Students, young professionals, and local business leaders gathered on the campus of Midland University to talk about creating an entrepreneurial ecosystem in Fremont on Friday.
The Fremont Creative Collective, in partnership with Midland, held their third annual entrepreneurship conference which featured nearly a dozen speakers who shared their various expertise on entrepreneurship, and more specifically developing an ecosystem that supports enterprise.
“In the past it has always been geared toward general entrepreneurship, but this year we have a theme that we are encouraging all of our speakers to speak about and that is an ecosystem,” Brock Ellis, Tech Education Director at Fremont Creative Collective, said in an interview with the Tribune prior to the event. “How can Fremont develop an ecosystem that is attractive and helps small businesses and start-ups not only exist but flourish?”
The conference began at 9:30 a.m. on Friday and featured a variety of speakers throughout the day including local leaders Corey Ruzicka who is Director of Learning at Sycamore Education; Steve Navarette who is a partner at Shaw, Hull, & Navarette; Connie Kreikemeier Executive Director of Personal & Career Development Center at Midland; and Glenn Ellis who is the founder of Sycamore Education and the Fremont Creative Collective.
The conference also brought several professional from the Omaha area, who have expertise in entrepreneurship including Rebecca Stavick who is the executive director of Do Space in Omaha.
Do Space, formerly a Border’s Bookstore located on 72nd & Dodge, was renovated to be a technology library open to the public. They provide free access to the latest software, devices, and ultra-fast internet. They also host many community programs aimed at increasing tech literacy.
“I call it a community technology library,” Stavick said. “There is really nothing quite like it, we have got a maker space, 3-D printers, computers, all the Adobe Creative Suite and all the design tools you would need. We are open 90 hours a week and everything is free, you can get a free membership and use all of our resources.”
Stavick’s hour-long talk focused on making Omaha an entrepreneurial ecosystem that is the most women friendly tech communities in the nation.
“When I say we want to establish Omaha as one of the most women friendly tech community in the nation, that is going to take a hell of a lot of work,” she said. “It is going to take projects, website, interactive online tools, marketing, getting employers involved. If you want to move mountains, then you have to move mountains.”
Stavick stressed surrounding yourself with a community of people that have different skills, as well as helping other people to help yourself, when trying to create a thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem.
“The fact is the more you guys can rely on each other as a community here in Fremont the better off you will be, the stronger you will be. Because you are going to need people who are good at things, that you are not good at,” she said. “I have a management team and together we run Do Space, and some of my managers are so good at some things that I am really not good at, and that’s perfect. Why would I want to be around a bunch of people just like me, I need a bunch of people in my team giving advice from perspectives that I may not even understand.”
The conference also featured Nathan Preheim, who is the co-founder of the Startup Collaborative in Omaha.
The Startup Collaborative is located in the Exchange Building in the Old Market, and is equal parts company and community building. Their venture is a mixture of a traditional 90-day accelerator, tech incubator and the Greater Omaha Area Chamber of Commerce.
“People look at successful sort of startup titans and say I could never do that, and we completely think that is bogus,” Preheim said. “I would challenge all of you to start thinking about problems, start thinking about opportunities, start thinking about paying points and if and when you are ever ready we are here to help.”
Preheim also talked about how communities like Omaha and Fremont’s advantages when it comes to startup companies, compared to other more notable startup destination such as San Francisco and Silicon Valley.
“I love libivng in Nebraska I think we have some competitive advantages from the startup side,” he said. “First of all cost of living here isn’t that high and we should use that to an advantage and we should endorse that, because your capital goes along ways here.”
He also pointed out the advantages that smaller tight-knit communities like Fremont have when opening a startup company.
“I also like the size of the ecosystem, this area is what I call a two degrees of separation community, and again let’s use it,” he said “You know someone who knows someone, who will absolutely help you and startups are still kind of novel so there is a lot of interest from this area to get behind them, to help them go from concept to scale.”