Tag Archives: Big Omaha

Don’t Come Undone

August 16, 2018 by

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Friday, August 17 to Saturday, August 18:  It is the 10th year for Omaha’s MAHA Music Festival, and they’re not holding back. With both local and international acts from across the musical spectrum—from R&B to country to, of course, indie rock—fans are guaranteed a good time. Plus, this year Maha joins forces with the well-established Big Omaha tech conference as the two entities celebrate the culture and creativity found in Omaha for a combined three-day event. Don’t forget to visit the Community Village—a collaboration with The Kim Foundation—to connect with local nonprofits such as Defy Ventures and Aqua Africa. You may just get inspired and get involved. Learn all about this  more-than-a-music festival here.

Friday, August 17th: What’s the best way to celebrate the fact that it’s still summer? With a block party, of course! The 33rd Friday Block Party: 30th Anniversary Edition is happening at Gifford Park. This is the 30th year for the event, so it is going to be big. Besides the regular Gifford Park Neighborhood Market, there will be live music, dancing, games and prizes, a bounce house, and so much more! Find out all about this event here. Learn more about the Gifford Park Neighborhood here.

Saturday, August 18: If MAHA doesn’t seem like your scene but you’d still like to get out and enjoy a day full of good music, head to the Jazz and R&B Festival at the Levi Carter Pavilion on Saturday. You can catch performances by saxophonist Walter Beasley, local musicians Ed Archibald & Friends, and Jazz In Pink, an all-star ensemble of musical women, as well as several other artists and entertainers. Gates open at 11 a.m. Get all the details here.

Saturday, August 18th: Yes, beer is still a thing. And you will find so much of it at the 2018 Great Nebraska Beer Fest this year. Taste brews from across the country—from Milton, Delaware, to Kailua Kona, Hawaii—including all your local favorites from small towns across Nebraska and Iowa. Celebrate all that makes craft beer great as you try the samples and learn from some of the best craft brewers around. Tap here to get the full rundown.

Sunday, August 19 and 26: Get your culture in this weekend at Worldfest at the Omaha Children’s Museum. Learn about the food, customs, and people of Omaha’s sister cities—Braunschweig, Germany; Siauliai, Lithuania; and Yantai, China, on the 19th and Naas, Ireland; Xalapa, Mexico; and Shizauka, Japan, on the 26th. Awesome activities will include making alpine hats and learning about Chinese knots. Of course, there will be food samples from each of the counties, including bratwurst and spätzle, butter cookies, and a variety of Asian food. Take a tour of all the upcoming fun the museum has to offer here.

 

Omaha Fashion Week

July/August 2018 Family & More Calendar

June 20, 2018 by and

Family & More

Farmers Markets

Gardening season is open in Omaha, and those desiring fresh produce will find plenty of options in the area, along with artisan cheeses, farm-raised meats, freshly baked breads, assorted treats, and craft items.

• Aksarben Village (67th and Center streets) 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Sundays.

• Council Bluffs (Bayliss Park) 4:30-7:30 p.m. Thursdays.

• Gifford Park (33rd and California streets) 5-8 p.m. Fridays.

• Florence Mill (9102 N. 30th St.) 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Sundays.

• Old Market (11th and Jackson streets) 9 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Saturdays. 

• Papillion (84th and Lincoln streets) 5-8 p.m. Wednesdays.

• Rockbrook Village (2800 S. 110th Court) 4-7 p.m. Thursdays.

• Village Pointe (168th and Dodge streets) 8:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Saturdays.

Free Movies

Laugh, cry and relax with classic movies under the stars this summer. Bring a blanket or chair, and enjoy the show. All movies begin at dusk.

• Flix at the Chef (Behind Dairy Chef in Elkhorn, 3223 N. 204th St.): July 14, Aug. 11.

• Midtown Crossing (Turner Park, 3110 Farnam St.): Mondays through July 30.

• Movies in the Park (Bayliss Park, 100 Pearl St., Council Bluffs, IA): Fridays through Aug. 10.

• SumTur Starlight Movies (SumTur Amphitheater, 11691 S. 108th St., Papillion). Aug. 3, 10.

Midtown Crossing Monday Night Movies: through July 30

The Great American Lobster Fest
Through July 1 at Tom Hanafan River’s Edge Park, 4200 Ave. B, Council Bluffs. The Midwest’s largest lobster and seafood festival comes to Council Bluffs. Enjoy live lobster, live music, family-friendly games, activities, shopping, and more. Noon. Admission: $5 adults, free for children 12 and under. 773-754-7105.
americanlobsterfest.com

Get Fit in the Park
Sundays through Oct. 14 in Stinson Park, 2285 S. 67th St. Enjoy the sunshine and direction of professional fitness instructors with yoga and Zumba classes. 10 a.m. Admission: free. 402-496-1616.
aksarbenvillage.com

