Silicon Prairie News

TalkAbroad founder discusses Silicon Valley, Omaha startup scene

Omaha July 28, 2010 by Andrea Ciurej Only 22 days until Big Omaha. Get your tickets before they sell out!

Omaha native Todd Nichols moved to Silicon Valley in 2007 to learn more about business, specifically software sales. Photo by Andrea Ciurej.

Editor's note: This is a follow up story to Andrea Ciurej's article last week: TalkAbroad connects U.S. college students with native speakers.

In January of this year, Todd Nichols began working full-time on his startup, TalkAbroad, a company using online video conferencing to connect American college students learning a foreign language with native speakers abroad.

The idea for the Omaha native's startup came about while working for a micro-finance organization in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, where he learned to speak Spanish.

"[I] spent a few years thinking about some of the skills that people down there had and my experience with learning Spanish," he said. "[I] decided that some of things that…conversation partners in Honduras could really provide were opportunities for students up here to connect with them using video conferencing over the internet."

Nichols, however, knew he was a few skills short of having a successful company.

"What I recognized pretty quickly was that I needed to get some training [and] some skills in business," Nichols said. "I wanted to learn more about software sales."

After about four years of working in Honduras' capital, Nichols moved to Palo Alto, California, in the southern San Francisco Bay area, otherwise known as Silicon Valley, where TalkAbroad took flight as a company. 

"It's supposed to have the best infrastructure to start a business," Nichols said. "They have all of the money out there."

Nichols said the Silicon Valley, although rich in talent, didn't serve as the best location for his company to grow.

"It's primarily finding people internationally who will work for us and then doing some coordination over it," he said. "The companies that really benefit from it are tech companies that need a lot of money, that need a lot of investment and need a lot of top engineering talent."

Nichols moved back to Omaha this year and began a six-month partnership with the Halo Institute – an Omaha-based non-profit nuturing entrepreneurial talent – to focus on making his company a top foreign language provider.

In the process, Nichols teamed up with Trent Wachner, an assistant marketing professor at Creighton University, who had a desire to connect his students with foreign businesses as a tool for conducting market research. Wachner, with Nichols' help, will launch a similar company called ConnectAbroad this fall.

So far, Omaha's "attitude of innovation and creativity" has provided Nichols with the influence he's needed to further develop his company. 

"For a young company, the primary help that you need at least at the beginning, are collaborative minds who will walk through the creative process and challenge you," he said. "Omaha has really provided an open forum for discussion of the business plan, for discussion of the market, how the market should be formed [and] what it should do."

A couple of weeks ago, Todd sat down with Silicon Prairie News to discuss his move to the Silicon Valley and how its resources compare to the Silicon Prairie, as well as how Omaha-area entrepreneurs can form profitable businesses with the resources it has to offer.

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