Tag Archives: Omaha Magazine

Back to the 1980s

February 14, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Aaron Gum can tell you several movies he loves, but ask about the one—the film that he most associates with his childhood—and his eyes sparkle. The clock tower…the electricity…the burn marks from the tires of Doc Brown’s DeLorean as it travels Back to the Future.

“Nothing really sums up a decade, as far as pop culture goes, as much as a DeLorean,” says the freelance producer of commercials, music videos, and other media around Omaha.

As a kid growing up in the 1980s, Gum always wanted a DeLorean, but he never expected to fulfill the dream. The DeLorean DMC-12—the only car ever produced by the DeLorean Motor Co.—had a limited production period between 1981 and 1983. Around 10,000 vehicles were made, and less than 7,000 are still in existence.

While perusing social media in April, a photo of the vehicle on a flatbed in a Facebook post by a friend of a friend changed his mind. The car was headed for Woodhouse Auto, which had taken it on trade for an Alpha Romeo.

Gum, also the synthesist for the local new-wave synth duo Glow in the Dark, originally wanted to borrow the vehicle for a photo shoot. As soon as he saw the DeLorean on social media, he called the marketing director at Woodhouse Auto Group, with whom he worked on commercials, and asked about it. The vehicle, at that time, was not running and he was not able to use the car.

Two months later, Gum visited Woodhouse to shoot commercials and asked about the vehicle. Yes, it was still there, and yes, it was now running. Gum bought the vehicle for around $30,000. It was a whim for the normally frugal Gum, whose high-ticket purchases tend to be more career-focused, such as film cameras or synthesizer equipment.

The vehicle has become his promo car for the band, taking him to gigs around the city.

Gum goes overboard in his devotion to hobbies, and he soon began making the futuristic-looking car even more 1980s in style. The fuse was out on the lights, so he replaced the lighting with LEDs. He acquired such movie props as a flux capacitor, hoverboard, a Mr. Fusion home energy reactor, Marty McFly jacket, and a 1/6 scale DeLorean time machine.

Gum isn’t a “car guy,” but the car—and what it symbolizes—has captured his heart. In July his friend Scott called and told him to get down to Quaker Steak & Lube in Council Bluffs. A second DeLorean, one Gum knew nothing about, was participating at the Wheels of Courage auto show taking place at the restaurant’s lot. Gum quickly drove over to check out his vehicle’s twin, parking outside the show’s perimeter near the other DeLorean.

“It was kind of crazy,” Gum says. “I had no idea there was another one in the area, but there it was, right over in Council Bluffs.”

Gum’s is a 1981, the other was a 1983, so the two men compared parts. The 1983 was more authentic to the one in the movie, having no aesthetic grooves or fuel door stamped into
the hood.

But the thing about owning a DeLorean that makes Gum smile most is his encounters with movie fans.

“This kid came up wanting to sit in it,” Gum says. “Afterwards his father said, ‘you made his day,’ and I thought that was pretty cool.”

“You know,” he says, “you see a classic Lambo or something, it’s really cool, but you don’t just go sit down in it. People do that all the time with this car. They sit down and then go, ‘Oh, I’m sorry, I should have asked. But I was so excited to see it!’ ”

They are fellow movie buffs, fellow obsessors over Marty McFly and his travels back to see his parents as teenagers. The affable Gum doesn’t mind (although it would be nice if people asked before plopping themselves down).

The DeLorean appeared as a featured vehicle in January’s Midlands International Auto Show alongside brand-new, high-end vehicles such as Corvettes and Lamborghinis. It was another chance for local fans of Back to the Future to interact with, and dream about owning, the iconic vehicle.

As for Gum’s DeLorean, it is a frequent prop in Glow in the Dark’s photo shoots and was used onstage at an August concert at OutrSpaces. Gum jokingly asked about bringing the car onstage and—to his surprise—was told, “You know, if you drive it around the back, you can probably get it in the door.” He did, and the car was positioned between Gum and bandmate Lawrence Deal during
the concert.

