Editorial: Connecting Activities, an Appeal

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As some of you may know, I write many articles for Silicon Prairie News and have been a regular part of the Omaha and regional ecosystem for almost two decades.  I know many of the readers of Silicon Prairie News personally.  I appreciate your readership. SPN is a critical way that we connect with the broader region.

However, today, I am asking you to think about your community and the region in a tactical, tangible way.  I want people in Eastern Nebraska and Western Iowa to come to an event tonight for the Pipeline Entrepreneurs.  I strongly believe in this organization.  But this is not just an invitation to this event.  This is an invitation to break out of your silos and continue to build the Silicon Prairie.

Connecting activities are a critical component of an entrepreneurial ecosystem.  These activities are a mechanism for pushing and pulling people together in a way that is not natural.  It forces different silos of people into the same space to interact around a shared experience.  These cross-pollinations are one of the most important components of building new innovations and businesses that scale.  It is critical that we, as entrepreneurs and community builders, can find people that will challenge us and encourage us to go beyond our comfort zones.

Whether it is tonight’s event or one that you are planning in your own community, going to activities (even occasionally) is a critical means for you to better know your community and for it to know you.  This ultimately provides many positive impacts on your life, at least it has for me.

The challenge is that people often treat these activities as either 1) unimportant or 2) transactional, particularly, in my experience, in places outside of the Silicon Prairie.  One of our greatest strengths is that we are not transactional here – we are relationship focused.  This is an incredible and hard to describe strength for our region and, at least for me, my personal happiness.  I live here because of these relationships.

In recent years, I have noticed that many of the Prairie’s startup ecosystems are stalling and creating new silos, we have a responsibility as people who care about startups, the region, innovation, and our places to step outside of our comfort zones and build the networks that can change us and our communities.

However, I did not always understand the incredibly important role that connecting activities play in the creation of entrepreneurial ecosystems.  In fact, when I built my original model associated with ecosystems, I buried these activities behind “structure” in our model. However, through efforts such as Silicon Prairie News’ meetup events and Big Omaha, I discovered that connecting activities are the lifeblood of an ecosystem.  We had to build a new model.

Why?  Because this is how we breakdown silos and build trust.  Trust is one of the most important elements in an entrepreneurial ecosystem.  The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation in their Ecosystem Playbook lists “culture” as one of its key elements to an entrepreneurial ecosystem stating: “A thriving ecosystem includes these elements:…Culture that is rich in social capital – collaboration, cooperation, trust, reciprocity, and a focus on the common good.”  Fundamentally, connecting activities are the lifeblood of culture.

At lunch, yesterday, Toby Rush, the founder of Eye Verify and a member of Pipeline, and I discussed how these connecting activities cause people to meet and start to build trust.  Rush described the way that he and I met at a Pipeline event, and how we had built layers of trust around different areas of common interest.  Yesterday, for example, we discussed venture capital and startups.  But, we also talked about our families.  Both of us have numerous children and we discussed taxing them around for various events.

Last spring, Jeff Slobotski, Joni Cobb (the leader of Pipeline), and I created a pop-up event in Kansas City that brought together a bunch of people that I did not know.  But, more importantly, it led to me meeting people from Africa, India, Philadelphia, the Sprint Accelerator, and a number of other interesting, unexpected connections.

Showing up matters not just for you but for the community.  It is easier to stay home.  We are all busy. But, showing up and supporting events – particularly those that you do not plan – is really important because it builds culture and trust through personal interactions.

When it comes to entrepreneurship and growing businesses, people often fail to understand that building trusted relationships across disciplines, geographies, and even interests is a critical activity.  This is how you create relationships that ultimately may lead to a new customer, a potential investor, or maybe just a lifetime friend.  The goal is not to make these relationships transaction, but instead, at least for me, to genuinely engage and build trusted relationships that sit at the center of my worldview and my business.

Every city in our region has special events in which we take pride.  However, there are few groups that cross regions as effectively as the Pipeline Entrepreneurs program.  It represents members from around the country – but recruits from St. Louis, Kansas City, Kansas, and Nebraska.  If you are in another state (I am looking at you Iowa), you should push to get your state or city to join the program.

Tonight, in Omaha, there will be an event at 5:30 at the Omaha Press Club.  I strongly encourage you to attend.

Last week, I encouraged one of my clients to apply for Pipeline.  I believe in it.  I am not sure if it’s the program or the structure or just Joni Cobb’s force of will. But, I know that part of it is the people.  Pipeline has established a fellowship among its members that is unparalleled in the Silicon Prairie.  The members have created businesses with more than a $1 billion in revenue and with an economic impact approaching $5 billion.

I count some of its members as my most respected peers.  I count some of its members as people that I aspire to replicate – not just their business success, but also their ability to build long-standing, deep relationships with their peers and community.

If you are an entrepreneur, you should come tonight because you will have an opportunity to meet people in a trusted space that you may be unable to meet any other way.

If you are an entrepreneur, you should come tonight because many of these people are heroes in their own communities – building hundred million dollar businesses and leading change in their region.

If you are an entrepreneur, you should come tonight because there will be more than $200 million in venture capital funds in the room.

If you are an entrepreneur, you should come because it is important to get outside of your silo and extend your own ideas and self to people that can help you transform yourself, your community, and your business.

The event happens at 5:30 at the Omaha Press Club (1620 Dodge, Omaha, Nebraska 68102).

For more about the organization or to apply to Pipeline for their 2020 class, please check out their website: https://www.pipelineentrepreneurs.com.

 

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