Female Millionaire Built Her Fortune
America’s first black female millionaire — and the first woman of any race to become a self-made millionaire — built an empire from nearly nothing in one of the most spectacular rags-to-riches stories in U.S. history.
Building new things is hard work. It can come with great rewards, but also a significant toll on your body. The following articles discuss the mental health of founders and how this relates to creativity and innovation. The topic of mental health is critical to any exploration of entrepreneurship. It simply does not receive enough discussion.
The Psychological Price of Entrepreneurship
Successful entrepreneurs achieve hero status in our culture. We idolize the Mark Zuckerbergs and the Elon Musks. And we celebrate the blazingly fast growth of the Inc. 500 companies. But many of those entrepreneurs, like Smith, harbor secret demons: Before they made it big, they struggled through moments of near-debilitating anxiety and despair–times when it seemed everything might crumble.
Why startup founders should open up about their mental health
Why does it matter? Because while we talk about grind all the time we forget to admit that there is a much darker side to the entrepreneurship, the one that makes founders feeling down. That, in turn, creates an imbalanced reality when talking about your success and the ways to reach it is fine but sharing your inner struggles is not.
The findings of this study are important because they suggest an underlying relationship between entrepreneurship and many of the affective, cognitive, and behavioral differences associated with mental health conditions
Ideas don’t make businesses. Execution is the real game here. Entrepreneurs are those that can do the disciplined work of turning an idea into a company. They have the courage, dedication, and commitment to create new things, not merely think of them.
A Real Guide on How to Find Your Passion
For the things we love most, we sacrifice. Like a martyr who gives his life for a cause he is passionate about, we are willing to struggle and endure for things that have our affection. We dedicate ourselves to those things naturally because of their meaning, not merely because of how they make us feel.
The front end of innovation, or “ideating” is the energizing and glamorous part. Execution seems like behind-the-scenes dirty work. But without the reality of execution, big ideas go nowhere, even in startups.
Ideation to Execution: Forget the Top Step, Worry About the Next Step
For many of us, coming up with an idea is where the journey ends. We think, “oh, that’d be nice if this existed to solve X problem,” and there it dies. Entrepreneurs are those that go beyond the niceties, pushing forward into the reality of what it takes to make the idea an actuality.
Venture capital is an industry that many misunderstand. Most of the time, it is not uber-wealthy individuals writing giant checks, nor is the nerf guns and all nigh keg parties you see on TV. Most of the venture capital industry involves fund managers, who are individuals that raise lots of money from other people and invest in specific types of startup opportunities.
The Beginner’s Guide To VC
tl;dr: Tired of being the only person on the couch who doesn’t understand the jokes in Silicon Valley? We’ve got you covered.
This guide should help if you’re you’re struggling to find angel investors in Omaha or around Nebraska. A word of caution, though, before we begin. Never lose focus on business development. Every hour spent hunting for investors is an hour you could’ve spent acquiring more business, which makes finding investment a lot easier. The more traction you have, the more success you’ll have with investors.
Venture Capital 101: Structure, Returns, Exit and Beyond
A good venture capitalist is a thoughtful, experienced ally, who sits alongside the entrepreneur as a partner and a mentor, knowing full well that their fate is intertwined. Most venture capitalists fall into the following three types — domain expert, operator or networker.
While raising money from Angels or venture capital can be appealing, it’s not right for many companies. Venture funding is focused on outsized returns often associated with tech companies. What if you’re not building a high growth tech company? Or what if you don’t want the intense pressure that comes with venture capital? There are many other ways to fund your startup.
How Profitable Should My Startup Be?
For any startup, there is a balance between profitability and growth. This doesn’t mean, though, that the only two options are burning billions or making a few million. A third option is making just enough profit to cover the founder’s expenses. In doing so, your company sustainable. Many call this ramen profitability.
Of course, every alternative has advantages and disadvantages, so any given one may not be available or attractive to you. For example, professional investors put great priority on your previous experience in building a business, and they expect to own a portion of the business equity and control for the funds they do provide. These are tough for a first-time entrepreneur.