Since then, he hasn’t worked on making the car more movie-authentic because he’s been working on restoring another piece of movie-themed nostalgia, a Back to the Future pinball machine that was manufactured for only four months in the summer of 1990.

“How many people get to have a pinball machine with their car in it?” Gum says.

Visit @glowglowdarkdark on Facebook for more information about the band, including images of the DeLorean.

This article was printed in the February/March 2018 edition of B2B.

Providing Uncommon Creatives a Common Community

Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Luke Armstrong is in the midst of completing a facelift. Fair warning: he’s never worked under the knife, favors knit cardigans to scrubs, and has no expertise in the medical field whatsoever.

A botched procedure, this is not. Instead of erasing wrinkles and chiseling cheekbones, Armstrong is restructuring Cali Commons to become the starting point of a local renaissance. In January 2018, the organization’s antiquated midtown building ceased being a pseudo-gallery and co-working office, and shifted focus to become a base for artists, makers, and performers looking for a collaborative creation space. Think of it like a club for grownups, only way cooler.

“Cali Commons is now a marketplace for people who want to pursue multiple things and test ideas with other talented artists and entrepreneurs,” Armstrong says. “It’s about growing a common network and helping one another find some fulfillment.”

The corner of California and 40th streets is not new to Omaha creatives. It’s been a home for them since Armstrong and his roommate, Molly Nicklin, bought what was once a grocery store and turned it into a co-working office in 2013. Like any good artist, inspiration struck and it was time to switch up the organization’s business model.

This new and improved Cali Commons boasts access to shared spaces for events, cutting-edge technology that includes everything from live-streaming cameras to editing and marketing software, and a staff of agents who will help sell and promote work. Ideally, Armstrong hopes to recruit 40 to 50 members, asking they pay a $90 monthly fee for membership.

“The greatest benefit of being a member is working in a community of like-minded creatives who aren’t necessarily in the same field but share an interest in collaborating and assisting with other members’ projects,” says Christopher Vaughn Couse, local visual artist and member of Cali Commons.

To build this network of burgeoning creators, Armstrong started a year ago by recruiting those he has met while operating Cali Commons as a gallery. Next, he and his staff began employing grassroots marketing tactics, passing out literature espousing the benefits of membership. In an effort to contact key demographics, the organization plans to attend networking events to reach more business-minded creatives, such as graphic designers or software developers. 

Together, the 40 to 50 members will form the Uncommon Core, a group that works together to launch engaging products, services, and experiences while growing their own income. Each member has a reserved spot on a shared gallery wall at Cali Commons, where they can display work, ideas, or innovative merchandise.  

“My hope is this experiment proves that an engaged group is more valuable than any individual working on their own,” Armstrong says. “If it proves successful, maybe this is something that can be replicated elsewhere.”

Another benefit for members is the interior of the building has been designed to aid in holding myriad events, from skill-development classes and lectures to pop-up art shops. Cali Commons also hosts collaborative and competitive art nights once or twice a month.

“Members have access to events, material resources, everything they need to do something new,” Armstrong says. “Sometimes people just need permission to explore multiple things, and here, you’ll get that.”

Visit calicommons.com for more information.

This article was printed in the February/March 2018 edition of B2B.

Alexander Payne’s Homecoming

February 13, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Alexander Payne’s new tragicomedy Downsizing imagines the fate of an overpopulated world hanging in the balance due to depleted natural resources. When scientists find a way to miniaturize humans, adventurous souls choose going small as an act of conservation or exploitation. Matt Damon plays Paul, an average Omaha man whose pioneering micro-me experiences range from surreal to sublime.

The Omaha native’s big-budget sci-fi satire premiered in December at the newly reopened Dundee Theater, where Payne practically grew up. His debut feature Citizen Ruth also played there.

Now that this prodigal local son and world- class filmmaker is 56, remarried, and a papa— daughter Despina Evangeline Payne was born in Greece last fall—he’s downsizing from hurly-burly L.A. to his laid-back hometown with wife Maria and baby in tow.

Putting down roots is important to Payne. His mother Peggy, extended family, and close friends live here.

