In Hastings, Nebraska, entrepreneurship is the past—and the future
Without a major state university or Interstate highway, the central Nebraska community puts an emphasis on grassroots entrepreneurship. It’s a town most well-known for its place in Nebraska trivia books as the birthplace of Kool-Aid in 1927. Today Hastings, Neb., population 20,000, is home to several major manufacturers and agri-business companies. It is also home to…
Without a major state university or Interstate highway, the central Nebraska community puts an emphasis on grassroots entrepreneurship.
It’s a town most well-known for its place in Nebraska trivia books as the birthplace of Kool-Aid in 1927.
Today Hastings, Neb., population 20,000, is home to several major manufacturers and agri-business companies. It is also home to Hastings College, a private liberal arts school formed in 1882. It also has a vibrant entrepreneurial scene.
Along with small manufacturing companies like Drake Tool & Design and Platte River Valve, Hastings is also home to First Street Brewing downtown. The brewery is currently crowdfunding for its 1st Founder’s Club.
One of Hastings’ biggest success stories has been Pacha Soap.
“Pacha Soap was started by a couple of Hastings College grads, and now they’re in most Whole Foods stores and have 12 or more employees,” said Dave Rippe, Executive Director of the Hastings Economic Development Corporation (HEDC). “They’re for real. Energy begets energy. When we have successes, it’s easier to use that model for another business.”
Another new company based in Hastings is Open for Business Magazine, a publication that covers small business in the central Nebraska region. Owner Lisa Tschauner points to resources such as Intern Nebraska, Dept. of Labor training grants, and the Rural Enterprise Assistance Program as valuable but underutilized programs.
“Open for Business would not be as successful today if it weren’t for our participation in programs like these,” Tschauner said in an e-mail.
In October Open for Business sponsored Big Idea Hastings, a pitch competition that included 17 different pitches for new businesses in Hastings. The winning pitch, a new bike shop, won a $1,000 prize along with donated business services from the community.
Growing their own
Rippe thinks the startup environment in Hastings and central Nebraska is very good.
“Being in a smaller community can make it easier to get things done,” Rippe said. “You can easily get all the interests around the table to make things happen.”
As an economic developer, Rippe sees startups and small business development at the forefront of his responsibilities.
“With no interstate or major university, you have to focus on growing your own,” said Rippe.
Is money an obstacle?
“For us, I never see money as an issue,” Rippe said. “In all the time we’ve been doing this, money has never prevented a launch. Our challenge is finding the talented people willing to take the risk.”
What has the failure rate been like for startups in Hastings?
“We’ve had a lot more successes than failures,” Rippe said. “I can think of one startup company that moved into Hastings and didn’t succeed, but there are far more examples of success than failure.”
Vern Powers is the Mayor of Hastings. In his spare time, he is also a serial entrepreneur with interests in local Hastings companies and also several ventures at Nebraska Innovation Campus in Lincoln. Powers sees entrepreneurial talent in central Nebraska.
“But we don’t know unless we tap them,” he said. “We had 17 people present at our pitch competition, and there were a couple of nuggets.”
Powers also sees the central Nebraska region as being a little behind larger communities like Omaha and Lincoln.
“Until they were pushed, Hastings College didn’t know anything about startups,” he said. “They initially pushed back, but now they’re catching up.”
This story is the first in a 4-part series on the state of startups and entrepreneurship in central Nebraska, beyond the region’s major urban centers.
Rod Armstrong is Vice President of Strategic Partnerships for AIM in Lincoln, Nebraska. He is a regular contributor to Silicon Prairie News.
We’ll share event highlights, founder profiles and feature stories digging into all things related to Nebraska startups and small businesses. Delivered on Wednesdays.