At KANEKO, Big Omaha finds a shared vision and a place to call home
KANEKO in Omaha's Old Market has served as home to Big Omaha since the event's inception.
Even if you've never been to Big Omaha, by now you probably know where it's being held.
The KANEKO, a creative space in Omaha's Old Market district, has been the venue for the Silicon Prairie News conference from its very beginning in 2009. Organizers behind both venue and event see no reason to change that arrangement any time soon.
"There is this overlap between Big Omaha and KANEKO," said Dr. Jim Linder, incoming chair and interim director at The KANEKO. "They are all about what people find interesting and valuable."
Even though the organization is not itself centered on technology, Linder stressed that they foster creativity in all forms. "KANEKO does not equal an arts organization or a museum or a gallery," Linder (left, with his wife, Karen) said. "We support creativity. Creativity and entrepreneurship can't be separated."
Jeff Slobotski, the co-founder of Silicon Prairie News and of Big Omaha, remembers when he and fellow co-founder Dusty Davidson met with Hal France, the director of KANEKO in 2008. "We were sitting there and trying to sell our mission, that we're not just a bunch of crazy guys," Slobotski recalled.
France must have seen the connection between the two organizations, and Big Omaha 2009 was born. "I think he bought into our vision of thinking big and differently," Slobotski said.
KANEKO is the result of Jun Kaneko, an internationally recognized ceramic artist, and his wife, Ree, wanting to give back to the creative community. "They wanted to give a physical space," Linder said, "a space that you could use for art programs for children, for all ages. They envisioned a place of philosophy, innovation and entrepreneurship. If you have an idea and you need space, we'll try to help."
That goal seems to have worked out well for Big Omaha. "Your surroundings, the space itself, has a lot to do with how you think," Slobotski said. "People come to Big Omaha, and we can let them see we're inspired by space. This is not a hotel conference that could be in any city. This isn't a convention center. It looks so different. It's not like you could be anywhere else. You're in Omaha."
"People come to Big Omaha, and we can let them see we're inspired by space." - Jeff Slobotski
Even though the event has sold out each of its four years, Slobotski said Big Omaha doesn't plan to look for a different venue. "We don't want to be SXSW, with 10,000 people. We want to create intimacy and connectivity and inspiration. We'd lose some of the soul of Big Omaha if we left KANEKO," he said. "So that's why we'll do separate events like Thinc Iowa."
Slobotski estimated that around 650 people will attend Big Omaha this year, including volunteers and speakers. "We could maybe go up to 800, but we don't want to cram people in. You could do that for an event that was an hour or two long, but not for something that's two days long."
Fortunately for future Big-Omaha-goers, Linder said that he views KANEKO as having a long-term partnership with Big Omaha, and that means taking expansion of the event into account. "As we think of renovation, opening up more space, we are envisioning how we can accommodate the growth of Big Omaha." He added that a new space on the second floor of The KANEKO could be open by fall of 2012. "Definitely by next Big Omaha."
The KANEKO is a cultural center in the Old Market.
The KANEKO as planned to look in 2020.
If you can’t get enough of the KANEKO/Big Omaha mind meld in the meantime, check out DiscussCreativity.com over the next few days for ideas shared at Big Omaha. "It's a site to foster creativity discussions about KANEKO events," Linder said. "It will help speakers engage with event-goers."
Silicon Prairie News' coverage of Big Omaha 2012 is presented by CoSentry. For more than a decade, CoSentry has provided startups, web-based enterprises and larger organizations a safe, secure, affordable network of computing and data storage facilities.
Learn more about CoSentry at cosentry.com.