“I love Omaha and have been looking for a chance to be there full time,” says Payne, speak- ing from Greece before his relocation. “I miss Omaha very much when not there, and having quiet time in town with the new kid feels like the right move…and I hope to find some other trouble to get into.”

The active Film Streams board member brings Hollywood to Omaha. Making this his main residence only further enriches the local cinema culture.

“He and I have always fantasized about pro- grams we can plan, people we can bring to town, and ways he can be even more involved with what we bring to Omaha when he has a chance to spend more time here,” says Rachel Jacobson, Film Streams’ founder and director.

Payne is no stranger to making movies in his “backyard.” His latest, Downsizing, shot three days here—a fraction of the time he spent on his first three locally filmed features.

“Of course, I wish I’d shot all of the scenes per- taining to Omaha in Omaha, but it just wasn’t possible,” he says. “What I really missed about shooting in Omaha was the extras.”

On Toronto soundstages, he recreated a Creighton Prep class reunion and a farewell party at Jam’s Old Market.

“It was a drag having to train Torontonians to behave like Omahans. Once, when I caught two gals pretending they hadn’t seen each other in years kissing on both cheeks, I about had a heart attack,” Payne says, adding that he was glad to have captured some key local scenes in the film. “One of the great locations I was able to shoot in Omaha—complete with the people who actually work there—was Omaha Steaks,” he says.

The well-traveled and socially conscious auteur has made his most issues-oriented film of international scope at this mature career point, though he doesn’t concede to middle age.

“I don’t feel as though I’m at the midpoint of life; I still feel as though I’m at the beginning,” he says. “I can’t help but feel I’m still barely learning how to make a film, and now that I’m a father, well, that’s a new sense of beginning. My friends all have grown children. My best friend from college is a grandfather twice over, and me, I’m just now wading into these waters for the first time.”

He can taste the irony of his words: “I remember seeing [Akira] Kurosawa speak in 1986 in L.A. to promote Ran. He said, ‘I’ve made 30 feature films, I’m almost 80 years old, and yet I feel as though I have less of an idea now of what a movie is than when I was younger.’ I thought he was just trying to play Mr. Humble. Now his words are haunting. I think my gravestone will read, ‘I was just getting started.’”

Downsizing pushed Payne to the limit with its complex storyline, epic scale, and special effects. It took a decade getting made from when he and co-writer Jim Taylor completed the script’s first draft. Once shot, fixing on a final cut proved elusive.

“I’m just glad it’s over and I can get on to something new,” he says. “It was a very long process. The script took a long time to corral, finding financing was nearly impossible, and the movie fell apart three times before finally jelling. Production was long and costly, and it was tricky to pinpoint the final movie in the editing room. It’s a film I had to get out of my system—Jim and I believed in it for all these years, believed in its wacky but very interesting idea, and we finally got it made.”

Payne and longtime casting director John Jackson of Council Bluffs assembled an impressive international acting ensemble. As Paul, superstar Damon (the Bourne franchise lynchpin who recently starred in the Coen Brothers’ 2017 film Suburbicon) takes us on a wild, downsized journey.

“He’s a wonderful actor,” Payne says of his leading man.

Of Kristen Wiig, Paul’s spacey life partner, (who previously starred alongside Damon in Ridley Scott’s 2015 film The Martian) Payne says: “Lovely woman, super-funny, able to be either subtle or overt with the same level of commitment and humor.”

On two-time Academy Award winner Christoph Waltz (the Nazi antagonist in Quentin Tarantino’s 2009 film Inglourious Basterds), Paul’s amoral guide in the new world, Payne says: “A very smart, very funny, very committed actor. We disagreed a couple of times, but something very good came out of it.”

Newcomer Hong Chau (who starred in P. T. Anderson’s 2014 film Inherent Vice) plays an activist who gets under Paul’s skin. Payne echoes what others say about her breakthrough, Oscar buzz-worthy work.

“A star is born,” he says. “I often get asked why my movies ‘always’ seem to be about adrift, middle-aged white males. But in fact, I’ve had the most fun, midwifing, terrific performances by females: Laura Dern [Citizen Ruth, 1996], Reese Witherspoon [Election, 1999], Kathy Bates [About Schmidt, 2002], June Squibb [Nebraska, 2013] and Shailene Woodley [The Descendants, 2011]. I’d say Hong Chau really takes the cake.”