Kids Funfare
Thursdays through July 26 at Center Court, 120 Regency Parkway. Kids will enjoy a variety of local, family-friendly entertainment Each week is something different. 10 a.m. Admission: free. 402-506-4376.
regencycourtomaha.com

Midwest Paranormal History/Ghost Tour
Fridays and Saturdays through October at various locations in Omaha. Learn of the macabre legends, lore, and haunted history of Omaha through stories of the sites and reports of paranormal activity. Time based on sunset. Admission: $10-$20. 402-953-9670.
mphtours.com

Leashes at Lauritzen
July 2,9; Aug. 6, 13 at Lauritzen Gardens, 100 Bancroft St. Dogs are welcome to explore the grounds and enjoy the outdoors. Heel for family photos, learn about local dog-related non-profits, and enjoy treats/samples. 5-8 p.m. Admission: $10 adults, $5 for children or dogs, free for garden members. 402-346-4002.
lauritzengardens.org

Ralston Fourth of July Festival
July 3-4 at Independence Square, 77th and Main streets. One of the biggest Fourth of July celebrations in the Metro area features a fun walk/run, a quilt show, children’s parade, live music, a full-scale parade and fire department water fights. Event times vary. Admission: free (entry fees required for some activities). 402-339-7737.
ralstonareachamber.org

Red, White and Zoo!
July 4 at Henry Doorly Zoo, 3701 S. 10th St. This special event includes bounce houses, music, and special animal encounters. The first 800 people will receive a free patriotic gift. 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Admission: $21.95 adults 12+, $15.95 children 3-11, free to children 2 and under. $1 discount for seniors, active-duty military, and children of active-duty military. 402-733-8400.
omahazoo.com

Yoga in the Garden
Every Thursday in July and August at Lauritzen Gardens, 100 Bancroft St. Come to the gardens and practice yoga with a trained instructor. People of all abilities are welcome to participate. Times vary. Admission: $15 for non-members; $10 for members. 402-346-4002.
lauritzengardens.org

Omaha Beer Fest
July 6-7 at Horsemen’s Park, 6303 Q St. Enjoy unlimited 2-oz. samples of craft beers, ciders, and meads from 60 participating breweries, along with Beer Academy Sessions and live music. 6-9 p.m. Tickets: $35 advanced, $40 at the door, $75 VIP. 402-731-2900.
omahabeerfest.com

RiverFest
July 6-7 at Haworth Park, 2502 Payne Dr., Bellevue. This regional festival has live music, a beer garden, a kids zone, fireworks, helicopter rides, and a state champion barbecue competition. 3 p.m.-12:30 a.m. Friday, 10 a.m.-12:30 a.m. Saturday. Admission: $1. 402-898-3000.
bellevuenebraska.com

Douglas County Fair
July 10-15 at multiple locations: Village Pointe Shopping Center (17305 Davenport St.), Chance Ridge Event Center (506 Skyline Road, Elkhorn), Metropolitan Community College (10407 State St.). Enjoy food, displays, and attractions at the Douglas County Fair’s new multi-location venues. Organizers are creating an event focused on education and community to blend urban and rural family fun. Parking is not available at Chance Ridge. Shuttles will transport the public from Village Pointe and MCC. Times vary. Admission: free. 402-516-5826.
douglascountyfair.org

American Solar Challenge Kickoff Event
July 13-14 at Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail Visitor Center, 601 Riverfront Drive. Teams in the American Solar Challenge will start their 1,700+ mile journey to Oregon in Omaha. Food, music, historical re-enactors, and cultural demonstrations will be a part of the event, along with displays of the vehicles making the trek. 3-7 p.m. Friday; 8-10 a.m. Saturday. Admission: free. 402-661-1804.
americansolarchallenge.org

O Comic Con
July 13-15 at Mid-America Center, 1 Arena Way, Council Bluffs. Fans can meet actors, artists, and writers. Panels, merchandise and crowds of people dressed as favorite characters will be in attendance at this event. Noon-8 p.m. Friday, 9 a.m.-8 p.m. Saturday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday. Tickets: $30-$35, or $55 for a three-day pass. 712-323-0536.
ocomiccon.com

O Comic Con: July 13-15

Rhythm Weekend: Omaha Jazz and Tap Dance Festival
July 12-15 at Fraternal Order of Eagles No. 38, 201 S. 24th St. Enjoy a weekend full of workshops, dance battles, showcases, history, and more. Master tap and jazz dancers from around the world will share their passion. Times vary. Tickets: $30-$250. 402-208-3006.
jitterbugs.org

Brew at the Zoo
July 14 at the Henry Doorly Zoo, 3701 S. 10th St. Patrons (21+ only) can sample four limited-edition beers, and enjoy food, animal encounters, and live music. 8-11 p.m. Admission: $70 members, $80 non-members, $120 VIP. 402-733-8400.
omahazoo.com

