Tag Archives: Flywheel

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.

TOYO! 2016

April 5, 2016 by
Photography by Contributed

Outstanding is a word that is used often to describe an ideal situation or person. The Omaha Jaycees uses it to describe the Ten Outstanding Young Omahans (“TOYO!”), individuals between the ages of 21 and 40 who have exemplified the ideals of their communities and exhibited extraordinary leadership qualities.

Visit omahajaycees.org to learn more.

01Heidi-MausbachHeidi Mausbach

President and CEO, Ervin & Smith Advertising
and Public Relations

Mausbach has won such awards as Midlands Business Journal’s 40 Under 40, the Silver Beacon International Award for excellence in financial services advertising, ADDY Awards from the Nebraska Advertising Federation, and several awards from the Public Relations Society of America’s Paper Anvil Merit and Excellence Awards. Passionate about helping women and children, she has served such non-profit organizations as Big Brothers Big Sisters, Go Red for Women, Habitat for Humanity, YWCA, and ICAN. She’s developed new programs at Ervin & Smith to keep women in the workplace and transition them into leadership roles and is a mentor for several organizations that are committed to the advancement of women.

02David-ArnoldDavid Arnold

Managing Director, Straight Shot

Arnold serves on the Greater Omaha Chamber’s Board of Directors, the Omaha Public School’s Career Education Advisory Council, the Advisory Board for The Entrepreneurship Legal Clinic at the University of Nebraska College of Law, as well as the Metcalfe Park Neighborhood Association. In 2012, after serving as deputy communication director for the Omaha Mayor’s Office, Arnold joined MindMixer–a civic tech startup founded by two Omahans. As account manager, he helped create and lead the company’s Client Services division. He saw Straight Shot, a business accelerator, as an opportunity to combine community building and new venture creation, becoming Managing Director in 2013.

03Shonna-DorseyShonna Dorsey

Co-Founder, Interface: The Web School

Dorsey is currently involved in Web Developer Training at Do Space, Flywheel, the Omaha Public Library, and various other venues, as well as managing website development for Nelson Mandela Elementary. She also coordinates the website and web application development for local nonprofits and small businesses via students of Interface: The Web School. Interface helps people build skills for the web, supplying startups, small businesses, and corporations in the Midwest with technology talent. In addition to her TOYO! award, she has also been recognized by the Midlands Business Journal’s 40 Under 40 (2014) and as an AIM Tech Community Builder of the Year (2015).

04Mosah-GoodmanMosah Goodman

Corporate Attorney and Business Development Parter, Gavilon

Goodman serves on the board of directors for the Child Saving Institute, is a co-founder of 24 Hours of Impact, served on the metro area board for TeamMates, and is a graduate of Leadership Omaha. Upon graduating with a J.D./MBA from the University of Iowa, Goodman accepted an offer to join Gavilon, where he currently serves as counsel. He has managed the construction of the company’s downtown headquarters, supported various business development efforts, and has worked on a variety of legal and compliance issues. Goodman is also a member of the Screen Actors Guild and a former nationally ranked chess player.

05Roger-GarciaRoger Garcia

Student, Theology

While at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, Garcia became involved in various leadership opportunities, earning him the Senior Vice Chancellor’s Leadership Award and the Student Leader of the Year Award. He has also been involved in the Nebraska Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the Family Violence Council, the YWCA, and Justice for Our Neighbors—Nebraska. Garcia has been working in the nonprofit and public sector for more than 10 years and is now serving as the executive director of Centro Latino of Council Bluffs, Iowa. He also has served within public office as a member of the Metropolitan Community College Board of Governors since 2013.

06AndresTorresAndres Torres

Engineering Project Manager, Valmont Industries

Torres is actively involved with the American Society of Civil Engineers and has held different roles, including President of the Nebraska Section and co-chair of the Younger Members Group. Since 2013, he has also served as Council Member for the Greater Omaha Young Professionals and is one of the founders of the Valmont Professional Network. Torres received the Greater Omaha 40 under 40 Award in 2012 and ASCE’s Young Engineer Award for Professional Achievement in 2014. As an engineer, he designs tubular steel structures that are used to support transmission lines, highway lighting, and traffic lights for customers in more than 25 countries around the globe.