How to Fund Your Business Startup: 5 Fast and Popular Options
Whether you are in the initial stages of starting your business or looking for additional funding to grow; prepare to be flexible and creative. Remember, your source of funding may not all come from a single place.
Marketing for small business owners or startup founders can be a confusing subject. There are so many opportunities out there. The one key to great marketing is consistency. People trust what is consistent – so be consistent in your visuals, messaging, voice, and tone. No matter what kind of company you have, you’re going to need a few basics: a website and visitors. We’ll start our fundamentals of marketing with those subjects.
The Beginner’s Guide To Content Marketing
Content marketing is a relatively new type of marketing that provides free media-type content to customers in exchange for their attention. Unlike traditional advertising which interrupts customers to get noticed, content marketing provides content that customers want in exchange for permission to market a product or service.
From 0 to Launch: 6 Steps to Building Your First Website
If you’re just messing around and blogging as a hobby – no problem – feel free to use a website template. But, if you’re trying to build a business website, you’re setting yourself up to fail. Bottom line: don’t do it! Here are some reasons why…
The 61 Best Marketing Tools for Every Business & Budget
The list of recommended tools below is sorted into different sections so you can get a better sense of what tools are available for different functions of the job. At the end, you’ll see the whole list of 61 tools that you can skim and bookmark for later. Nearly 50 of them are free marketing tools, which means the product offers either a free version with limited resources or a select group of tools inside the product that are yours to use at no charge.
I ran a small experiment in which I tested a handful of new lead magnet ideas, picked the ones that performed the best and then showed them to visitors on relevant pages. In this article, I’m going to share the 11 highest-converting lead magnets from that experiment.
For young companies, sales are everyone’s job. Often founders have technical or leadership experience, but not a lot of sales experience. Without sales, your company is only a hobby. The following articles will help jumpstart your sales knowledge. Ultimately, though, you need to get out there and start talking to potential customers.
Noobs guide: B2B vs B2C vs B2D Marketing
This post is aimed at new entrepreneurs, startups, or others in small companies that are looking to grow, especially people who don’t already have marketing backgrounds.
Business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C) marketers aim to capture the attention of two distinct audiences. And although there are many similarities between these types of marketing, how they engage audiences on each channel is actually quite different. First, let’s clarify what B2B and B2C is.
170 Sales Terms From A — Z: The Updated Glossary of B2B Sales Definitions
With the rise of AI, new sales technology and automation at the forefront of the sales echo chamber these days, we thought we’d take a moment to bring it back to BASICS — that’s why we’ve rounded up this complete glossary of sales terms and definitions to help you remember where it all started.
First, this is not legal advice. Populus is not a law firm, and you should probably hire a lawyer – so we take zero responsibility for the outcomes of this information (just to be clear). We’ll try to shed some light on a few common questions that come along with starting a new business. Because this is a self-guided startup syllabus, we’re not going to recommend any specific law firms, but we’d be happy to do so if you’d like to contact us.
LLC OR INC: What’s Better for a Startup?
One of the most common questions about starting a business is which legal entity a startup should form. If you’d like to know how to decide what kind of business to form, you’re in the right place.
If you are totally risk-averse, then push to always get signed NDAs. You won’t last long as an entrepreneur in this category, since a startup is all about taking risks. On the other hand, if you intend to patent an idea, you need a signed confidentiality agreement from everyone knowing details, or you will legally lose patent rights.
While the safe may not be suitable for all financing situations, the terms are intended to be balanced, taking into account both the startup’s and the investors’ interests. As with the original safe, there are still trade-offs between simplicity and comprehensiveness, so while not every edge case is addressed, we believe the safe covers the most pertinent and common issues.
There are a lot of voices out there. Finding a mentor can be difficult, but it’s not impossible. Lucky for us, with the internet, we can learn from some of the best around the world. Here are a few of the top voices we would encourage you to follow. This is not an exhaustive list, of course, but we hope it gives you a good start.
There are a lot of great books out there, but a few really stand above the others for entrepreneurial advice. If you’re looking for a great foundation of startup knowledge, these are the ones we think are must-reads.
Every day we experience the uncertainty, risks, and emotional exposure that define what it means to be vulnerable, or to dare greatly. Whether the arena is a new relationship, an important meeting, our creative process, or a difficult family conversation, we must find the courage to walk into vulnerability and engage with our whole hearts.