“It was the right role finding the right actor at the right time,” Payne says, “and she all but steals the whole damned movie. Matt Damon calls her a ‘thoroughbred.’”

Chau confirms what others note about Payne.

“I have so many feelings for Alexander,” she says. “He’s an amazing person, an amazing director. It’s really been a joy getting to work with him and also getting to know him as a person. It’s the first time I’ve worked on something where I feel like he’s going to be my friend for life.”

His “gentle” directing style suited her.

“I don’t feel the heavy hand of directing,” Chau says. “All of the redirections are tweaks—a very small degree or two on the dial where to turn an emotion or a word in a sentence. A lot of his writing is filled with comedy, so there’s some precision needed in order for the humor to land the way it’s supposed to.”

Payne invited her to observe the editing pro- cess. She marveled at what he cut to make the film leaner.

“It really showed how disciplined he is to telling the story and keeping it sharp in terms of what the audience should be receiving,” Chau says. “It’s why Alexander has become one of the great American masters.”

Leading up to its debut in Omaha, the film gen- erated strong word-of-mouth from trailers and festival screenings. It opened to uniformly warm praise at the Venice Film Festival, where Payne, in attendance for the first time, was joined by Damon, Chau, Wiig, and new Paramount head Jim Gianopulos.

After the high of Venice, Downsizing receiving mixed reviews at the Telluride Film Festival in Colorado and the Toronto International Film Festival.

“Some people really dig it. Others think it maybe bites off more than it can chew,” Payne says. “Sure, maybe the screenplay is a little greedy, but what the hell? The movie was designed as episodic—a sort of road trip through the world right now. We think that’s what makes it fun.”

Editing footage down to the theatrical release’s 135 minutes (including credits) was an arduous task.

“I kept hearing the same thing all directors always hear from studio executives: ‘Make it shorter,’” he says.

The studio is bullish on Downsizing’s potential.

“It’s Paramount’s big Christmas release,” he says, “and they see the movie plays great with audiences—lots of laughs. They’re expecting it to do well commercially, and I pray to God they’re right.”

With seven completed features under his belt, Payne is eager as ever to make movies. For the time being, this family man is content to wait for inspiration before jumping into the fray again.

“I wish I were making a movie all the time,” he says. “But I also want to speak only when I have something to say.”

Sculpture by Derek Joy

This article was printed in the January/February 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine.

Local Designers’ Favorite Rooms

February 12, 2018 by and
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Interior designers create rooms that are both beautiful and functional to reflect their clients’ tastes and needs. But what happens when there is no client involved? Three local designers describe their favorite rooms in their own homes, offering insights into their design philosophies.

Living Room
by Diane Luxford
D-Lux Interiors

Why is this room your favorite in your home?
In my living room and dining room, I love the soft gray-blue and gray-purple colors and accents of citrus lime green. I selected the furnishings for a contemporary feeling. The dining table and chairs are from a Danish furniture manufacturer—a favorite, as my heritage is Danish. I added a classic 1950s fabric, designed by Charles and Ray Eames, to the chairs.

What makes the room unique?
I have great flexibility in the room. I can remove the cocktail table, extend the dining table and add another table to seat 18 people for Christmas lunch or holiday dinners.

How does the room accommodate your lifestyle?
Two glass-front curios and an armoire give me plenty of storage, which allows me to indulge in my love of various styles of china and stemware.

Master Bedroom
by Patti Rosholm
StageAura 

Why is this room your favorite in your home?
My bedroom stands out over all the other rooms in my house because it’s quiet. It’s not a big, rolling master bedroom like many, but it’s serene. I think women gravitate toward smaller spaces in their homes because smaller spaces feel cozy. My little dog Joanie loves the bedroom, too; she is always with me.

