Big Omaha 2011: Day 1 live blog (morning edition)

I promised myself I wouldn't do this, but I can't resist joining the live-blogging fray. Silicon Prairie News plans to deliver post-speech recaps of every talk this year at Big Omaha, but I've made a decision in the 11th hour to supplement that coverage with a good, old fashioned live blog. So here are the

I promised myself I wouldn’t do this, but I can’t resist joining the live-blogging fray. Silicon Prairie News plans to deliver post-speech recaps of every talk this year at Big Omaha, but I’ve made a decision in the 11th hour to supplement that coverage with a good, old fashioned live blog.

So here are the sights and sounds from the first morning session of Big Omaha. Refresh this page to get the latest updates (and please pardon stretches with a paucity of them — I’m trying to kill way too many birds with one stone). Also, if this blog doesn’t do the trick, get in on the conversation on Twitter by following the hashtag #bigomaha.

8:56 a.m. — The crowd, once trickling in, has reached a steady stream. Six hundred attendees are going to pack KANEKO, and the energy is already palpable. 

9:07 — Have to give some props to the DJ, Brent Crampton. He’s killing it on the 1s and the 2s (I think that’s what the kids call them, anyway) so far this morning. Thus far, he’s treated us to M.I.A., LCD … and a bevy of other artists whose names aren’t acronyms. 

9:12 — Hot mic. Hot mic. After a small audio flare made sure everyone’s awake, Jeff Slobotski and Dusty Davidson’s opening speech is under way. The event’s founders have to like the full room before them.

9:19 — Slobotski: “I think what makes Big Omaha special is this space, where we’re at, KANEKO.” Slobotski and Davidson are finished, and Hal France from KANEKO is on the stage.

9:22 — France recognizes the artists who have contributed some of their work to make this space special for Big Omaha: the SPDO team from What Cheer, Peerless, Dear World: Omaha, Jeff Koterba and Stanford Lipsey.

9:30 — MC David Hauser has taken the stage. “I can tell who a Big Omaha virgin is, because they were sitting down just now.” Hauser, back for his second year, is wise in the ways of this conference. 

9:31 — Follow Hauser on Twitter: @dh. Give him feedback. But he will look at it. “So don’t be too mean.”

9:32 — On the subject of shameless Twitter plugs, follow me (@JMichaelStacy) and Silicon Prairie News (@SiliconPrairie)

9:33 — Hauser on crowd participation: “I expect everyone to be on something here.” Couldn’t agree more. Get tweeting, live-blogging, etc. And in case you’ve forgotten the hashtag: #bigomaha.

Ben Huh, Cheezburger Network

9:38 — Ben Huh of the Cheezburger Network is on stage to deliver the first talk. Huh’s goal, per Hauser’s intro, is to make people happy for five minutes a day.

9:40 — Huh on his choice to study journalism at Northwestern: “I got a degree in a language I didn’t speak because I felt something in the power of media that attracted me.”

9:41 — Strapped with student debt right out of college, Huh decided to pursue a “street MBA” rather than pay for an academic one. “No matter how low the salary, I only want to work for a company where I can have a direct connection to the founding CEO.”

9:45 — Entrepreneurs are a little off, Huh says. “Things that excite us are things that would make other people cringe. … but that’s why I think we make great entrepreneurs.”

9:47 — Huh’s view on what makes a great CEO: “Someone who doesn’t understand the word ‘no,’ but who knows who to survive failures.”

9:49 — Huh says “crap is now gold.” Content produced by people other than professional media in a day exceeds that produced by the media in a year. And it’s starting to be recognized for the value it contains.  

9:59 — Huh says, “The startup world is littered with people who believe there’s a market for what they do yet couldn’t drive the passion” for it. Cheezburger Network solves that problem by letting its passionate users drive its content “How can we get that small group of passionate people to play in this sandbox? Because if we can do that, we don’t have to worry about marketing,” Huh says.

10:05 — On the Cheezburger Network’s mission: “Make everyone in the world happy for five minutes a day.” It’s something that was derived from user feedback. “I didn’t come up with that. Our users did. We adopted it as a mission statement because it rang true for us.”

10:07 — “Life is never what it’s supposed to be,” Huh says in closing. The floor is now open for Q&A.

10:09 — TechCrunch’s Sarah Lacy — one of our speakers — stands up to ask Huh a question, and comedy ensues. Huh: “Are you pregnant?” (Lacy is, 24 weeks in). “If you had said no I’d run right off stage.” Give these two a sitcom. 

10:13 — The closing question for Huh — “Do you own a cat?” — unearths some scandalous information. “I do not own a cat,” Huh says. “I’m also allergic to cats.” As a feline-phobe (hater) myself, I’m glad to see someone with little or no conncetion to cats capitalizing on them. 