The Color Run 5K
July 14 at CenturyLink Center, 455 N. 10th St. The popular traveling 5K comes back to Omaha. Participants run the route, while paint powder colors the streets—and the runners. 8-11 a.m. Runner tickets: $14.99 children 5 and under, $24.99-$49.99 adults. No charge to watch the race. 402-341-1500.
thecolorrun.com

Railroad Days
July 14-15, various locations. This family-friendly festival celebrates all things trains and tracks. Locations include The Durham Museum, Lauritzen Gardens, Union Pacific Railroad Museum, RailsWest Railroad Museum, and General Dodge House. 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Admission: $15 pass for two adults and two children. 402-444-5071.
omaharailroaddays.com

LGBT Wedding Expo
July 15 at Sheraton Omaha Hotel, 655 N. 108th Ave. Browse, mingle, and connect with local wedding professionals and leave with plenty of ideas. 12:30-3:30 p.m. Admission: free. 402-496-0850.
rainbowweddingnetwork.com

Pinnacle Bank Golf Championship
July 16-22 at The Club at Indian Creek, 3825 N. 202 St. The PGA tour is back with the Web.com Tour, featuring 156 golfers and 72 holes. The top 25 money winners will advance to the PGA tour. Times vary. Admission: $10-$40. 402-991-2525.
thepinnaclebankchampionship.com

Turner Park Night Market
July 27, Aug. 31 at Turner Park in Midtown Crossing, 3110 Farnam St. Omaha Farmer’s Market teams up with Turner Park to feature local artisans, vendors, activities, food, and more. Local nonprofits will also engage in the festivities to showcase their service opportunities. 6-10 p.m. Admission: free. 402-351-5954.
midtowncrossing.com

Benson Days
July 28-29 in Benson, Maple St. between 58th and 63rd streets. This family-friendly event celebrates Benson’s creative culture. Activities include a pancake breakfast, a parade, artists, vendors, food trucks, live music, and more. 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Admission: free.
bensondays.com

Benson Days: July 28-29

Nebraska Asian Festival
July 28 at Lewis and Clark Landing, 345 Riverfront Drive. Enjoy food, activities, and cultural performances at this family-oriented event about Asian heritage. 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Admission: $5; free for children under 12. 402-216-9081.
nebraskaasianfestival.com

New American Arts Festival
Aug. 3 in Benson, Military Ave. and Maple St. Celebrate the arts, ideas, and cultures of Omaha’s refugee and immigrant communities with workshops, performances, art, food, and music. 4-11 p.m. Admission: free. 402-203-5488.
bensonfirstfriday.com

Canvas and Chocolates
Aug. 4 at Lauritzen Gardens, 100 Bancroft St. Participants can paint under the direction of a trained artist while snacking on themed chocolates. Art supplies and treats are provided. Noon-2 p.m. Tickets: $49. 402-346-4002.
lauritzengardens.org

River’s Edge Taco Fest
Aug. 4 at Tom Hanafan River’s Edge Park, 4200 Ave. B, Council Bluffs. This festival will showcase 20 of the metro’s best taco-centric restaurants, local and national music artists, and a Chihuahua race. 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Tickets: $20 advance, $25 day of event, $100 VIP.
riversedgetacofest.com

Riverfront ribFest
Aug. 9-12 at Tom Hanafan River’s Edge Park, 4200 Ave. B, Council Bluffs. Barbecue, games, and rides are featured in this event, which includes six award-winning barbecue teams bringing ribs to the riverfront and music by Travis Tritt, Uncle Kracker, the Spin Doctors, and more. Sunday activities include a church service and horse show. 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Sunday. Admission: $5 adults (until 3 p.m.), $10 after 3 p.m.; $5 kids (age 16 and under).
riverfrontribfest.com

Defenders of Freedom Open House and Air and Space Show
Aug. 10-12 at Offutt Air Force Base, 205 Looking Glass Ave. F-22 Raptor and F-35A Lightning II demonstration teams will headline this show, which is back after a one-year hiatus. 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Admission: free. 402-294-8880.
offuttairshow.com

High Vibe Festival
Aug. 11 at Stinson Park, 2285 S. 67th St. Good vibes abound with activities such as a 5K run, live music, yoga all day, workshops, and plant-based food. 8 a.m.-9 p.m. Tickets: $10-$108. 402-496-1616.
aksarbenvillage.com

Nebraska Balloon and Wine Festival
Aug. 10-11 at Coventry Campus, 204th and Q streets. Sip Nebraska wines and enjoy hot air balloon launches. 5-11 p.m. Friday, 3-11 p.m. Saturday. Tickets: $14-$19 adults; $7 children under 12; free for children 5 and under. 402-346-8003.
new.showofficeonline.com

Omaha Comic Book Convention
Aug. 12 at Comfort Inn & Suites Central, 7007 Grover St. Comic book lovers from near and far are invited to present and purchase comic books and collectible items like action figures and trading cards. 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Admission: free. 309-657-1599.
epguides.com/comics