People like Martin Luther King Jr., Steve Jobs, and the Wright Brothers might have little in common, but they all started with why. It was their natural ability to start with why that enabled them to inspire those around them and to achieve remarkable things.
“Every time I read a management or self-help book, I find myself saying, “That’s fine, but that wasn’t really the hard thing about the situation.” The hard thing isn’t setting a big, hairy, audacious goal. The hard thing is laying people off when you miss the big goal. The hard thing isn’t hiring great people. The hard thing is when those “great people” develop a sense of entitlement and start demanding unreasonable things. The hard thing isn’t setting up an organizational chart. The hard thing is getting people to communicate within the organization that you just designed. The hard thing isn’t dreaming big. The hard thing is waking up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat when the dream turns into a nightmare.”
“A general “law of least effort” applies to cognitive as well as physical exertion. The law asserts that if there are several ways of achieving the same goal, people will eventually gravitate to the least demanding course of action. In the economy of action, effort is a cost, and the acquisition of skill is driven by the balance of benefits and costs. Laziness is built deep into our nature.”
“Sadly, most people are not patient enough to reap the fruits of their own labor. Great teams gain their strength and resilience while toiling their way through the valleys, not just from relishing the view from the peaks.”
“Customers won’t care about any particular technology unless it solves a particular problem in a superior way. And if you can’t monopolize a unique solution for a small market, you’ll be stuck with vicious competition.”
The Midwest drives top startup returns. That’s the argument in a recent piece on Forbes of the same title by Venture Capital pro Pete Wilkins. He recently directed a study titled the 2019 Midwest Startup and Venture Capital Market Analysis. “After evaluating the data in the analysis,” Wilkins writes, “I argue that one of the best places for venture capitalists to smartly invest their cash is here in the Midwest.”
M25, a Midwest venture capital fund, recently released a study on the state of the Midwest tech ecosystem. This study is likely one of the more comprehensive data sets available for others to study on the Midwest startup scene. This year Omaha moved down two spots in the overall rankings, placing it amongst cities such as Bloomington, Indiana, and Champaign, Illinois.
So, how does Omaha rank amongst its startup peers? Specifically, how does Nebraska’s largest city rank amongst similar sized locations or cities nearby? The primary source of information for this piece is data from M25 on the top 50 startup cities. We will also consider the Silicon Prairie News State of the Prairie 2018 document and the Midwest Startup and Venture Capital Analysis from Hyde Park Angels. While the raw data is not available for this Silicon Prairie piece or the HPA Market analysis, the commentary and context are helpful. According to M25 data, amongst major Midwest startup cities, Omaha ranks 18th.
Similar Startup Cities to Omaha
Grand Rapids, Michigan
In the M25 data set, the above cities are most similar in size, and we will use them as our benchmark for comparison. The interest of this piece is how Omaha compares with other communities of the same size in the Midwest. That is, of course, not a perfect benchmark. It is an interesting way to consider the data, though. The idea here is not to explore where Omaha may want to be in the future, but benchmark where Omaha might be right now.
Even with a smaller population, Omaha (pop. 8.95) leads in multiple categories, beating out Akron, Ohio (pop. 10.67) and Grand Rapids, Michigan (pop. 10.30), Dayton, Ohio (pop. 7.52) and even tying with Louisville, Kentucky (pop. 12.72) in multiple categories. Controlling for population +/- 4 points, Omaha comes in second in total ranking score, following Louisville, Kentucky, the largest of the group. The data breaks down into three primary categories: startup environment, access to resources, and business climate. We’ll consider each of these categories in the following article.
The Omaha Startup Environment
Positive: Top in exits and high startup density Negative: Lagging in startup momentum
Omaha performs well when it comes to many areas of entrepreneurial activity for 2019. It outperforms all the comparable cities in startup exits. In 2019, significant startup exits in Omaha have included D3 Technology, who sold to NCR Corp, and Flywheel, who sold to WP Engine. Omaha also does quite well at the overall number and density of startups for its size. Concerning, though, and perhaps more important than the other numbers, is startup momentum. This is the percent change in the number of startups over the past five years. In this area, Omaha is second to last in its comparable group of Midwest locations. It falls behind Louisville, Akron, Grand Rapids, and Wichita. In fact, 37 of the 50 cities scored higher on startup momentum, placing Omaha near the very bottom of the Midwest cities when it comes to launching young companies.