What makes the room unique?
The master bedroom is unique because it’s simple in design and space. The walls are a mink gray in color, complemented with white accents. The floating shelf above the white linen headboard gives the room some extra dimension and a place to display some special pieces of artwork and personal keepsakes. The contrast between the espresso-stained furniture and white accents, accompanied by dark walls and an abundance of natural light, makes it all come together. There is also a sitting area that I love. It brings in a feeling of warmth and coziness.

How does the room accommodate your lifestyle?
We have no TV in our bedroom. The bedroom is for quiet reflection and a sense of winding down from a busy day. It’s where I go to pray and rest from a very demanding world.

Master Bath
by Pam Stanek
The Interior Design Firm

Why is this room your favorite in your home?
The master bath is one of my favorite spaces. It’s the first and last room I see every day.

What makes the room unique?
When updating the bathroom, I chose to remove traditional elements such as round columns and white raised panel cabinets. By removing the columns, I opened up this space to allow more light and highlight cleaner lines. Tile, cabinets, and countertops were selected to coordinate with the original custom-colored wallpaper. Luxe gold plumbing and hardware create a more sophisticated feel.

How does the room accommodate your lifestyle?
Changing the whirlpool tub to a therapeutic bath, improving the efficiency of the lighting throughout, and the aesthetics of the details make this space perfect for our everyday needs and expectations.

This article was printed in the January/February 2018 edition of Omaha Home

Legendary Legacy

February 11, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Despite his retirement from a long, fruitful career in the restaurant business, Chuck Caniglia can still be found doing what he loves best.

“You caught me with my hands full. I’m making homemade Venice Inn pizza,” says Caniglia, washing up and settling in to tell the story of his tenure serving up warm hospitality alongside great food. 

The Caniglia family famously lit up the Omaha restaurant scene for decades, with local favorites like Caniglia’s Pizzeria (which introduced pizza to Omaha after World War II), Caniglia’s Italian Steakhouse, Mister C’s Steakhouse, Al Caniglia’s Drawing Room, Palazzo ’Taliano, Luigi’s, Top of the World at Woodmen Tower, and others. A longstanding cornerstone of this culinary empire was Chuck’s father Eli Caniglia’s Venice Inn at 69th and Pacific streets, which opened in 1957. 

Caniglia started pitching in at his father’s restaurant at age 13, and his younger brother Jerry later followed in his footsteps. When Eli passed away in 1983, the brothers took up the mantle and ran Venice Inn until it closed in 2014. Caniglia was there until the bittersweet end; he locked the doors for the last time on the restaurant’s final day of business. 

“I never worked anywhere else,” Caniglia says. “That was our life, we felt honored to continue Dad’s work, and we enjoyed our customers so much. I miss interacting with them the most. We had very loyal customers and got hundreds of letters before we closed telling us , ‘Congratulations and best wishes, but we don’t want you to close.’ It was very bittersweet. But we’re happy now, even though we do miss it.” 

Around Chuck’s 70th birthday, after decades in the demanding, labor-intensive restaurant business, the Caniglia brothers decided it was time to retire and spend more time with family. With all their children already invested in their own careers, there was no one to pass the restaurant on to — and that’s when another family entered the picture.

Brothers Jamie and Nick Saldi expressed interest in the site, and that’s when Chuck and Jerry analyzed things and decided the time was right to close Venice Inn and sell the land. The Saldis own Legends Patio Grill & Bar locations in Omaha’s Cherry Creek and Lincoln’s Haymarket. 

“It’s kind of cool that our property has been sold to the Saldis, because they’re two brothers also,” Caniglia says. “So, those two brothers will carry on the legacy of our family property.” 

The Saldi brothers are on track to open their third Legends location on the old Venice Inn grounds in March 2018. The development, dubbed Aksarben Pointe, will house two additional, yet-to-be-named tenants.  

“We both went to UNO, so we’re familiar with the Aksarben area and had been seeking an opportunity in the area for a long time,” Nick says. “When the Venice Inn spot became available, we jumped on it right away and we’re excited to be there.”

He describes Legends as a “sports-themed restaurant.” 

“I try to avoid using the term ‘sports bar’ because it really is family friendly,” Nick says. “Most of our clientele [at the original Legends] is the neighborhood, family crowd, and we have many repeat customers. As a customer, you have a thousand places you could go to get a burger and a cold beer, but what sets us apart is that we try to create the right culture and experience for each customer and employee.”