Big Omaha
Aug. 16-17 at Omaha Design Center, 1502 Cuming St. The Big Omaha conference continues to promote innovation and entrepreneurship. In tandem with the Maha Music Festival, the conference will include keynote speakers, special guests, networking opportunities, and a notable opening party for the weekend. Party TBA Thursday, conference 8 a.m.-5 p.m. on Friday with music festival afterwards. Tickets: $250-$325.
mahamusicfestival.com

Omaha’s Original Greek Festival
Aug. 17-19 at St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church, 602 Park Ave. Live music, folk dancing, authentic Greek cuisine, a Greek boutique, and more. 5-11 p.m. Friday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Saturday, 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Sunday. Admission: $3. 402-345-7103.
greekfestomaha.com

Terrain Racing: Omaha
Aug. 18 at the Bellevue Berry & Pumpkin Ranch, 11001 S. 48th St., Papillion. This 5K and obstacle course allows participants to embrace the mess and enjoy a fun,  hands-on workout. 8 a.m.-2 p.m. Tickets: $35-$100. 402-331-5500.
terrainracing.com

Omaha Fashion Week
Aug. 20-25 at Omaha Design Center, 1502 Cuming St. The country’s fifth largest fashion event features more than 40 designers, 400 models, and hundreds of creations. 6-10 p.m. Admission: $40-$80. 402-937-1061.
omahafashionweek.com

Millard Days
Aug. 21-26 at Andersen Park, 136th and Q streets. This full week of activities includes a parade, a carnival, a beer garden, horse shows, and live music. Times vary. Admission: free ($25 for carnival). 402-697-5258.
millarddays.com

Dundee Day
Aug. 25 in the Dundee neighborhood, 50th Street and Underwood Ave. The day includes the Rundee 5K, a pancake tent, parade, beer garden, vendors, a farmers market, and live music. 8:30 a.m. Admission: free. 678-873-4591.
dundee-memorialpark.org

SeptemberFest
Starting Aug. 31 at CenturyLink Center Omaha, 455 N. 10th St. Lot D. This “Salute to Labor” festival offers four days of entertainment, educational and artistic displays, a carnival, Omaha’s largest parade, a beer garden, a Kiddie Kingdom, and food. Times vary. Admission: $5 per person, per day. The parade is free to attend. 402-341-1500.
septemberfestomaha.org


Event times and details may change.
Check with venue or event organizer to confirm.

Being Present for the Small Moments

April 2, 2018 by

My mom passed away three days before this past Christmas. My friend and former co-worker Justin Swanson passed two days before that. Between the two, I wound up saying farewell to Justin in the ICU before his non-responsive body was unplugged from life support and then later, in the emergency room, grasping for the last warmth in my mom’s newly deceased body.

It was an intense, stomach-twisting week.

But I’m not writing this to talk about death. I’m writing this to talk about the small moments that precede death. So let’s go back to May 2014.

We were hosting the closing party for Big Omaha at House of Loom. Among the frivolity of the full-capacity night was a sea of sweaty entrepreneurs, a random guy playing the accordion to house beats, and one of Twitter’s co-founders getting down on the dance floor. In the history books of that club, it was a legendary night.

I can’t remember why, but my brother was in town, so in a rarity, my mom, dad, and brother all wound up stopping by. As we edged out a spot just above the stairs in the upper lounge, a photographer walked by and grabbed a beaming family photo. 

Later that night, my mom experienced two strokes. She was never the same after.

Between dementia and Addison’s disease, we witnessed her expressions, personality, and communication slowly diminish.

There were also frequent trips to the hospital. This past summer, while working just down the street from where she was hospitalized, I took my lunch break to spend some time with her.

She was alone when I arrived, but thanks to the steroids that were pumped into her IV, she was more alert and alive than I had seen her in a very long time.

Given her worsening condition, I knew there was something special about this moment. So I flipped open a voice recording app on my phone, and I began what would become a 40-minute conversation that covered everything from childhood memories, experiences she still wanted to have, and the feeling she got when my 1-year-old daughter—her granddaughter—kissed her.

After I said my goodbye and left the room, I made peace with whatever was to come next. She transitioned four months later.

Cut to Nov. 11, 2017. I had just finished DJing a private party in the Old Market, and after packing everything up, I had enough time to catch last call somewhere. With no agenda on where I’d end up, I aimlessly walked down the street where I saw a group of people gather before walking into Brickway Brewery.

My attention caught, I looked inside the near-empty bar to see Justin Swanson cleaning glassware. I walked in behind the group of people and as the crowd cleared, Justin’s eyes widened and his hands went up in surprise at the sight of me.

See, there was about three years of my life that I saw Justin more than my family. He was a bartender and I was a co-owner at House of Loom. Because of our roles, our lives were inextricably intertwined.

