Big Omaha brings another year of inspiration and connection


The tenth and final Big Omaha (as we know it) took over the Omaha Design Center on Friday, bringing its one-of-a-kind brand of inspiration and connection back to the Silicon Prairie.

Big Omaha’s founders Jeff Slobotski and Dusty Davidson kicked off the event with a recap and a look back at past Big Omaha conferences and a clue as to the future of Big Omaha as we know it.

After a few words from Lauren Martin, Maha MAHA Music Festival Executive Director, video clips from past years’ speakers, and a welcome from Anthony R. Hendrickson, Ph.D., Dean of The Heider College of Business at Creighton.

Afterward, the speakers took the stage starting with Dan Houghton, Cofounder and EVP of Buildertrend.

Houghton said the mission of Buildertrend didn’t come out of a desire to become the next “unicorn,” but rather the founders saw an opportunity in Omaha to provide a solution to builders in a time when no one else was moving on tech in construction.

“There are 1,000 companies out there that didn’t raise $1 million and will never be unicorns, but that doesn’t make them bad companies,” said Houghton.

“Finding an opportunity” was at the core of most of the day’s speakers.

Lili Cheng from Microsoft spoke of finding an opportunity to change how people think about language and dialogue.

Cheng is a developer of conversational AI and said that people aren’t binary, and navigating and searching is different when done vocally and in conversation. It’s a space that provides an opportunity for modeling a computing experience around the way people think and feel.

“A lot of the conversations around AI don’t involve people with PhDs,” said Cheng.

The morning’s speakers continued with Nonny de la Peña of Emblematic, a leading producer of virtual and augmented reality, and a Q&A session with Jonathan Badeen of Tinder and Erica Wassinger from Omaha’s The Startup Collaborative.

Badeer told of his Omaha ties and his journey to becoming a founder.

Badeer came to Omaha, enticed by the prospect of studying medicine at Creighton University. Instead, his journey took a few detours. Badeer ended up with a degree in marketing then moved to Los Angeles to pursue an acting career. While there, he stumbled into tech.

Badeer said that he was everyone looking down at their phones, and it was difficult to connect with people in real life.

He took that disconnection and found an opportunity to create a solution, which became the “swipe right” phenomenon that is Tinder.

After lunch, the lineup continued with Nick Bartholomew from Dandelion Pop-Up, John Wirtz from Hudl, Amanda Slavin from CatalystCreativ, Elizabeth Gore from Alice, Rachel Benson from Acton Academy, Archna Sahay, Todd Smith from Smith Ventures and Micah Baldwin from Madrona Venture Group.

After the final speaker, Martin, Slobotski and Davidson led attendees in a champagne toast, giving cheers to all that Big Omaha has accomplished in the last decade, and to what might come next.