Caniglia says that same sense of focus on customer experience is what facilitated Venice Inn’s longevity. 

“If you have a good restaurant, you serve good food at a reasonable price, you treat your customers well, and you’re always there to greet them, you can’t miss,” Caniglia says. “That’s what my father taught me.” 

The Venice Inn was so successful at creating that sense of community and loyalty that people still approach Caniglia with stories of how the restaurant was an important backdrop for their first dates, family celebrations, and other milestone events.  

“People love to share their memories of occasions at Venice Inn,” Caniglia says. “They’ll say, ‘Oh, we had our prenuptial dinner there,’ or ‘We had our anniversary party there,’ and that makes me feel good.”

Soon, the Saldis will welcome neighbors to make new memories at Legends. Although they are building a new restaurant structure, the brothers maintain a special reverence for the past.  

“In our Legends concept we have party rooms, and it’s a big theme of what we do as far as hosting receptions, birthdays, and special events for people,” Nick says. “So, I told Chuck I’d like to name one of our party rooms ‘The Venice Inn Room’ and do a memory wall there. He agreed to share some memorabilia that will let us create something to keep that building, that was so iconic in Omaha for so long, alive on one of our walls.” 

“I’m very honored that they want to do a Venice Inn memory wall in their place,” Caniglia says. “The Saldis are the nicest people, and they were great to work with. We made the best choice selling our property to them. There’s nobody else I’d have rather sold to than the Saldis.” 

The feeling is mutual. Jamie says their families connected while sharing their stories, and they enjoyed getting to know the Caniglia brothers throughout the sale process.

“When we first created a relationship with the Caniglias, we hit it off right away,” Nick says. “We talked very little about real estate and the property, but a lot about restaurants. We’re a very different concept than they had, but it’s remarkable how much their core values and ours align in the sense that they take care of their people and their customers, and we aim to do the same.”

Visit legendsomaha.com for more information about the restaurant concept coming to
Aksarben Pointe.

This article was printed in the January/February 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine.

Incubators and Accelerators

February 5, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

It takes much more than just a good idea to launch a successful new business. From a comprehensive business plan to office space, starting a new business is no easy task. According to the Small Business Administration, only about half of new startups make it to the five-year mark.

That in mind, business incubators and accelerators offer supportive methods to help convert ideas into viable businesses, boosting startups with capital, a host of support services, and mentorship in exchange for a stake in the business.

Incubators guide a business from its embryonic stages and cultivate early development in exchange for a portion of the business, typically 5 to 10 percent. The time spent in an incubator depends on how long it takes the business to hatch its own workspace, or the amount of time needed to outgrow the current workspace. In many cases, one investor group funds several or all of the businesses in the incubator. Mentorships come from entrepreneurial investors and peers in the co-working space.

An accelerator has distinct differences, one being that the time spent in the central workspace is usually 90-120 days. Accelerators help a relatively well-developed business speed its transition through the final stages of planning and into actual operations. The business owner receives less funding, because the support services are meant to improve the owner’s means of raising capital following the startup’s graduation from the program. Mentorships often come from entrepreneurs affiliated with the accelerator.

Mark Griffis, founder/president of software development firm Aviture, is also managing partner of The Garage by Aviture, a software startup incubator. He says he sees a real need for accelerators and incubators in the community along with increased awareness of their existence and function.

“There are a lot of talented people here in Omaha. But what we found when we opened the doors to The Garage a couple of years ago, we had 200 people pitching to us and out of that there were probably only three who were really actually ready to receive funding and go to the next level,” Griffis says. “There’s just a lot of education that needs to happen.”

Before attempting to apply to an incubator, a startup should have a solid, marketable idea, and often, a solid business plan. The company needs to be able to show potential investors there is something to build on. They must commit to the incubator’s regulations, which often include training sessions and other time-consuming activities.

Griffis emphasizes that while funding is certainly important, the sharing of expertise can save budding entrepreneurs from harsh trial-and-error lessons and is a crucial factor in helping them succeed.