For innovation to thrive, momentum is vital. Though Omaha may have a head start on other cities, these numbers reflect some reason for concern around startup growth. Though cities like Wichita, Akron, and Grand Rapids have fewer startups and a lower density, they are growing fast. For Omaha to keep its place amongst Midwest peers, it will likely need to step up the momentum in forming new young companies. The rate of new entrepreneurship is one of the Kaufman Foundations keys to a healthy startup community. This need is echoed in the recent State of the Prairie report, which says, “Omaha’s most fundamental issue right now is that more new technology-based, scaling companies must be started.”
Omaha Access to Resources
Positive: A leader in the number of resources Negative: These resources may not be fully utilized
When it comes to accessing resources, Omaha is an outlier in a few key areas. No other city in the comparable group has an educated workforce or Fortune 500 presence quite like Omaha. These outlier areas may skew the numbers a bit. An argument could be made that these put Omaha in a more favorable light than it deserves. While the city has a significant density of Fortune 500 companies, these companies have little engagement in the entrepreneurial community. There are few discernable ties between large organizations like Berkshire Hathaway, Union Pacific, or Conagra Foods, and the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Omaha. This is a significant resource but doesn’t appear to be one that is well utilized at the moment. The State of Silicon Prairie report wrote, “Large companies in Omaha are not participating at the level that they should regarding spin-outs and translational research.”
Still, the chart above from the HPA Midwest Market Analysis shows that the gap Nebraska has between Fortune 500 and the amount of venture funding is better than many. Texas, even with significant funding in cities like Austin and Dallas, still has the largest gap. Even Minnesota, with great startup momentum in the Twin Cities, falls short. Omaha can do more to connect with its corporate partners, but many successful startup cities are situated in states with larger gaps.
Considering the number of venture capital investors and the number of Angel investors, Omaha ties for the top spot with Louisville. Interestingly, though, Akron and Grand Rapids have the same amount of reported capital deployed with far fewer investors. Again, it would seem that Omaha’s resources are a bit underutilized here as it compares to Midwest peer cities. A higher number of investors with a lower amount of capital deployed probably communicates a lack of opportunity, interest, or education. The Nebraska Angel group is well organized and quite active. It may be the gap between the number of investors and the capital deployed is due to a deal flow issue around Omaha. Or, put another way, lower production of new and young companies is creating a void of investment opportunities for Angels in Omaha.
By the numbers, Omaha has a robust set of resources. These resources help place its aggregate ranking high amongst its peers, which should be encouraging for local startups. Still, closer analysis shows these resources may be underutilized or not fully engaged.
The Omaha Business Climate
Positive: Low cost of living with an inexpensive and well educated workforce Negative: Isolated with low population reach
Omaha is in the middle of the pack when it comes to population size in this group, ranking bellow Louisville, Akron, and Grand Rapids, while ranking above Dayton and Wichita. Despite its size, Omaha has the highest GDP amongst the group. This is likely anchored by its high density of Fortune 500 companies. Omaha has the lowest labor costs in the group and one of the lowest costs of living, presenting a favorable climate for founders. Often the city of Omaha is pitched as an inexpensive place to live and work with a great workforce. The numbers seem to back this up, placing Omaha tops amongst its peers.
A note should be made that Omaha’s low cost of doing business, which includes low wages, may hurt talent retention. While there are cost savings opportunities for business owners, it can be difficult to attract and retain the best when similar markets provide higher pay. A recent Omaha World-Herald study states, “across an array of skilled, high-demand job fields from software app developer to auto mechanic, average wages for workers in the Omaha metro area generally lag what’s paid in other major metro areas in the region…”
Omaha has a low population reach, which may make it feel isolated. Cities like Akron have access to other large hubs within their state like Cincinnati, Columbus, Cleveland, and Dayton. Cities such as Omaha and Wichita may struggle to make meaningful connections outside of the metro areas.
