Silicon Prairie News

Building an entrepreneurial ecosystem

Omaha December 9, 2009 by Dusty Davidson


Big Omaha 2009, photo by Malone & Co.

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post outlining my thoughts about the "culture of risk" in the Midwest region and how it was starting to make a change for the better. In that post, I referenced a post Sarah Lacy wrote on her blog over a year ago, describing her thoughts around what it takes for a region to truly have a culture that supports entrepreneurship and startups.

For those that missed it, here's a recap:

Every center of innovation needs a cocktail of things:

  • Wild, almost naive ambition
  • Money
  • A culture of risk taking
  • A social scene where Valley-like serendipitous moments can happen. (You know, stuff like: Oh, hey! I haven’t seen you in forever! You’re starting a company? OMG I know an angel investor who’s really into that space! etc)
  • Big companies techies can spin off from
  • Universities

I enjoy these points so much that when I spoke at the Pape Ventures Conference in September, I structured my entire talk around describing each of these bullet points, how I felt they applied to Omaha, and more specifically, how Silicon Prairie News can help move the needle with regards to each of them.

In the coming weeks I will continue this series, taking each of these points and digging in a little deeper. Until then, I encourage you to watch the video and leave comments with any thoughts you might have about each of the above points.

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Interview with Ken Moreano on Scott Technology Center, Innovation Accelerator
Five in Five with Andrew Marinkovich from Malone & Co
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I think SPN is doing a great job of educating people in our community of the need for a "culture of risk" and encouraging those that are taking the risks. Still, I believe the larger institutions in Omaha need to support this culture in the form of readily available angel investing for Omaha to begin seeing the fruits of the risk taking. Without the money, the risk leads to a muted reward. Nonetheless, SPN is part of the solution and we risk takers thank you!

Dec 9, 2009 at 02:58 AM


I enjoyed your talk live and I enjoyed watching the video again today. I actually was writing something along these lines just yesterday (heavily influenced by the SPN model & experience, of course) about my area. I think "culture of risk taking" is the element that most needs to be built upon in Des Moines, as well (which is probably true for the entire region).

I don't think you mentioned it in the video above, but John Gustafson has a lot of parallel insight into why this is such an issue in the Midwest. He can explain it better, but the part that speaks to me is that we tend to start families and take on mortgages much earlier in life (often right out of school) which makes us automatically more risk averse. That's not the case on the coasts where a lot of the more further-developed Centers of Innovation exist.

That's not to say it can't happen here, as evidenced by my example. My wife and I were motivated by different means but my wife and I both quit our jobs in Indianapolis in August and moved to Des Moines. We have a 6 month old and a house that we couldn't sell in Indy so it can be pretty scary at times. But, I will say that so far the risk seems worth it, we have lots of irons in the fire and we're both a lot happier with the way that things are going.

Dec 9, 2009 at 08:31 AM

You mentioned universities, which is great, but cant we do more than just visit the schools for a talk or offer a discount at a conference? Don't get me wrong; Startup Drinks, Big Omaha, Barcamp, and these other meetups are great. But speaking as a student (UNO), they are also a bit intimidating, especially if you don't already have a business plan. I propose a student based event, one where students can compete or meet with other like students. No intimidation from current business owners, though guidance may be nice. It is also important to present it to a campus or student community as a whole, because it isn't just business cats that become business owners. Cheers, JC

Dec 10, 2009 at 06:34 PM

@ Jacob there is a STUDENT ONLY creative capital pitch competition type of event happening here in Lincoln in the upcoming months.

KUDOS for your interest as a student - you are among a few bright young people in the state and you and others like you MUST be encouraged by us more experienced entrepreneurial as OLDER ;)

please contact - Kathleen Thornton at UNL's Center for Entrepreneurship - 402-472-3353 for more details and to get signed up...ASAP.

Dec 12, 2009 at 12:19 PM

@ Jacob - I understand how you feel. In February we're going to have another G2IC competition - more twitter focused and would like for you to attend. I'll keep you posted or you can check the site out and sign up for in at or you can contact me directly.

Dec 13, 2009 at 05:28 PM

Great topic. I'm not sure someone has looked into the recipe that creates that successful entrepreneurial ecosystem before. It's generally believed that some places "have it", others "don't". I really dig that Dusty is looking at the why. When you know why then you can determine how to recreate it, change it, or find what things are a detriment to it.

Dec 14, 2009 at 08:15 AM

Colleges need to be involved in the process, and actively engaged. In addition to that, I think that the region needs to be constantly expanding. Right now there are movements in Des Moines, Omaha and Kansas City. What is Sioux Falls doing? How about Lincoln? How about the Tri-Cities (Kearney, Grand Island and Hastings)? But you are all right, SPN is doing great things.

Dec 16, 2009 at 06:27 PM


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