07Julie-Sebastian-(1)Julie Sebastian

President and CEO of New Cassel Retirement Center

Aside from New Cassel Retirement Center, Nebraska’s largest assisted-living community and a nonprofit provider of services for the aging person, Sebastian also founded the Franciscan Adult Day Centre, one of few adult day service programs in Nebraska. She has volunteered with youth at St. Andrew’s United Methodist Church for nine years and also serves as chair of the board at LeadingAge Nebraska, where she participates in LeadingAge’s national public policy congress. In her leisure time, Sebastian mentors young people she met through St. Andrew’s youth group, including spending a week each summer on the annual high school mission trip.

08Eric-WilliamsEric Williams

Natural Resources Planner, Papio-Missouri River NRD

In 2008, Williams founded the Omaha Biofuels Cooperative to recycle used cooking oil into local biofuels and reduce the use of fossil fuels in our community. His work with nonprofit organizations includes helping found the Dundee Community Garden, serving on the boards for the Green Omaha Coalition and Mode Shift Omaha, and serving as chair for Earth Day Omaha in 2014. Williams is president of Nebraskans for Solar for 2016 and has worked with the Office of Sustainable Development at the City of Omaha on climate legislation. At Papio-Missouri River NRD, Williams manages trail construction for active transportation and recreational access to natural resource areas, as well as urban stormwater management projects.

09Beth-MorrissetteBeth Morrissette

Treasurer, Westside Community Schools Board of Education (WCS BOE)

Morrissette recently left her position as executive director of the Mental Health and Substance Abuse Network, a collective impact that works with community partners to provide a continuum of care for individuals with mental health and substance abuse needs. In 2013, the network received the NACo (National Associations of Counties) Achievement Award for the Alternatives to Incarceration project. Today, Morrissette continues to provide consulting and strategic planning services serves as the WCS BOE representative on the Learning Community Council. Since 2013, Morrissette has served on the United Way of the Midlands Community Impact Cabinet and is a member of the Women’s Fund Circles.

10Butch-Burgers

Butch Burgers 

Associate Athletic Director, Creighton University

Mark “Butch” Burgers is involved with Special Olympics of Nebraska, the American Heart Association, the Kyle Korver Foundation, Community Health Charities, Angels Among Us, the Omaha American Cancer Society, the Knights of Aksarben, and the Jaybacker Executive Board at Creighton. Before returning to his alma mater, Burgers served as associate athletic director at South Dakota State University for two years. At Creighton, he assists with day-to-day operations and oversees the operating budget, donor relations, and various sports. Creighton became the only university nationally to have top-10 attendance in soccer, baseball, and basketball and has reached record numbers in corporate sponsorship sales, season ticket revenues, and Jaybacker support.

No Daddy to GoDaddy

June 28, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Dusty Davidson doesn’t like to go negative in promoting his company. Still, sometimes your company exists in part because somebody else is dropping the ball. So, let’s get this out of the way…

“Nobody loves their [web] hosting company,” Davidson says. “A lot of them can feel like a necessary evil.” In particular: “GoDaddy.com can have the Super Bowl ads with girls in bikinis and all. But the personal service isn’t there. We want everything we do focused on giving people a great experience and superior product.”

Davidson, like anyone else in the hosting world, can’t help but be envious of the traction GoDaddy.com got from spending millions for those racy bust bonanzas a few years ago. We all know the brand now. GoDaddy.com is, especially for those of us who are tech knuckleheads, the knee-jerk, go-to source when we want to get our own personal or startup company website.

But serious website designers, Davidson says, need more from their host. To the rescue comes the Omaha tech startup company, Flywheel, which Davidson owns and operates with two partners.

