Tag Archives: Jason Feldman

Coffee for the Greater Good

April 17, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Coffee is as much a concept as a consumable. The late 20th century into the 21st century has certainly seen coffee as a business concept turn into a multi-billion dollar venture, with those billions of cups resulting in business deals for yet further billions of dollars.

Jason Feldman founded Open Coffee Omaha when he saw an opportunity more than two years ago through talking with some of the area’s brightest community leaders. He sought to bring like-minded people together and remove barriers among people who generally work alone or in small groups but need outside expertise to help their businesses grow.

This casual get-together, held at No More Empty Cups on south 10th Street, starts at 8 a.m. each Tuesday with about 20 minutes of time to meet with these like-minded individuals and chat, followed by a presentation by an influential leader, who provides stories, insights, and connections with fellow entrepreneurs, developers, designers, investors, and folks interested in building a better startup community.

“Originally, the intent was to connect high-growth entrepreneurs, largely millennials, in an open coffee to bring together people with different backgrounds, discuss ideas, and network,” Feldman says.

Dell Gines, a past presenter at Open Coffee Omaha, sees great value in the connection that happens among people with common interests and passions.

“This is important for entrepreneurs because network building is an essential element of building a successful business,” says Gines, a community development adviser for the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City. “In the ecosystem world they call it ‘collisions,’ but more importantly, I think these sessions are beneficial to the city as a whole. They provide unique perspectives on a wide variety of economic and social issues that can help Omaha move from good to great.”

The original concept was to bring people together to network, but it has become more than a place to glad-hand.

“That has since expanded for us to think about who is an entrepreneur and who do they serve? That can be someone from a tech company or someone who has started a nonprofit or a community initiative. Ultimately, we want these innovators to value the social impact they are making just as much as the economic benefit in the communities where they live.”

Fellow entrepreneur Kent McNeil, who joined Feldman as a co-organizer and producer of Open Omaha Coffee after its inception, says he views Omaha as having all the right components for these types of meetings to be successful and contribute to the greater good—noting a large presence of people wanting to solve problems as well as a strong philanthropic and investment community. 

“Entrepreneurs tend to be independent thinkers, so gathering them together is a great way to share ideas and build momentum to launch new innovations,” says McNeil, who left a career path in medicine to follow his entrepreneurial calling. “It’s an incredible thing to see when people align their passions with ways to create a living.”

“There isn’t a lot of public education for people who think and want to start social enterprises.  We’re often directed toward career paths. But we give these people an opportunity to learn from other like-minded people and succeed to not only identify what their passion is for their communities but also how they can turn that into a business to solve for that challenge.”

Feldman and McNeil say they are working on opening meetings to streaming talks for those who aren’t able to attend, and they’re contemplating occasionally changing the meeting time to an early evening gathering so those entrepreneurs who may not be morning people, or are more available in the evenings, have the opportunity to benefit from Open Omaha Coffee.

Right now, they are focused on creating opportunities for inspiring people to interact with other inspiring people and being a catalyst for thoughts outside of the box.

“Our next step is continuing to build our already robust programming to offer what the entrepreneurs who come to our coffees need and want,” Feldman says. “That includes social impact investing, business incubation programming, business pitch competitions, etc.

“Entrepreneurs come from all different backgrounds with varying levels and areas of expertise. We see it as our mission to connect them with each other and other resources so they can fulfill their calling in business and positively impact the communities where they live and work.”

From left: Kent McNeil and Jason Feldman

This article was printed in the April/May 2018 edition of B2B.

Year of the Startup

November 17, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The emerging startup accelerator scene supports creative-minded risk-takers looking for an edge to follow their passion and bring their ideas to fruition.

Sebastian Hunt, 25, is passionate about giving entrepreneurs like himself a nurturing space to test out their concepts. The University of Nebraska at Omaha economics graduate interned with various local employers and surveyed the area startup community when an idea struck him for a by-application, curriculum-based residency program serving new entrepreneurs. That inspiration turned into Year of the Startup.