Despite all of these notes, the business climate may be where Omaha shines brightest in this data. A great airport contributes to the many benefits it offers founders.
Omaha, Positioned Well but Lacking Momentum
This data is only one snapshot of what’s happening in the Omaha entrepreneurial community. It likely has flaws and is far from perfect. Still, it presents a somewhat concrete picture of what’s happening. Some amount of measurement, like this data, brings more clarity to the state of the Midwest startup scene. It’s apparent Omaha is positioned to thrive. It is well resourced and inexpensive. It’s a healthy city. Sometimes, though, the resources aren’t the whole picture. The question might be: is Omaha maximizing the potential of its resources?
This analysis would suggest Omaha is not fully utilizing its advantages. Lower startup momentum shows fewer companies coming online. This may contribute to the healthy Angel Investor community that isn’t performing as many deals. Omaha likely needs a way to increase its momentum if it wants to keep a position as top amongst its peers. The metro area could punch above its weight class, potentially competing with even larger cities in the Midwest. Forming more young companies and engaging corporate America in the community are likely keys to even greater success. This should be paired with increases in pre-seed capital for young companies.
Considering the Lincoln, NE, Startup Scene
Any conversation about the Omaha, NE, startup scene should likely include Lincoln. Some may consider these two cities one statistical area as they are only a 40-minute drive apart. They are quite different in many ways, though. Lincoln has a population just shy of 300,000, while the Omaha Metro area has a population just shy of 1,000,000.
Lincoln is home to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, which is the largest university in the state. This campus is nestled right up against downtown, the growing Haymarket district, and the new Railyard. There is a significant geographical density in the capital city for startups and innovation.
Overall, in the M25 data, Lincoln ranks 19th and Omaha just ahead at 18th. Omaha’s weighted score was 11.23, which is hardly over Lincoln’s 11.06 weighted score. In the State of the Prairie study, Omaha also ranked just one spot above Lincoln at numbers 11 and 12. A closer look at the data presents an interesting comparison between the two.
The Lincoln Startup Environment
When it comes to startup exits and large capital raises, Omaha appears to excel. There could be an argument made that these are trailing indicators of previous momentum. Lincoln has double the startup density that Omaha has and triple the startup momentum. These could be considered more leading indicators of future success. According to this data, Lincoln would appear to have more forward motion than Omaha. From one perspective, Lincoln, NE, appears to have a more vibrant and growing startup scene.
Lincoln Access to Startup Resources
There are large swings, again, when comparing Omaha to Lincoln in this category. The weight an interested party might place on each of the metrics makes a large difference in how one might asses the two cities. Additionally, local knowledge would suggest that the assessment here of metrics like the university ecosystem or the number of angel groups is skewed. For example, Nebraska Angels is the largest and most active angel group in Nebraska. It is technically based in Lincoln. This group invests across both cities, though, and it should likely be assigned to both locations.
Omaha does have a significant presence of Fortune 500 corporations. As previously discussed, these companies are not meaningfully invested in the local startup ecosystem. While this corporate presence is counted as an advantage to Omaha in this data, it remains to be seen if that will become a reality. On the other hand, this data shows a large advantage to Lincoln in the university ecosystem. While Omaha’s score of zero is too low, Lincoln does have a very active and supportive university that has invested heavily in the ecosystem. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln is a huge advantage to the capital city. Omaha would do well to build more meaningful engagements and partnerships between entrepreneurs and its great universities.
The Lincoln Business Climate
The business climate is an essential part of any thriving startup scene. Cost of living, labor costs, and tax climate are essentially the same in both cities. Omaha does have a larger and more convenient airport, which increases connectivity and the spread of talent and ideas. Overall, this data set shows Lincoln comparing favorably to the Omaha metro, even with a smaller population size.
Lincoln has the startup momentum Omaha needs
As with many assessments, this one is likely not comprehensive and far from perfect. But this doesn’t mean the insights lack actionable value. Pulling together three studies provides one of the most complete reviews of the Midwest startup community. It’s apparent from this data that Lincoln is coming on strong with great momentum and high startup density. If we consider these as leading indicators of future success, then the Lincoln startup scene has a bright future. Perhaps brighter than Omaha’s current trajectory.