That is, until we closed on Jan. 1, 2017. After that, we took separate paths and mostly lost touch. At the time I didn’t even know he worked at Brickway. So while I sat in a near-empty
bar with Justin, we caught up and conversed like old friends.

This column appears in the March/April 2018 edition of Encounter.

To share your life perspectives—or whatever—with Brent Crampton and Encounter, email millennials@omahapublications.com.

Big Omaha

May 24, 2017 by
Photography by Big Omaha

Rewind to May 8, 2009, and you will find a community of 400-plus graphic designers, entrepreneurs, creatives, developers, small business owners, and even a handful of investors seated in tidy rows at KANEKO in the Old Market. It was a first-of-its-kind conference for Omaha.

Many of these people knew of this event through casual conversations—mostly on Twitter—about a little-known conference coming to town called “Big Omaha.” It was the brainchild and second-born of friends Jeff Slobotski and Dusty Davidson (the previous year’s Silicon Prairie News being their firstborn). The two recognized a movement and a simmering energy surrounding the local tech community. It was a cadre of women and men who decided start-up and tech success could happen not on the West Coast but in their own backyards.

The inaugural Big Omaha sold out 10 days prior to the conference. The energy it created has sustained these past eight years. The result? Omaha is now a destination for start-ups seeking new ideas, new energy, and even new money in the form of investors.

“Big Omaha provides inspiration for people to start something,” explains Brian Lee of AIM, a not-for-profit organization that promotes technology to empower people, enhance organizations, and create brilliant communities. Lee serves as managing director of Big Omaha and Silicon Prairie News.

Two years ago, Big Omaha and Silicon Prairie News were acquired by AIM. Although the ownership structure has changed, the Big Omaha experience remains true to what Slobotski and Davidson created with the first conference in 2009.

“Big Omaha has had a huge impact on our community,” Lee says. “It is part of a larger movement in the past eight years that started with Big Omaha.”

Now the conference welcomes a sold-out audience of 700 attendees with guest speakers in a range of tech- and entrepreneurial-based industries who have crisscrossed the globe. When the speakers take the stage, the majority are candid about their successes and their failures, which they are encouraged to share in engaging, meaningful, transparent, and memorable ways.

“We ask our speakers to address overcoming challenges, which helps our audience find inspiration,” Lee says. “In the Midwest, we appreciate authenticity. Hearing those struggles helps a lot.”

Part of the splash of Big Omaha’s first conference in 2009 was its clever cow branding, developed by Omaha-based Oxide Design Co. The cow visuals have remained, although design duties changed hands in 2015 from Oxide to Grain & Mortar.

Now that Big Omaha is owned and operated by AIM, its goal is to cover costs through sponsorships and ticket sales, Lee says.

The conference continues to be a hot event. Tickets that cost as much as $599 are scooped up annually by local, national, and even international attendees.

Big Omaha could move to a larger venue, selling more tickets and earning more revenue. But Lee says from his vantage point, the Big Omaha culture isn’t about a bottom line.

“Our goal is not to outgrow KANEKO. We want to preserve the charm and the experience (of Big Omaha) for as long as we can.”

Part of this charm is the togetherness. Everyone who attends Big Omaha hears the same speakers in the same order. Speakers are encouraged to remain the entire two days of the conference, immersing themselves in the experience and networking with Big Omaha ticket-holders. (The pre-party and post-party have become a popular part of the two-day conference.)

Graphic design, architecture, tech innovation, and entrepreneurship ideas abound here. UNL architecture students provided an art installation in 2016, and a guest speaker in 2015 and 2017 was fashion entrepreneur Mona Bijoor, a favorite among the fashion designers and fashionistas
in attendance.

The conference’s first row is filled with familiar faces each year. One of them is Megan Hunt of Omaha, who has attended every single Big Omaha since 2009.

“I remember the incredible momentum that had built up in the Midwest startup community for this event,” Hunt recalls. “The desire we all had for a space to come together, share the work we were doing, and learn from the superstars in our field was palpable. The way that Dusty and Jeff harnessed that energy and built Omaha’s reputation as a hub of entrepreneurship is nothing short of legendary.”

Hunt has owned a web-based bridal design company, a co-working space, and, most recently, a web-based clothing retailer known as Hello Holiday that also boasts a very visual storefront in the heart of Dundee.

“I love going to Big Omaha because, for me, running a business is not just dollars and cents and strategy around growth,” Hunt adds. “It takes a lot of creativity and ingenuity. Big Omaha is my favorite conference because they do understand this so well, emphasizing how interdisciplinary business and technology can be, and welcoming artists, musicians, designers, and writers—people who may normally be in the minority at
other conferences.”

Big Omaha 2017

Big Omaha returned to KANEKO for the ninth consecutive year May 18 and 19. Below is the lineup of speakers.

