Rena Valentino became familiar with FUSE Coworking in Lincoln through her brand strategy consulting business. Now she is preparing to lead FUSE going forward as their new Executive Director.
“I’m excited,” she said. “I’ve been working in this community already with my own business as well as some clients.”
Valentino won’t be starting from scratch.
“A big blueprint has been laid out,” she said. “The next phase is extending the network into the community even further, educating companies and communities in the region to foster entrepreneurs and startups.”
Valentino succeeds Lana Zumbrunn, who oversaw the transition of FUSE from its original space to a new location with 10,000 square feet.
“It’s absolutely a good get,” Zumbrunn said. “Rena is positioned really well to use her background with marketing to develop the strategic partnerships that position the startup community for growth.”
The two worked together on sponsorships and events for Valentino’s clients, giving her a good feel for the space and the community.
“Working side by side with Lana and my clients with sponsorships and events let me see a lot of the benefits FUSE offers to entrepreneurs and the startup community,” she said. “It helped me understand FUSE even more.”
Bob Hinrichs, FUSE co-founder and board member, is also pleased that Valentino is coming on board.
“We’re really on a good track right now with our growth in the community and our contribution to Lincoln’s economy,” he said. “Rena’s strategy and execution skills will let us take FUSE’s vision to new levels.”
Valentino is excited about the current dynamic for startups in Lincoln.
“Lincoln is in a very exciting time right now with the density of startups, entrepreneurs, business development, and breadth of innovation across industries,” she said. “Lincoln is a small big city with a community of collaboration.”
The roadmap for FUSE includes attention to corporate innovation and outreach to other communities in the region.
“We have an opportunity to showcase what innovation means and can do for corporate,” Valentino said. “That is another phase, to bring corporate project teams into FUSE and pair them up with startups.”
FUSE will play an important role in the upcoming Inside/Outside Innovation Summit.
“It’s really a perfect opportunity for FUSE to provide value, showcase the space and the companies that are here,” Zumbrunn said. “It makes sense to offer FUSE as a base camp and give some exposure to Lincoln while providing value to attendees.”
While the primary focus for FUSE remains Lincoln, Hinrichs sees potential for collaboration elsewhere.
“We’re eager to see more and more people using the space, more people knowing what coworking is and the role it plays in the economy of this century,” he said. “If we can take it to other places, that would be great too.”
Collaboration seems to come easier in the Silicon Prairie because of the region’s history and culture.
“All the things that make us unique as a region are different than the coastal centers,” Hinrichs said. “We have a culture where listening and supporting each other is a good thing. It’s a barn-raising mentality.”
There is also a sense that what benefits one, benefits all.
“We help you connect here, share resources, open up our network to other people,” Valentino said. “If you’re growing, we’re all growing.”
Going forward, there is a strong sense of direction for FUSE but also room to be innovative.
“Our aspirations for FUSE are high, but it’s also a blank canvas,” Valentino said. “Besides just being a community coworking space, it can be so much more as a collaborative network that connects people nationally and internationally.”
Rod Armstrong is Vice President of Strategic Partnerships for AIM in Lincoln, Nebraska. He is a regular contributor to Silicon Prairie News.