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Why I Love Omaha
A special thanks to Rick Turoczy of Portland for reaching out to me to include Omaha in the mix of other great cities! After the invitation, I teamed up with Danny Schreiber, a colleague of mine at Silicon Prairie News, to highlight just a portion of what Omaha has to offer. In the end, we hope Allen’s moving truck ends up here, but if not, we’re honored to be participating in this awesome series showcasing talented individuals doing amazing things in their respective communities.
After you move here, you’re bound to be asked by non-Nebraskans, “Why do you live in Omaha?” This was the question that motivated the team at a local web design and development company, What Cheer, to launch iliveinomaha.com this past May.
Its first entry, from the site’s creators, reads, “I live in Omaha because the community supports good ideas.” While another entry reads, “I live in Omaha because we just bought a nice house…for really cheap!”
While we can attest that both these reasons are true, the nation might know us better for our low-cost of living than our supportive community. And you may be picturing Omaha surrounded by corn fields and overflowing with steak houses. Both true again, but our skyline is slowly growing, and just as it’s becoming more visible from afar, we’d like to highlight some of our city’s most promising individuals and organizations that have, and will be, making Omaha more visible in the near future.
Let’s begin with our poster boy for hard work and modesty, Warren Buffett. With an appetite for hamburgers and sweets, you shouldn’t be surprised to spot the “Oracle of Omaha” at a local hamburger joint or Dairy Queen, which his company, Berkshire Hathaway, owns. Each May, hotels sell-out as he and his business partner, Charlie Munger, entertain over 35,000 at Berkshire’s Annual Shareholder Meeting. The most memorable part of this must-see event is listening to Buffett and Munger take six straight hours of audience questions. Yes, we said six hours.
Another annual event for Omaha’s aspiring entreprenuers and innovators is Big Omaha. The organizers of Big Omaha, which include Dusty Davidson and myself from Silicon Prairie News, along with his staff at BrightMix, a creative software development company, felt an event was needed to connect our region’s entrepreneurs, innovators and creatives. In addition to the nationally-known personalities, including Gary Vaynerchuck, Jeffrey Kalmikoff and Jason Fried, who shared their experiences and advice, we also highlighted a few Omahans to share thoughts with the 400-plus attendees.
The individuals who shared were some of the main people behind the initial energy spurring our city’s creative class. Robb Nansel, Jason Kulbel and Rachel Jacobson put an amazing amount of work into recreating Omaha’s North Downtown area. Nansel and Kulbel, the founders of Saddle Creek Records, reached out to Jacobson and managed to rope her back to Omaha from New York City at which point she opened her independent film theater, Film Streams in July of 2007. The “Slowdown complex” is also the location of boutique web design shops Secret Penguin and What Cheer as well as Bluestone Development’s Empty Room project. The Empty Room is an opportunity for local creatives to apply to utilize the space for a period of one month, with a new installation every 30 days.
Until later this year when an official coworking facility, Jailbreak, is scheduled to open, coffee shops remain its adequate predecessor. That fact is so well known that the Omaha World Herald’s feature article on two iPhone developers, Hasani Hunter and Andy Peters, made mention of it, “Instead of being confined in offices, Hunter and Peters said, they meet a few times each week in the relaxed confines of Scooter’s Coffehouse[.]”
Outside of the coffee shops, a high concentration of entreprenuers are found at the Scott Technology Incubator. CrowdPicks, a sports picking community, was started by two former employees of the Omaha-based TD Ameritrade. Eelios, a spin-off of 21st Century Systems, a company whose technology has earned them government contracts, will be releasing an advanced weather-related iPhone app in the coming months.
Entrepreneurs and startups also showed up in droves for the inaugural BarCamp Omaha last fall, pictured below, while local Twitterers have had strong turnouts during the Omaha TweetUps. The websites for both of these events was created out of goodwill by Eric Downs from DownsDesign, one the many up and coming design shops. A few other creative design shops include Oxide Design, Good Twin Design and RDQLUS Creative.
The goodwill demonstrated by DownsDesign is the kind of effort we see growing more prevalent each day in Omaha. It’s inspiring to see the collaboration and support between our city’s entrepreneurs, and it might just be the best thing that separates us from the rest — void of the entertainment offerings of a larger city, such as Major League Baseball, we spend our cool summer evenings at a friend’s house helping them with their latest project.
Some more of the latest projects coming out of Omaha include: Jimmy Winter, founder of the band management software Music Arsenal, launched RockDex to measure the social media buzz about bands; Gordon Whitten, who created ItsDeductible and later sold it Intuit, is now at the head of Sojern, a startup poised to place advertisements on all airplane boarding passes; and NetShops, which owns over 200 unique domain names that refer to the specialty item they’re selling, such as barstools.com, recently rebranded to Hayneedle and added a universal shopping cart to reinvigorate their site. And we can’t forget about Princess Lasertron, an amazingly talented designer who has created flowers and accessories for dozens and dozens of brides, and has been featured in numerous magazines.
There’s also a couple startups in beta hoping to bring innovation to their respective markets: SponsorPark reverses the traditional order of sponsorship as it presents willing-sponsors a market of individuals and organizations seeking sponsorship and Tournology has created an online tournament app with the goal of enhancing tournaments while simplifying management of them. Beyond these two, we expect to see a constant stream of startups thanks to recent news from Leap Ventures and Invest Nebraska that they would increase the funding and mentoring resources in our community.
As you can see, there’s a lot of activity going on in Omaha, and we feel that we’re just getting started…by taking a careful look at cities that have built a vibrant startup scene, we’re emulating some of those same steps, and we’re eagerly anticipating what’s in store for Omaha! Thanks again for the opportunity to show off what we can offer, we hope some day Allen will be able to add his reason to iliveinomaha.com.
Jeff Slobotski, Danny Schreiber and Dusty Davidson, mentioned in the article, run the website Silicon Prairie News. Just over a year ago, Jeff began the site as a way to highlight the entrepreneurs and creative class that he knew existed, but that wasn’t getting the coverage in traditional media. The site highlights individuals and ideas on a daily basis through interviews, videos and more.