Launched in 2014, the program operates out of a humble house at 4036 Burt Street in the St. Cecilia Cathedral neighborhood. Hunt and co-founder Jason Feldman, 28, room there with young residency fellows whose startup ventures range from making bio-fuels to providing night owl shuttle services. They are a millennial bunch who favor sneakers and sandals. They take informal meetings to nearby CaliCommons and Lisa’s Radial Cafe. They variously hunch over laptops or tablets and carry smartphones as appendages.

This communal work-live space model for business mavericks is new to Omaha. The usual startup accelerator is a concentrated, 90-day, off-site program. Omaha has a few of these, notably Straight Shot. Hunt saw a need for a program that invites a broader range of people into the accelerator fold and supports them much nearer to the start of their dream than other programs.

“We feel like we can take people at very early stages because we are four times as long as the average program,” says Hunt, who adds that Year of the Startup is also not tech-centric like many programs tend to be. “In our model we substitute intensity for duration. I think a lot of the learning here comes through unstructured, serendipitous interactions we have that is not curriculum-based, it’s just happenstance.

YearoftheStartup2

“With a house there are so many different ways you can bring ideas and people together. I think that’s maybe that critical binding agent and sense of place that helps accomplish things.”

He says in this intimate environment “there’s no other choice but to immerse yourself in the setting,” adding, “We’re always hanging out in the living room or out back talking about startup stuff—monetization strategies, capitalization tables, vested equity entity structures.”

“It’s this immersive experience of camaraderie, of these natural flows and idea generation,” Feldman says.

Hunt says, “This is very difficult to get bored with because there’s always somebody whose business is either in crisis or growth stage or some interesting part of the curve.”

“How could we get bored when we’re creating a platform with four startups and all we get to do is ideation,” Feldman says. “It’s a constant buzz we get from interacting with these startup founders and helping them build their ideas.”

Built into the program are activities that encourage fellows to break out of their comfort zone and to offer honest criticism of each other’s ideas.

Hunt compiles multiple data points on the startups.

“We’re developing really deep insight about how do people start successful businesses.”

The program utilizes mentors from the entrepreneurial community.

“We bring in people who are experts in specific areas to talk on those topics,” Feldman says.

“They get ideas flowing,” Hunt says of the mentors.

Feldman says he regularly covers with fellows “the major components of what you need to look at to start your business,” and then mentors like Mike Kolker, owner of graphic design firm Simplify, teach lessons about operational efficiency and “how to simplify running a business.”

Hunt is a newcomer to all this and goes by instinct as much as research to support his vision.

“I just had an irrational confidence, market insights, and a great theoretical background thanks to primary research I completed and to lessons I learned from Phillip Phillips, Michael O’Hara, and Art Diamond in UNO’s economics department. I read constantly about who the players were in the startup world, so I was fairly prepared.”

Even though he directs a startup program, he only started participating in one himself (Venture School). He acknowledges Year of the Startup is a by-the-seat-of-your-pants experiment.

“Coming out of college I had student loans and not a ton of money. I’ve held two jobs to finance the project. Now the project is financed by a combination of me working and renting out one room. One-hundred percent of the money our entrepreneurs pay in rent will be returned in full and so everybody has a strong incentive to follow through with the program. That may be what makes us sustainable.”

He’s working on securing corporate sponsorship for the program. Meanwhile, he wants to help get participating startups to the next level.

“We’re functioning like a pre-accelerator at this point. We want to get our startups profitable and then refer them to the Straight Shots, so they can focus on growth in a pure accelerator program.”

As Year of the Startup moved into a larger house in Omaha’s Little Italy district on July 1 and a new class of fellows arrives, Hunt says there are “interesting talks happening right now to bring this to other cities.” He and Feldman say economic development agencies are willing to pay a license fee for them to do startup houses in other cities. The partners are having proprietary software developed that will enable new startup houses to replicate their branded Omaha model.

They look forward to engaging with the emerging 10th Street cultural district but may keep the midtown house to accommodate growth.

Hunt and Feldman believe they’re catching the wave, or tipping point, of a big new startup rush and they’re betting their model is poised to be a niche player in this wild frontier of entrepreneurial prospecting.

YearoftheStartup3