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The Nebraska Builder Initiative is changing entrepreneurship and education

2017 Builders Allison Heithoff (Loyola University Chicago), Hope White (Omaha Burke) and Teana Hamilton (Omaha North).

The Nebraska Builder Initiative held their first event last week at the Gallup Riverfront Campus. The event featured guest speakers from across Nebraska’s business ecosystem as well as a presentation and business launch by students from the program’s first cohort.

The Nebraska Builder Initiative is designed to identify key entrepreneurial talents in students known as “Builder Talents” and was created in partnership with Gallup, The Clifton Foundation, The Strengths Lab and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Clifton Strengths Institute.

A group of 11 high school and college students were selected for the program out of thousands who took the strengths identification test. The cohort spent 4 weeks learning about entrepreneurship, how to apply their strengths and weaknesses to the world of business and the benefits of building trust when it comes to business relationships.

The Nebraska Builders Initiative 2017 Cohort

The young entrepreneurs built a t-shirt company, designing shirts that display inspirational messages based on their own personal struggles. The student emcees explained that they’ve always been told what they’re bad at, but for the first time in their lives, the program taught them how to utilize their weaknesses as unique business advantages.

As a group, the entrepreneurs decided to donate 20% of their t-shirt profits back to The Strengths Lab to help support the program’s future cohorts.

Speaker Jane Miller, Chief Operating Officer of Gallup, said that the 
United States, including the state of Nebraska specifically, is in a downward trend of business development.

“Our state needs more businesses so we can recruit more humans to live here,” said Miller. “We need future entrepreneurs.”

She explained that getting kids matched to jobs at a young age is a key to establishing business skills early in life and encouraging the personal development that comes with earning a paycheck. The Nebraska Builder Initiative makes it possible to identify students with the desire and potential to explore their entrepreneurial talents.

Jane Miller, Chief Operating Officer of Gallup

Miller said that the initiative can help solve one of Nebraska’s toughest questions.

“How do we change the cycle of dying businesses and create more businesses?” asked Miller.

Ronnie Green, Chancellor of the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, spoke after Miller and said he sees the program as a potential source of economic upturn down the road.

“We see a huge opportunity through what Gallup has developed and the ability to screen these talents out,” said Green. “I could not be more excited about the plans to extend this next year.”

Building off the success of this year’s program, the initiative will be extended and the strengths test will be offered to 3,400 students next year with a second Builder cohort added to Lincoln.

“[The Builder Initiative is] a way for us to build that talent differently than we ever have before,” said Green. “Innovation in human empowerment––we couldn’t be more excited about it.”

The entrepreneurs pre-sold over $2,000 worth of t-shirts before the event.

Dr. Matthew Blomstedt, the Nebraska Commissioner of Education said that what the students accomplished in the program is an example of what the future of education in the state will look like. Looking ahead, there is going to be an emphasis on identifying passions and creating personal learning.

“We built Nebraska on thinking big for the future. I imagine in the future, education looks very different,” said Blomstedt. “We’re going to make the system of education better with Gallup.”

All of the students that participated in the program will be attending college in the fall or have future college plans after completing high school. They have another leg up on their peers now in that they all have first-hand experience in business development and have identified the steps they need to take to excel in their prospective career paths.

Courtney Dentlinger, Director of the Department of Economic Development, and Willy Theisen, Builder and Omaha business leader, also spoke about the need for Nebraska to celebrate entrepreneurial strengths in its youth and the potential The Builders Initiative has to keep the next generation of entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs in the state.

“Entrepreneurs have to see things that no one else sees,” said Theisen. “Let’s keep these entrepreneurs here.”

T-shirts are available to purchase from The Strengths Lab online store.

Christine McGuigan is the Associate Editor of Silicon Prairie News.