The second annual Inside/Outside Innovation Summit impressed an audience of 500 people this week with a roster of regional and national speakers who brought their innovation expertise to Lincoln.
The goal of the summit is to bring together leaders in the world of startup and corporate innovation to help accelerate growth, launch new ideas, and compete in today’s changing marketplace.
Brian Ardinger, Inside/Outside organizer and founder of the Inside/Outside podcast and Nxxt, said that the summit is part of an ongoing conversation about overcoming the constraints Midwest companies face, regardless of size.
“If you look at a company in Silicon Valley, they can go from idea to IPO,” said Ardinger. “They have everything there from capital to mentors, founders, people to scale. It’s still hard, and they still have to do the work, but for the most part, that ecosystem has everything.”
Ardinger said that by contrast, everything in the Midwest is fragmented and it’s a much more risk-averse region. He believes that startup-corporate collaboration is potentially a methodology that might work more in the Midwest because startups are forced to find customers and get traction earlier.
“One of the best ways to do that is work with corporations that are struggling with these new innovative issues but aren’t as nimble yet or want to experiment in different ways,” said Ardinger. “Being a catalyst to bring those two sides together I think is an interesting concept to test out in the Midwest.”
Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts was one of the event’s first speakers and shared some of Ardinger’s views on Nebraska’s success as a place for innovation, as well as the challenges the state faces as a whole.
The Ricketts family famously founded TD Ameritrade in Omaha, one of the country and region’s original fintech firms.
“Having a father that was an entrepreneur, his issue was developing people,” said Ricketts. “He was a visionary, he had an idea of what he wanted to do to disrupt the industry, but he needed the [people to help it grow].”
Ricketts said that Nebraska frequently ranks high in state rankings for businesses based on factors like low unemployment and a high number of economic development projects per capita, but “all these things pale in comparison to the most fundamental [asset] in our state, and that’s the people.”
Ricketts said that if Nebraska wants to foster job growth, one of the goals and visions of his administration, it needs to be able to attract talent from around the world.
Those words were echoed throughout the conference by the 20 speakers who took the stage to share their experiences with corporate and startup innovation, and what the future of collaboration looks like.
Wendy Lea, CEO of Cintrifuse, shared her experience creating a cohesive ecosystem in Cincinnati and explained what cities like Lincoln and its Silicon Prairie peers need to do to better support innovation.
“We had an ecosystem [in Cincinnati] that had not been organized,” said Lea. “We had to organize it and we had to brand it.”
The result of that process was StartupCincy, a movement to build a sustainable, tech-based economy for the city, region and the Midwest.
“The most important thing we do is connect our startups with investors and large business opportunities,” said Lea. “We get them smart, connect them to each other, help them find customers in our region, and get them money. That’s what startups need.”
That thought goes back to Ardinger’s mission in founding the Inside/Outside Innovation Summit.
“We can’t build everything in our backyard nor should we try, but we should have connections to those folks that [do have everything],” said Ardinger. “Bringing in the right people who have the right connections, whether [or not] they’re in a different ecosystem or a different industry, and then introducing those folks to have networks and collisions with other folks, is only a positive thing.”
Christine McGuigan is the Managing Editor of Silicon Prairie News.