Joe Ariel, co-founder and CEO of Goldbely

Mona Bijoor, managing partner at King Circle Capital and founder of JOOR

Christina Brodbeck, founding partner at Rivet Ventures

Daniel Burka, design partner at GV, formerly Google Ventures

Shirley Chung, chef and owner at Steamers Co.

Baldwin Cunningham, vice president of strategy at Brit + Co., co-founder of Partnered

Diana Goodwin, founder and CEO of AquaMobile

Alex Klein, co-founder and CEO of Kano Computing

Brandon Levy, co-founder and CEO of Stitch Labs

Mitch Lowe, co-founder of Netflix, CEO of MoviePass

Margenette Moore-Roberts, global head of inclusive diversity at Yahoo

Nish Nadaraja, former Yelp brand director, partner at Rich Kid Cool

Brian Neider, a partner at Lead Edge Capital

Vanessa Torrivilla, co-founder and creative director of Goldbely

Shandra Woworuntu, founder of Mentari

Matt Zeiler, founder and CEO of Clarifai

Visit bigomaha.co for more information.

Big Omaha participants try virtual reality goggles at a previous year’s event.

This article was printed in the Summer 2017 edition of B2B.

The Silicon Trail

March 28, 2017 by

When United Airlines’ first daily nonstop service flight from Eppley Airfield to San Francisco International Airport eased away from the gate in September 2016, Randy Thelen made certain he had a seat.

The senior vice president for economic development at the Omaha Chamber of Commerce saw the importance of that 7 a.m. flight—believed to be the first regular nonstop service between the two cities in a quarter century. Shortly after 9 a.m., he was on the West Coast, in the fertile Silicon Valley, ready for business.

Despite Omaha’s firm footing in the Silicon Prairie—with tech giants like PayPal, Google, LinkedIn, and Yahoo all maintaining a significant presence in the metro—Omaha long struggled with a serious shortcoming when it came time to recruit more. The same shortcoming didn’t help local technology startups secure financial backing from the apparent over-abundance of thick wallet in the Bay area.

Getting from Silicon Valley to Omaha’s corner of the Silicon Prairie was more than a hassle. It usually required at least one connecting flight, stretching a three-hour nonstop flight into nearly a full day of airplanes and airports … and that’s the delay-free version.

“As much as we don’t want location to be a barrier, there’s a very real situation where Silicon Valley investors won’t fly somewhere if they have to switch planes,” says Dusty Davidson, the CEO and co-founder of Flywheel, an Omaha-based startup that builds and hosts WordPress websites. Davidson is also known for his role in creating Silicon Prairie News and one of the largest entrepreneurial tech conferences in the region, Big Omaha.

“It’s not the connection, it’s the time,” he adds.

The required connecting flights cast a pall over Omaha’s distinct advantage as a low-cost jewel compared to the Silicon Valley. Omaha’s lower cost of living and more affordable housing helps save companies on their largest expense: wages. Add in the various business incentives available from the state, along with a strong talent pool and sound infrastructure, and Omaha makes an attractive option for startup and established tech companies, with that notable exception.

“We came up short on the connectivity or on the flights in and out of Silicon Valley,” Thelen says.

Then United Airlines made San Francisco’s International Airport the nation’s 25th airport with regular nonstop flight services to and from Omaha. This spring, a 26th regular nonstop Omaha route will open between here and Houston via Southwest Airlines.

“Now, we’ve taken away that competitive disadvantage, and we’ve been able to promote it as an advantage,” Thelen says. “It really has changed the conversation as we try to continue to build that pipeline between here and Silicon Valley.”

“The ability to have direct service does have an impact on the businesses that choose to do business here,” says Nancy Miller, vice president of operations at Travel and Transport, a national travel booking company based in Omaha. “I think it helps Omaha businesses.”

That an airline would add a regular nonstop flight to San Francisco lends credence to claims of Omaha’s growth as a potential hub in the Silicon Prairie.

“The Omaha economy really seems to have been doing well over the last couple of years,” says Dave Roth, deputy executive director of the Omaha Airport Authority. “It’s just a really positive combination of Omaha and the airlines for those additional flights.”

Omaha has popped up on several national lists as a new hot spot for tech startups. SmartAsset named Omaha the best city in the nation to work in tech in 2015, and Nebraska has been No. 3 on Forbes’ list of Best States for Business for two years running.

Thelen used his first flight to the Silicon Valley to meet with a dozen tech companies, some who already have outposts in town, and few others he’d like see set up shop.

“For the cost of one hotel stay and a pretty simple flight in and out, you can get two full business days of work without the hassle of changing planes and the risk of getting delayed,” Thelen says. “The convenience of business travel just went up exponentially, and you can expect that connectivity to continue to grow.”