Leila Janah, Samasource

10:16 — Janah’s drive to help others started at a young age. Says Janah: “I always wondered what kind of lucky accident had allowed me to born in the United States instead of on the streets of Calcutta.”

10:20 — Janah’s high school trip to Ghana helped her realize that people in the developed world who succeed owe at least part of the credit for that to winning “the birth lottery.” “It became clear to me in Ghana that I had stumbled into this incredible pool of talent, and that talent was going to waste before my eyes,” she says.

10:25 — Janah says jobs are the key to deterring all sorts of problems that tend to plague the developing world. “Unemployment drives participation in mass riots,” she says. “It drives young people to commit crimes.” Case in point: In Somalia, a young man who becomes a pirate in the Red Sea will earn 17 times the average daily wage in Mogadishu.

10:28 — Janah experienced frustration in college, watching people who seemed more concerned with maintaining a high profile and earning tenure than solving the problems of the world’s poor. She began to ponder: “How can I do something right now to make poor people richer in a tangible way?”

10:34 — Janah says outsourcing has created seven Indian and Chinese billionaires, and American corporations are lining their pockets because of it as well.

10:39 — “The internet reduces the friction of collaboration across all of these centers and timezones, and with a highly distributed workforce,” Janah says. That allows us to tap into all kinds of valuable workers who, because of various restrictions, never had the opportunity to work before. And it has enabled Janah to launch her company, Samasource.

10:46 — Janah shares an anecdote of how Samasource has helped cultivate hope in the midst of a once hope-barren landscape. In Dadaab, in one of the world’s largest and poorest refugee camps, which is located near the Kenya-Somalia border, there’s overcrowding and abject poverty. But there’s also hope, in the form of a computer lab. From there, Samasource helped a class of 16 workers build the skill-set that enables them to earn a livable wage and connect with the world.

10:49 — Break time. That gives me an opportunity to plug our more in-depth coverage of today’s talks, which we’ll be posting separately from this live blog. So keep it locked on Silicon Prairie News. 

11:19 — Aanndd we’re back. The Kauffman Foundation’s Nick Seguin just took the stage, and the crowd took the cue: a standing ovation ensued. What a bunch of quick learners.

Aneesh Chopra, United States CTO

11:29 — Aneesh Chopra, the CTO of the United States, and Robert Scoble, noted tech enthusiast from Rackspace, are on stage. Get involved in the conversation by tweeting questions to @scobleizer.

11:36 — Before he gets going, Chopra admits to a fashion faux pas — at least for a conference of this sort, if not in the Beltway. “I didn’t realize no ties allowed,” he says. “I guess I’m the only guy in the room in a tie. My bad.”

11:42 — “A phoneomal role of government is when we don’t spend taxpayers money on something but we use ‘lowercase g’ – the convening power of government,” Chopra says. That power is illustrated in the Startup America Partnership, which has tapped big fish of the entrepreneurial world like Steve Case of the Case Foundation and Carl Schramm of the Kauffman Foundation.

11:49 — Chopra sets forth three challenges that tech entrepreneurs could have a vital role in solving: 1. transform the healh care delivery system; 2. build a learning system that works; 3. move to a clean energy economy.

11:53 — Chopra offers a call to action: with new government initiatives, people can serve the country through aptitude in tech and business. The government is creating positions that require those proficiencies. “Our doors are wide open,” Chopra says. “We are recruiting like mad.”

11:58 — Chopra outlines government initiatives aimed at allowing immigration of entrepreneurs and those in the tech sector. For Chopra, the issue hits close to home. Chopra himself is the son of an Indian immigrant who moved to the United States to make a career. “(He) was inspired to be a part of this country because this country had opened its doors to allow immigrants to show up,” Chopra said. “This is a personal matter for me.”

12:03 — Q&A is under way. Chopra and Scoble have been joined on stage by Shervin Pishevar. First, Chopra addresses a question about the auction of wireless spectrum. It’s a no-brainer, Chopra says: “We need congress to pass voluntary incentive auction authority” to allow changes to these sales. 

12:16 — The conversation has taken a turn to an interesting dialogue regarding the regulation of angel investing. Pishevar points out that early-stage investors stand to make the most money when startups take off but that “main street” investors don’t often have the same access to investing in such companies. That access should be increaed, he says. Chopra agrees but says that regulation of such investments is in place to protect the investor who, due to the lack of transparency required of privately held companies, could fall prey to bad investments.

12:33 —Pishevar chimes in on the government’s role in cultivating an entrepreneurial climate: “Every single conversation I have is like, ‘You should start a business.'” Pishevar suggests that Chopra is doing a good job of that in his role. “The biggest thing the government has to do is get out of he way — get rid of the obstacles, increase efficiency,” Pishevar says. “I’m glad you’re there as a change agent.”

12:40 — Time to give these fingers a rest — or at least employ them in picking up food rather than typing. It’s lunchtime. Check back here at 2 p.m. for our afternoon live blog. 


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