Ideas at a given company are worthless without action. Anyone can come up with a great idea but without the proper direction, focus and resources…the idea will never be of value to a company. We had an idea here at Election Systems & Software that could never make its way up to the top of the priorities list so it simply sat on a shelf for years. Until the opportunity to participate in Straight Shot came along. This is a program usually dedicated to helping pure start-ups. The passionate folks that have the dream of turning their idea into something real and then pitching it to investors at a huge demo day event. The 2015 Straight Shot class was business as usual except for one of the teams. A corporate team. I had the honor of being one of two ES&S employees to participate in the first ever ‘corporate’ start up team with Straight Shot. This allowed me to shed 100% of my daily responsibilities as a director and focus on learning the start-up way while developing an idea from the ground up in just under 90 days. It has proved to be an invaluable education that I’m very thankful for.
We were very successful throughout this program for a few reasons. My colleague and I dedicated 100% of our time to turning our idea into something real for our company. We didn’t go back to the office for our regular meetings and spend time putting out the usual fires. We did all the same things the other starts-ups were doing except we had a big advantage and that was our company of 450 employees. We tapped into our marketing, finance, legal, IP, sales and every other department here at ES&S as we needed things. This was a huge advantage for us. Lastly, we were the right people to participate in something like this. Creativity is a key trait but even more important is the ability to build relationships and trust. From day one we were very methodical about the internal stakeholders we needed to get on board with our idea. This proved to be incredibly valuable when it came time to pitch the finished product to our company leadership and ultimately get the green light to move forward with our product idea.
Corporate innovation can take many different forms. We opted for an innovative approach to tackling an innovative idea. So far, so good.
I’ve been in this role for more than a year and I feel like I’m starting to get this whole startup ecosystem thing. Basically, there are incredible people making things happen in our community needing more attention, more customers and more support. It has become crystal clear what to do – scale existing startups. Our first priority is to put all our resources toward our local founders.
What resources am I talking about? We will leverage our greatest asset at the Greater Omaha Chamber (relationships) to get more customers, more awareness and more connections to resources (investment/talent/professional services/community events) for our local founders. www.OmahaStartups.org/ecosystem
How do you get on this list? Simple. You need to have a presence in Greater Omaha, a repeatable/scalable business model and revenue from customers OR post seed investment. The age of the company does not matter. Please reach out if there is a startup missing from this list.
What is the goal? By the end of 2016, we want to reach 100 startups that have revenue and/or post seed investment.
This is a job for me – but let’s be honest, getting more attention, more customers and more founders is ultimately on you.
So I urge you to get to know your local startups and hire yourself on their sales staff. Go find them more customers. Imagine if you were Leandro Castro (founder of Multi Mechanics) and you got a call one day from a random stranger saying, ‘Hey Leandro, I found a concrete company that wants to by your product… their contact info is….’
Together, we will grow another Fortune 500 Company… and that single phone call will ensure the founder never leaves our great community.
The Greater Omaha region has no shortage of successful businesses. We have 10 Fortune 1,000 companies that have paved the way for entrepreneurship in the region. These companies started with a disruptive idea and our local startup community is doing its part to follow in their footsteps. Thursday, Oct. 8, the Greater Omaha Chamber is hosting Make / Happen. Part of the event will showcase startups by industry so local business professionals can meet the founders who are innovating in their industry. We would love to see you there.
We have several potential high growth startups in the region that have revenue and/or have received post seed investment. Our ecosystem has the capital, talent, professional services and community to support these startups but tapping into the networks of existing companies will exponentially increase traction for our local startups. These established customer networks have a global reach which translates into money coming from the outside/in, more jobs and more investment into our community. As community members, we should all consider ourselves part-time salesmen for each of the startups listed on this site.
I recently spoke at a University of Nebraska at Omaha’s CEO event and I asked if any of the students recognized the startup logos that had revenue/post seed investment. A few students raised their hands, but one student offered to give a sales pitch for a company called Our Lifeloop. She perfectly described the company’s product with energy and passion for the problem the company is solving. This student was an inspiration for what we are trying to do – create awareness of the high tech/high growth startups in our region. (sidenote: Our Lifeloop is looking for connections to nursing home communities throughout the United States).
We should all be more like this student. We should all know the startups in our region. We hope that you will join us at Make / Happen to meet some of these startups and their founders.
Please contact us if you know of a startup that needs to be added to our site or would like to learn more.
Everyone has the opportunity to wake up and think of an idea that could change the world. When I was a kid, Barry Sanders was my favorite running back because he had that same mentality. When he got the ball he felt it was an opportunity to score a touchdown. It didn’t matter if he had to run 30 yards backward before he ran 50 yards forward, he sincerely believed he could do it. We’re not all going to be given the stage that Barry had, but we have the choice to approach every day with the same attitude. We need more problem solvers.
In my short tenure working on Entrepreneurship & Innovation at the Greater Omaha Chamber, I’ve learned a completely new vocabulary, met hundreds of people and determined who fits in where within the ‘entrepreneurial ecosystem’. Simply put, there are brilliant people waiting to serve a new wave of problem solvers.
This editorial is targeting everyone in the Greater Omaha area that has ever had a conversation with a friend, spouse or family member that started with the phrase “wouldn’t it be cool if…” or “don’t you hate it when…” or my favorite, “I have an idea.” You get the point. There are solutions to problems being proposed in our lives every day and it’s time we take action to monetize that. If you don’t have a solution, I challenge you to take 30 minutes of every day to identify a solution to a problem. There is capital, talent, professional services and free services waiting to embrace you.
There are three questions that have been a pretty good filter for me to know if a solution is viable:
1) Who is your customer? (hint: don’t say everyone)
2) Can you produce revenue? (hint: don’t say no or have a really long answer to this question)
3) What is the problem you are solving? (hint: try focus on one problem at a time)
The more awareness the Greater Omaha area has on potential startup companies, the more of a story we have to tell as a community. This translates into more jobs, more talent and more investment in the area. If you have a solution that you want to talk about please email me. We are a neutral party that exists to get you connected to the ‘startup ecosystem’ so you can take your solution to the next level.
Once every few weeks, I’m going to take some time to reflect on my role with the Greater Omaha Chamber. I’m writing as a neutral party, a ‘Switzerland’ if you will.
In the last 8 months, I’ve learned that the Chamber’s Entrepreneurship/Innovation team plays a vital role to the community as a connector… and I’m not just saying that to justify our paychecks. It is not our role to decide where startups should office; what investors should be recommended; what professional services genuinely serve startups; what corporations should do to innovate, etc. Rather, we exist to be a neutral party to help the community move forward and that is exactly what I wanted from this opportunity. As I’ve reflected on this opportunity, I’ve realized it is rare to find a neutral party when capitalism is at the core of our economy.
Capitalists should not be afraid of competition. At a recent 1 Million Cups meeting, Matt Medlock, founder of Paysafe, said “I want as many competitors to enter my space as possible. In fact, I’ll hand them over the code so they can get started… the more competition in my space will only create more awareness for the problem Paysafe is solving”.
I immediately drew a correlation to our startup ecosystem. It is no secret that there are events, investors, schools, and professional services that are in competition with one another within the startup ecosystem. This is a GREAT thing. Competition raises awareness that our startup community exists. Our community benefits from more investors, more professional services, more training and more events. Be loud, be the best, and be positive.
In our ‘always nice’ ecosystem, honesty and positivity is better than being vague and negative. I have been thoroughly impressed with how those I’ve met have a sincere interest in the startup ecosystem.
The time is now to embrace competition and move forward. We are a community on the same team. We want to win. We are all in. Let’s do this!