All three of the young entrepreneurs come from backgrounds in web design and hosting. All three, Davidson says, had suffered impersonal, often clumsy and ill-fitted hosting experiences. They believed they could do better.  

“We provide a better overall hosting environment for design firms,” he says. “We’re incredibly fast and incredibly secure. Most of all: It starts with great support. We are right there with the designers at all times. We make the workflow of the designer easier.”

Flywheel began in 2012 as a startup in the Mastercraft Building in North Downtown. Now the 12-employee operation is graduating to its own space on the edge of the Old Market at 14th and Harney.

They will eschew risqué ads, Davidson says, building instead through social media sources and, most of all, word-of-mouth within the design community.

“Designers talk to each other,” he says. “You provide a great experience, word gets out fast.” 

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Dusty and Marlina Davidson

February 25, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

In a fit of late-night online browsing in 2004, Dusty and Marlina Davidson responded to a quirkily written classified for an Old Market apartment: “Super fly loft. Huge windows, two bedrooms, 2,000 square feet.”

With their minds set on moving out of their bland rental into something with a little more character, the couple stopped by the downtown loft the next morning. And moved in the next week. “It was a blink of an eye sort of thing,” Dusty says.

Neither of the Council Bluffs natives had lived downtown before, but both were ready to be in the heart of Omaha. They cite the energy of the Old Market, the Farmers Market (“We go down once a week and get stuff from our ‘garden,’” Marlina says, laughing), and the never-ending supply of things to do.

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The spacious loft seems TV-show ready, with exposed bricks and piping and scarred concrete. Contemporary décor, set off with pieces from IKEA, local designers, and heirlooms, keeps the two-bedroom apartment looking Young Professional Modern and not College Student Artistic.

The foyer is long and narrow, with a tiny seating area, a few plants, and gorgeous floor-to-ceiling windows framed by heavy, white curtains. “It’s a weird space,” Dusty says, but the bar is down there, and it’s a good overflow area for entertaining. A little bit of a library adds an intellectual flare to the area, thanks to Dusty’s grandmother gifting him three or four classics on his birthdays. “I wish I enjoyed reading as much as I enjoy books,” he says.

The couple has considered buying a place but, as Marlina says, “We love the location, the frontage, the windows.”

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“The food truck,” Dusty adds with a sigh, pointing out where Localmotive parks right outside on 12th and Jackson every night. “We can’t be bothered to move. It’s sort of like inertia on some level, but we really love our place.”

A few years into living in their no-name building, the Davidsons made the acquaintance of local designer Jessica McKay of Birdhouse Interior Design. With her help, the couple learned how to give their personal style a voice in their Old Market home. “We bought a few pieces,” Marlina says, “but really I think it was more about what do we have and how do reorganize it so that it makes sense.”

One long-loved piece takes pride of place in the loft’s entryway: a bright blue Ms. Pac-Man arcade gaming console, built by Dusty as a gift for Marlina when they were dating. “He bought it as a black box,” she explains, noting he had an artist friend hand paint the iconic character on the console because it was her favorite. An old CRT television is the screen and is hooked up to a computer loaded with thousands of arcade and Nintendo games. “It’s fun when we have people over for the holidays or a party,” Marlina says.20130122_bs_2642 copy

You won’t find them entertaining much during the summer, however. For the past two years, the Davidsons have rented out their apartment to College World Series visitors and escaped the season’s craziness with a European working vacation. “I’m fine never seeing the College World Series again if we can get someone to pay us to go to France,” Dusty says. The couple plan to rent an apartment in Paris again this summer, a scheme that pans out nicely for his work as a serial entrepreneur with Silicon Prairie News and Flywheel, and her summers off from lecturing in communications at UNO.

If that sounds good to other young professionals in town, the Davidsons are all encouragement. “I think there’s more of us down here than people realize,” Dusty says. “There are places to be had. You can find them.”