Emcee Myron Pierce warmed up the crowd and welcomed them to the 9th Big Omaha. Peter Zandbergen, KANEKO trustee, and Brian Lee, Big Omaha Executive Director, also helped kick off the morning with words of thanks to the attendees for their continued support of Omaha’s entrepreneurial scene.
Here is SPN’s recap of this morning’s presentations. Be sure to catch the Big Omaha live stream and watch this afternoon’s speakers courtesy of the Ewing Marion Kaufmann Foundation.
Baldwin Cunningham shared his story about leaving the path he felt he should take in life to follow the one that he felt passionate about. That path led him to founding Brit + Co, a digital media and commerce company that enables creativity through inspirational content and online classes.
“If you don’t 100% love what you’re doing, one of these [dips in your path] is going to break you,” said Baldwin.
He said that being successful is a matter of finding value in what you love, not what you feel like you should be doing.
“Entrepreneur isn’t a title, it’s a mindset,” said Baldwin.
Diana Goodwin shared her story about growing an at-home swim instructing business that she started at age 19 into AquaMobile, an on-demand swim school that matches pool owners with private swim instructors and lifeguards. Goodwin spoke of the challenges of running a startup while being employed full-time somewhere else.
“Even for myself, I was growing the business when I was working full time,” said Goodwin. “What was really important and what helped me to get my startup off the ground was to make spots in my schedule where I [focused on it].”
Goodwin has been described as a “one woman show” who built an international business from a $3,000 Canadian grant. Her operation employs 1,500 instructors across Canada and America. She talked to the audience about the importance of bootstrapping and networking at every stage in building a business.
“Networking was super helpful to starting my business,” said Goodwin. “I still leverage those people today.”
Brian Neider from Lead Edge Capital, a venture capital firm specializing in investments in late venture, expansion and growth stage companies.
Neider presented on what an investor looks for when considering whether or not to invest in a company and why Leading Edge Capital likes investing in the Midwest. He said that there’s hype built around companies on the coast, but hype isn’t necessarily good for investment ecosystems.
“We like companies in the Midwest because they know the value of a dollar,” said Neider. “We like transparency. We like entrepreneurs who have a desire to learn.”
Neider said that Lead Edge Capital and other investors also look for honesty. They would rather invest in someone who doesn’t pretend to know all the answers and is motivated to figure out what they don’t know. Understanding how the business actually runs and being able to answer questions about numbers is also key.
“I think that understanding reporting within a business is really important,” said Neider. “Really understanding the ins and outs of the investments you’re making.”
Shirley Chung, chef-owner of Steamers Co. in California and Top Chef season 14 runner up, shared the story of her tenacious family and how she comes from a long line of people who refuse to give up on themselves and their dreams.
“We’ve got balls, we’re not afraid,” said Chung. “When we’re truly passionate about something, we just move forward.”
Her entrepreneurial mindset began while she was working in Silicon Valley. After the burst of the dot-com bubble, her startup couldn’t get a third round of funding and folded. Contemplating a new start, she decided to tour a culinary university and see if it would be a fit.
“30 minutes after touring the campus, I signed up,” said Chung. “I felt like I belonged.”
One of America’s most prominent Asian-female chefs, Chung followed her newfound passion for food and walked away from Silicon Valley, never looking back. She offered advice for other entrepreneurs looking to follow their dreams.
“Be fearless and be shameless,” said Chung. “You have to know yourself first.”
More to come
Big Omaha events will continue through Thursday night with a dinner curated by Shirley Chung and a party at Laka Lona Run Club. On Friday, 8 more speakers will take the stage for the second day of talks and presentations.
Thursday and Friday’s events at KANEKO are being streamed live courtesy of the Ewing Marion Kaufmann Foundation.
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