Pipeline Entrepreneurs Strengthen Local Support for Nebraska Founders

Despite the Kauffman Foundation’s new strategic plan to refocus its commitments to drive more impact in the KC community, Pipeline’s Executive Director Melissa Vincent says the Pipeline Entrepreneurs program plans to target their efforts in Nebraska this year.

Pipeline members gather in Lincoln, Neb. on Thursday, June 6, to build connections and network after fellows have their second module event. Photo provided by Pipeline.

Pipeline Entrepreneurs, a program designed to support high-growth entrepreneurs in the Midwest—specifically Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska—hopes to do more work expanding into Nebraska.

Pipeline, a Kansas City-based program funded by the Kauffman Foundation, has grown roots across the three states. Despite the Kauffman Foundation’s new strategic plan to refocus its commitments to drive more impact into the KC community, Pipeline’s Executive Director Melissa Vincent, said they want to make sure to target their efforts in Nebraska this year.

“I tend to actually focus on Nebraska because Kansas City is a lot easier. That’s where we started,” Vincent said.

Vincent took over Pipeline four years ago, and since then, the program has grown and evolved, she said.

Pipeline comprises three groups: the fellowship program, which is a year-long program for high-growth entrepreneurs. After this program fellows graduate to the second group by becoming a member. The third group is Pathfinder, a program for entrepreneurs from underrepresented or underserved backgrounds.

On Thursday, June 6, in Lincoln, all three groups were present for the fellowship program’s second of four modules.

“We try to be intentional about making sure that those groups are actually connecting because the power of Pipeline is that network of people who’ve gone through the program,” Vincent said. “They have all this wealth of experience…for our fellows and pathfinders.”

Pipeline touts itself as a founder-first, startup-second organization. According to Vincent, Pipeline cares more about the founders as individuals, not the company they’re building.

Jennifer Lea, the founder and CEO of Entry Envy, an Omaha-based company that provides a subscription service for custom address signs with a planter box for seasonal decor, is currently participating in the fellowship program.

Lea is no stranger to coaching and accelerator programs. She went through the NMotion 2023 accelerator cohort. Yet, she said she got too comfortable in the startup community. “It’s time to be a little uncomfortable again.”

Lea agrees that the Pipeline program is founder-first, and there is more reflective time and high quality networking time. “I trust the process.”

Taylor Stormberg, co-founder and managing partner of Pando PEO, a full-service professional employer organization, is another Nebraska resident in the fellowship program.

According to Stormberg, this is his first time owning and running a business. He joined Pipeline because he wanted to immerse himself more in the startup ecosystem.

“[Pipeline] is really just about you, not your business. Sometimes it’s hard to separate yourself from your business,” Stormberg said. “It’s cool that they care about you as a person… as opposed to how much your company is worth.”

The emphasis on people first is why Pipeline continues to support entrepreneurs in states like Nebraska. Vincent’s goal is to surround Midwestern entrepreneurs with local community resources so they don’t have to leave or relocate to grow their business. 

She said that being in the Midwest means there tends to be less resources than in places like the coasts, and Pipeline is helping people stay where they are.

“We are supporting people who are already here and trying to grow in Nebraska,” Vincent said. “We are going to continue to support you, and not just now.”

Travis Stephens from St. Edward, Nebraska, owner of Direct Pivot Parts, went through Pipeline’s fellowship program in 2020 and said if he didn’t go through the program, he would never see himself with this crowd, referencing being from rural Nebraska.

Vincent wants to connect with more founders in rural Nebraska to encourage participation in the Pathfinder program, which includes rural entrepreneurs. The Pathfinder program is designed for founders at the idea or prototype phase of a startup; the entrepreneur is not working full-time on it yet.

Stephens said that being from a rural community, anytime someone can bring resources to Nebraska for people like him, it’s a fortunate situation.

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