This isn’t to say Omaha is poorly positioned, but it may lack the momentum and density of its sister city. Perhaps Omaha could look to indicators like the university system and engagement with corporate America to increase these pieces of the community. Omaha may also consider initiatives to launch and support more young startups, which would help build overall density.
Omaha is vibrant and, based on these assessments, a startup leader in Nebraska and amongst its Midwest peers. To build on this success, the community must launch more companies and maximize the potential of its local resources.
As previously mentioned, the “2019 Best of the Midwest: Startup Cities Rankings” article and associate data from M25 VC is a significant piece of this article. Please take a moment to get to know M25 if you’re not familiar with their work. https://m25vc.com/
Follow your passion. Do what you love and never work another day in your life. Sounds nice. Is it possible? Kind of.
I’ve always been fascinated by book titles like the “4 Hour Work Week” and the idea that you should pursue your passions in life. “Feel the power that comes from focusing on what excites you,” says Oprah. It’s not that I don’t want that power – it sounds exhilarating. But I’ve never felt I was doing it right. I’ve been doing things that I love for a long time. Things that I would call passions. But doing what I love wasn’t showing up with easy work weeks, simple days, and nerf gun wars. To be clear, I’ve had a lot of fun doing the things that I love. But it’s not easy, and it does feel like work. What gives? Is following your passion supposed to mean endless joy? And if so – what’s wrong with me?
The meaning of passion
Let’s go back a few years. Maybe a few thousand years. To understand this whole idea of following your passion, we have to reset our understanding of the very word itself. The root of the word passion is the Latin word pati, which means suffering. Passion is a word that initially meant enduring or undergoing a challenging experience. You may be familiar with the Passion of the Christ, which was a way of describing the sufferings of Christ on the cross. For centuries, the term was attributed to religious martyrs who died for their beliefs. It wasn’t until the late 16th century that it took on a meaning associated with love or anything too positive. For a long time, the idea of passion was associated much more with struggle than freedom and energy.
Today we speak of passion very differently, defined as intense love, emotion, or desire. In doing so, I believe the word has lost its depth. We idolize the positive emotions, stripping away what we all know is true of the things we love most. For the things we love most, we sacrifice. Like a martyr who gives his life for a cause he is passionate about, we are willing to struggle and endure for things that have our affection. We dedicate ourselves to those things naturally because of their meaning, not merely because of how they make us feel.
James Clear has an excellent book called Atomic Habits. You should read it. He writes in that book, “the greatest threat to success is not failure but boredom.” Success isn’t as much about finding your zen as it is about focus, discipline, and a willingness to endure. This is not to say that work has to suck. It doesn’t. But when you work your passion – your true passion – the fun is in success and achievement.
Have you ever studied any great athletes’ training program? Ther are incredible. There is little margin. It was the great Muhammad Ali who said, “I hated every minute of training, but I said, ‘Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.” At the peak of his career, Michael Phelps would train – hard training – 6 hours a day, six days a week. I guess that’s how you win 28 medals at the Olympics. “Even in high school, I’d tell my mom I was sick of swimming and wanted to try to play golf,” says Phelps. “She wasn’t too happy. She’d say, ‘Think about this.’ And I’d always end up getting back in the pool.”
If you want something you’ve never had, you must be willing to do something you’ve never done.
Passion v hobbies
So passion isn’t merely about having fun and never working a day in your life. Those moments may happen, but that’s not the focus. Following your passion means suffering for the thing you love. Identifying your true passion in life is all about finding the stuff for which you’ll endure challenges and struggles.
Don’t look for the fun thing – we call those hobbies. From time to time, your hobbies can make you money. Too often, though, we try to monetize our hobbies, and we end up hating them. It’s because we don’t want to suffer for our hobbies, we want to enjoy them. Your passions in life – those are the things for which you’ll endure the mundane and the low points.
Build your endurance
Work on your endurance and the ability to stay committed when things get hard. Then find your true passion – the things you’re willing to fight for. Find the people, causes, and ideas for which you’re eager to put everything on the line.