Executives headquartered in San Francisco can more easily visit and engage with their Midwestern operations. Or, employees based in Omaha can more efficiently meet with leadership in Silicon Valley. Officials at PayPal and LinkedIn—which employ about 2,800 and 300 people, respectively, in the Omaha area—say there is frequent travel between the Silicon Valley and their operations in Omaha, but exact figures were unavailable.

“To have firms like that, that now have much, much easier access back and forth, frankly it makes our location all that more integral to the operation because it’s a simpler connect now,” Thelen says.

He added: “That simple flight makes a big, big difference.”

And even homegrown startups can take advantage. They can get twice as much done on recruiting trips from the valley, whether they are looking for talent or financing.

Davidson, the CEO at Flywheel, says the increased connectivity will indeed make a big difference for local companies raising money. There still remains a lot of work to put Omaha “on the map” with more sources of local capital and slowing the export of the state’s top technology talent, to name a few.

“I don’t know that you’re able to look at [direct flights to San Francisco] and say, ‘Hey, look, we solved the problem,’” he says. “I think there’s 50 things that are contributing, and what you really want to do is, just one at a time, start whittling away.”

Visit omahachamber.org for more information.

This article was printed in the Spring 2017 edition of B2B.

Ben Lueders

August 4, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The afternoon sun shines through the window, illuminating an armada of Lego creations. Large pirate ships defend one side of the room while, a few feet away, an opposing counter displays Star Wars vessels and such action figures as Anakin and Luke Skywalker manning their battle stations.
Ben Lueders, owner of Fruitful Design, is sitting at a rustic wooden table discussing upcoming projects with intern Nicholas Jones.

Lueders spent most of his childhood in Hawaii, during which time he was trained in classical piano and enjoyed creating things with Legos. Though he started off studying music in college, he often spent time in the library between classes drawing caricatures of his friends. After hearing about a job opening with the Hawaii Coral Reef initiative, Lueders headed downtown on whim. He surprised even himself by becoming their art director, a position he held for eight years before moving to Omaha in 2006.

He had never imagined that he could make a living drawing sharks, and music soon took a backseat to his newest creative outlet.

Lueders went on to work at local creative firm Eleven19 after winning, of all things, a coloring contest for Big Omaha. It was there that yet another light bulb went off. “I realized my love for working for a small local shop with awesome long-term clients and being able to do very creative work,” he says.

With that vision in mind, Fruitful Design was born. His business offers such services as branding, illustration, print media, and web design. His body of work also includes the background typography seen on the Best of Omaha™ cover of the January-February issue of this magazine.
All that was missing was the perfect space. As with so many young professionals, the thriving scene in Benson beckoned. A client would later morph into a landlord.

Lueders learned of the ambitious mission behind the 402 Arts Collective and director Ben Schafer’s ideas for the old Foundry building on Maple Street in Benson. Schafer planned to turn the space into a coffee shop, recording studio, live performance venue, and more. Lueders began by creating their new logo and branding. The 402 Arts collective became one of his first regular clients, and now is the location of Fruitful Design’s offices.

“I love Benson, it is such a magical place,” he adds.

Now with a space of his own, Lueders’ imagination moves far above and beyond a sketchpad and pencil. A room next to his office is where he teaches lessons on Wednesday nights. And, rekindling a once dormant passion, he is known to write his own music. The 402 Arts Collective’s recording studio shares a wall with Fruitful Design, and Lueders has some studio time saved up that he’s dying to use.

As business grows, the Legos continue to multiply, and musical notes waft back and forth through the walls, just like the innovative thoughts bouncing around in Lueders’ head.

There is still one question left unanswered. Why the “Fruitful” brand?

“I don’t measure my [design] successes by how much cooler they look,” he says, “but what I love to see is that my clients become more fruitful because of them.”

Très Johnson

February 4, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Très Johnson is pouring water in a slow, circular motion around a paper filter resting just inside a glass jar. Inside the filter, coffee grounds are mixing with the water, tiny bubbles forming on the surface of the gritty liquid. The glass chamber below collects the drippings of fresh, dark coffee.

At 1010 S. Main St. in Council Bluffs, (drips) coffee shop serves only pour-over coffee.

Johnson had wanted to open a coffee shop almost since he managed one back in 1995. Unfortunately, “the cost of the machinery prohibits just jumping in,” he says.

He and his girlfriend, Amber Jacobsen, took a trip to San Francisco about a year and a half ago. There, they visited Blue Bottle Coffee, which does pour-over coffee—Johnson’s first taste of it.

“It was the best cup of coffee I’d had,” Johnson says. “And I realized it took a smaller amount of equipment to be able to make it. You just had to boil water, have the filter and the stand. And I actually use glass Ball jars instead of a stand.”

Re-inspired by this method, Johnson opened (drips) on July 1, 2013.

This particular brew is Nightingale Blend, roasted by Beansmith Coffee in Omaha, and prepared in a personal pour-over, which has four drips. He also uses a Chemex frequently, with a single drip.

