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Trent Fellers leaves Lincoln City Council for tech entrepreneur life

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Photo courtesy of Trent Fellers.

Trent Fellers faces many challenges as an entrepreneur with his business development consulting company, Five Iron Advisory.

“You gotta have customers, sales and then deliver,” Fellers said. “It’s the same struggles as any entrepreneur.”

Only Fellers is not a typical entrepreneur.  He is also a member of the Lincoln City Council.

“It’s a significant time commitment if you want to do it right,” Fellers said. “You have to be ‘in’ all the time and available. I don’t count the hours.”

Fellers’ wife is also an entrepreneur with a wedding dress design business, and they have two children. Something had to give, so Fellers announced recently that he will not run for re-election next spring.

“I figured out what my capacity is for things,” Fellers said. “It’s hard being a part-time politician and have an entrepreneurial effort and two kids.”

Leading energy innovation in Nebraska

Once he completes his term, Fellers plans to work at building out Five Iron Advisory.  His current clients include Venergy Group and Stone Fin Technology.

“Venergy is a veteran-owned energy group that I met a couple of years ago when I was doing energy finance,” he said. “They’re post-9/11 veterans that are very passionate about energy efficiency.”

Fellers learned a lot about the energy industry during his time as the Deputy Director of the Nebraska Energy Office.

“There’s a lot of really great technology on the energy front,” he said. “And Nebraska’s Energy Loan Program is a model that the rest of the country should use.”

A long-time friendship with Stone Fin Technology President Carl Steffen led to a business relationship.

“They were my first client,” Fellers said. “It’s a great, growing company. They’re the type of people you want to do business with.”

One project Fellers is leading for Stone Fin is a software product for screen printers.

“It streamlines the ordering process online,” he said. “We’re finishing the prototype and already have some paying clients lined up for a beta test this fall.”

Fellers also provides executive director support to Nebraska Million, an angel investment fund created last year by investors in Lincoln, Omaha and Council Bluffs.

“They’re interested in investing in startups and tech firms, retail, all sorts of different businesses,” he said. “It helps me to see all the entrepreneurial efforts out there.”

Hacking Lincoln

So how does Fellers view the environment for startups in Lincoln and the region?

“Just in Lincoln, there’s an energy that wasn’t here a few years ago which is really, really cool,” he said. “The needle has moved to where people are almost encouraged to start a business.”

He feels the support system in Lincoln and Omaha is helping.

“When you have good ideas and business plans and people buy in locally, between Lincoln and Omaha there’s access to everything you need,” Fellers said. “With all the cool things going on, the sky’s the limit.”

In the midst of partisan squabbling over the city budget, Fellers and fellow council member Leirion Gaylor Baird announced an initiative to enhance access to city government data.

“The Open Data Initiative is the next generation in government transparency,” Fellers said. “We want to create a one-stop-shop for information we already have online, and figure out what other data sets we could put out there in a common format.”

Transparency is only one goal of the initiative. Think civic hacking.

“What could we put online that somebody could grab and do something we haven’t even thought of yet?” Fellers said. “We have so much data that the ‘unknown’ of it is intriguing.”

Will Fellers miss being a public official?

“I think I’ll miss it just because public policy has been part of my life for a long time,” he said.

Rod Armstrong is Vice President of Strategic Partnerships for AIM in Lincoln, Nebraska. He is a regular contributor to Silicon Prairie News.