Tag Archives: Lisa’s Radial Cafe

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.

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“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.

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Just Beginning

July 18, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

“Art is time,” observes artist Bill Hoover. “You need to take time and spend time thinking about it.”
That’s why five years ago the painter decided to leave his job as a first-grade para-educator at Liberty Elementary School and committed to becoming a full-time studio artist. By that time, he had been moonlighting at his avocation for close to two decades, and his distinctive paintings—a blend of modern and folk art—had gained him significant recognition on the local visual arts scene. It was a commitment that required a leap of faith as well as a trust in his own talent, and fortunately for him, the decision has paid off both professionally and personally.

Hoover didn’t begin his creative life as a painter. “As a child I was always writing,” he remembers. “I loved writing ever since I was a kid, and I’ve written hundreds of short stories and plays.” That desire to tell stories also emerged musically, with the artist spending several years performing in a local band and writing songs. None of those endeavors, however, resonated as much as making a pastel mark on paper or applying paint to canvas. When he hung a painting in Lisa’s Radial Café, and it sold, Hoover knew he had met his true creative calling.

That calling draws on myriad influences. There are references to modernists such as Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Marc Chagall, and muralist Diego Rivera. His work is also a nod to Mexican folk art and outsider art. Nonetheless, the style is entirely Hoover’s. “I’ve been doing this for over 20 years,” he notes. “Most of my art comes from the interior and has gone through changes. Some of it has darkened. That’s [the result of] going through life’s different experiences and spending more time
on the work.”

Even with some of the darker tones, many of his paintings still have an exuberant quality to them. Hoover’s figurative works have a childlike naiveté that communicates a sweet gentleness as is particularly evident in several pieces commissioned by OneWorld Community Health Centers last year. His abstract works are similarly characterized by a straightforward simplicity, with hatches of black and gray lines often punctuated by ribbons of bright color.

Hoover enjoys engaging in mini artistic experiments, ones he undertakes purely to
challenge himself and keep his skills sharp. One recent endeavor involved dividing a
canvas into grids and working on a single square for precisely 40 minutes before finishing and spraying it with fixative. It was a deliberate sort of spontaneity, an oxymoron perhaps, but a nonetheless accurate description of an exercise that forced him to create without overthinking or micro-conceptualizing.

Hoover is happy with the way his work is progressing and enjoys the unexpected twists and turns his paintings take as his style continually evolves. “I’m being looser with the materials,” he observes. “I never know what’s next. I never know what a painting is going to be until I’m doing it. It reveals itself as I’m doing it. The creative process is fascinating.”

That creative process has flourished in the studio he maintains in the Mastercraft Building in North Downtown, which he moved into almost two years ago when his work began outstripping his home. It’s a light-filled atmosphere conducive to creating, displaying and selling art, and Hoover finds the space has allowed his artistic practice to grow in new directions. “A fish will get as big as the pond it’s in,” he chuckles, “and now I have space to grow.”

Hoover is also happy to share that space. He regularly hosts exhibitions for other artists to showcase their work and, so far, he has shown art by Shea Wilkinson and Maggie Weber among several others. “It’s a great gallery space for emerging artists,” he notes.

Of course, Hoover does occasionally fret about being able to remain a full-time artist. “The biggest struggle is how to make a career as an artist work,” he muses. “There are no role models. To make it as a living requires a lot of sales. It’s like being a fisherman. It’s not always guaranteed you’re going to catch enough fish. But I’ve always been taken care of. It always comes through.”

Reflecting on his decision six years ago to follow his passion, Hoover has no regrets. “Turning 40, I was a bit at a crossroads,” he explains. “I asked myself why I wasn’t doing it full time. Now that I am, I love this. I feel like I could be here all the time.”  The painter pauses a moment, and then grins. “I still feel like I’m just beginning, and it’s a great feeling.”

Follow the artist at billhooverart.com.