Ryan Downs’ six elements of the Midwest’s entrepreneurial ecosystem

Ryan Downs, the CEO of Omaha-based Proxibid whose career spans working on a rural Nebraska farm as an 8-year-old to helping guide PayPal through its initial public offering, credits the Midwest's entrepreneurial ecosystem to helping him advance in his career. At our Big Kansas City event Wednesday, he broke down that ecosystem into six elements:

Ryan Downs, the CEO of Omaha-based Proxibid whose career spans working on a rural Nebraska farm as an 8-year-old to helping guide PayPal through its initial public offering, credits the Midwest’s entrepreneurial ecosystem to helping him advance in his career.

At our Big Kansas City event Wednesday, he broke down that ecosystem into six elements:

  • Education – His Nebraska public school education, from kindergarten through bachelor’s degree, served him pretty well when he attended Harvard, he said, while his daughters arrived at their public school in a small community outside Omaha “a little behind” despite their almost $20,000-per-year private school in Silicon Valley.
  • Mentorship – After he left PayPal in 2009, Downs took a “listening tour” of meetings and networking with 100 people. He knew he wouldn’t end up doing something with most of those people, but he wanted to find out about what what happening and make connections. One of those meetings led to Proxibid. “There is no place where high-quality mentors are more accessible than where you live right here,” he said. 
  • Infrastructure – This includes incubators and accelerators, chambers of commerce, government programs, an affordable cost of living, internet connectivity and celebrating successes through outlets like Silicon Prairie News.
  • Talent – Skills, aptitude and experience matter, but so does character. “People here do not jump around. They will dig in, through thick and thin, through the hard times. They will stick with you, they will make things happen for you. It is inspiring to see.”
  • Funding – “Every ecosystem has its strengths and weaknesses. This is probably the one we need to focus the most on.” The Silicon Prairie has a few venture capitalists, and a few organizations that can connect you with funding of $500,000 to $2 million, but beyond that level, it can be difficult, he said. Coastal investors have a hard time wrapping their heads around a company here. The key in his experience has been to use the region’s “accessibility” to find investors here, and hook them with the pitch: “Help us build something here.”

Big Kansas City is a two-and-a-half-day event that aims to inspire, educate and celebrate the entrepreneurial ecosystem in the heart of the Midwest. Produced by Silicon Prairie News, it’s part of the Big Series, the nation’s most ambitious events on innovation and entrepreneurship.

 

Credits: Video by Quadrant5. Snippet photo by Kenny Johnson Photography.


The Big Kansas City Video Series is presented by NIC, Inc.

NIC Inc. is the nation’s leading provider of official government portals, online services, and secure payment processing solutions. The company’s innovative eGovernment services help reduce costs and increase efficiencies for government agencies, citizens, and businesses across the country.

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