“I do have some French presses and an AeroPress,” Johnson says. “But I’ve found that the pour-over just tastes better. The people that insist on French press have tried the pour-over, and now they don’t insist on the French press anymore.”

A coffee shop is the perfect place to be on a day like this—cold and rainy. Amber is doing a puzzle. Two locals are enjoying their pour-overs and accusing Amber of cheating by looking at the photo on the puzzle box.

(drips) is located in a mixed-use space occupied by artists, including low-income artist housing. The coffee shop definitely has an artsy feel, probably because Johnson is both a painter and a DJ.

One half of the wall space displays Johnson’s art. The other half is space for rotating guest shows.

For Valentine’s Day, (drips) will display the work of approximately 20 local artists in a show called “Lovesong,” named for The Cure song. A Brian Tait show will open mid-February.

The Cure is already present in lyrics painted onto Johnson’s pieces. He often uses stencils to inscribe lyrics from bands like Depeche Mode and Joy Division—words that “people from the ’80s, if they know the song, they connect with.”

He describes his style as “heavily influenced by street art, and then some post-World War II art thrown in.”

“When I’m tired of painting and waiting for paint to dry, I produce music,” he says with a laugh.

He DJs a set every Sunday night for an online radio station, lowercasesounds.com. “Then that’s what I listen to generally throughout the week when I’m painting,” he says. “I listen to it over and over again, because I usually listen to newer music or music that I just picked up. I listen and paint.”

Johnson describes his sound as “deep house and ambient.” He DJs Silicon Prairie News events, like Big Omaha, and he has recently released EPs on the label Deep Site Space.

“There’s always been a combination of the music in the art,” Johson says. “They’re both something that I let myself go into. I don’t really sweat it. I just let it all flow.”

Localmotive

December 25, 2012 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Localmotive has been serving up made-from-scratch sandwiches and sourdough rounders on the corner of 12th and Jackson since March 2012, meanwhile building a loyal clientele. And the local food truck isn’t afraid of a little competition—in fact, they want other food trucks to follow their lead into Downtown Omaha. “We’re not crowding trucks in,” says Patrick Favara, one of Localmotive’s three owners. “There’s totally room for more.”

Favara credited their truck’s successful first year in the Old Market to extensive research. “There’s very little here to look at,” he says, adding that food trucks are still a new concept to the Midwest. “And there’s not much in Nebraska’s books yet. If there’s a model to look at, it’s Kogi.” The five-truck fleet in Los Angeles communicates multiple times daily through Twitter, Facebook, and its own well-maintained website so that customers never have to wonder when or where a truck will be out.

From left: David Burr and Patrick Favara

From left: David Burr and Patrick Favara

The Localmotive crew tries to do the same thing. “Communication is essential,” Favara said. “It determines your following.” Even though the truck can be found next to Ted and Wally’s ice cream shop from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. seven nights a week, a schedule is always available on localmotivefoodtruck.com. Localmotive also has an office manager who stays on top of the truck’s Twitter and Facebook accounts. “We make that a priority,” Favara says. “We get back to the people who talk to us.”

You mean, it’s more than just Favara and David Burr in the truck and David Scott, sourdough king, in the kitchen? “You get a staff,” Burr says with emphasis. “You don’t do it all on your own.” Even with a peak staff of 18 employees during the summer, Burr recalls weeks at the beginning of their debut that included 120 hours of work. “Consistently,” he says, laughing. “…for months.”

The large staff is necessary, Favara explains, because unlike employees of a brick-and-mortar restaurant, truck workers can’t duck back to the kitchen to help with prep during slow times. “We staff as many people as a brick-and-mortar,” Favara says, “because they can’t do double-duty.”20121130_bs_6302 copy

Burr adds that while the upfront cost of a food truck is lower than opening a storefront, running a mobile restaurant has its own set of challenges with licensing, permissions, and maintenance. “It’s demanding work,” he says, “and not cheap. We’re a fellow restaurant…[just] in a different facility.”

After hitting many of their first-year goals (i.e., be a staple of late-night downtown; serve at the Farmers Market; be a source of good food for restaurant staff coming off the clock late), Burr, Favara, and Scott are focusing on their second year. Their 2013 goals include expanding their garden (even with the tough 2012 summer, they still used most of the produce they planted), have a regular beef supplier (“You’d think it would be easy to find local beef in Nebraska,” Burr says), and be more available to the young entrepreneurs of Omaha. “We love that crowd,” Favara says. The truck supplied a meal last May to attendees of Big Omaha, a convention produced by Silicon Prairie News.

And years down the road? They’ve thought of a quick-service restaurant, just a little kitchen with a walk-up window. More trucks one day, like Kogi, and maybe a trailer for festivals. “We’re not limiting ourselves,” Favara says with a smile. “We’re not the first food truck in Omaha, but I think we’re setting the standard.”

Find Localmotive’s location schedule at localmotivefoodtruck.com.