“One of the key differentiators [for The Garage] is how we’ve integrated it with Aviture. In our environment we have such a diverse group of [technology-minded] individuals who can add experience to what these startups are doing. So people who are working…on the Aviture side can help can collaborate with startup guys who are trying to find their way out of the woods,” he says. “It’s not the traditional incubator with a bunch of startups cross-pollinating or creating coalitions.”

Luke Towey is director of finance for Prairie Ventures, a private investment fund and cooperative of entrepreneurs and investors that, at one time, also operated a business incubator. He says that not every applicant will be accepted into an incubator or accelerator, but the business can still be successful.

“It’s not that it isn’t a good idea or that it’s not something the entrepreneur could be successful with, it’s just that they might be better off getting an SBA loan, or grant money, and doing it on their own,” Towey says.

Not all incubators and accelerators are commercial ventures. Steve Bors, director of the Entrepreneurship Center at Southeast Community College in Lincoln, says the college was one of the first in the state to offer a business incubator on campus more than a decade ago. 

“We’re here to serve southeast Nebraska. That’s our mission, and this is certainly filling a need in southeast Nebraska,” he says. “Here at the Center we will help anybody who’s interested in starting a business. They do not have to be a student. If we can’t help them, we will refer them to some other entity or other service provider who can. Our coaching services are free and then of course we have our incubator on site, which we call our Focus Suites. We have 20 offices that we make available to people starting businesses or who are early in the process.”

Dale Eesley, director of the University of Nebraska-Omaha’s Center for Innovation, Entrepreneurship & Franchising, says educational institution-based incubators “generally don’t take any equity.”

An entrepreneur who wants to work with a college-based incubator should expect to rent a workspace. While corporate incubators normally require regular meetings with coaches, entrepreneurs at college incubators seek out faculty as a resource for information and coaching.

“The educational institutions oftentimes aren’t set up to easily accommodate the business needs of students. It’s a nice compromise to have an offsite or a nonprofit for venture outside of the university school system. It simplifies intellectual property issues and also it gives students the contacts they need that are outside, like suppliers, customers, and investors,” Eesley says. “I hope that UNO will have [an incubator] in the near future. I’m optimistic that we’ll have space on campus in the next three years.”

Bors says that while many commercial incubators and accelerators are associated with the tech industry, his on-campus incubator fosters businesses in many sectors.

“We think all new businesses are valuable. They’re creating new jobs where they didn’t exist before,” he says. “I’m very proud about how diverse our program is…we have senior citizens, I think over half our businesses are female-owned, we have different ethnic groups, and different religions, etc….There is a lot of collaboration and a lot of leads shared back and forth.” 

Whether commercial or campus-based, incubators and accelerators exist to help businesses succeed, which creates jobs and stimulates the local economy.

Visit garagebyaviture.com, prairieventures.net, southeast.edu/entrepreneurship, and unomaha.edu/college-of-business-administration/center-for-innovation-entrepreneurship-franchising for more information about the organizations mentioned in this article.

This article was printed in the February/March 2018 edition of B2B.

Legislating Health Care Solutions for Small Businesses

February 4, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Health care consultant Sean McGuire has a background in political science. “My first job out of college was working in Washington, D.C., which is what I always wanted to do,” McGuire says.

The Iowa native worked on the staff of the Senate Committee on Finance, headed by Chuck Grassley, from 2005-2008. This committee oversees legislation around health care, such as Medicare and Medicaid.

McGuire continued to educate himself about health care legislation, even after coming back to Omaha. When McGuire read the Affordable Care Act (known as Obamacare), he realized that the gray areas and sweeping size of the ACA would cause confusion.

“I recognized that this law is probably one of the biggest pieces of legislation that has ever been passed in our lifetime,” McGuire says.

McGuire then worked as the UNMC health policy adviser. A large part of this job was to inform the organization on the impact of the Affordable Care Act on the university, its hospital, and the local community. The job also included organizing quarterly briefings for local media.

“Health care reform was just starting to take shape, and Sean played a lead role on a committee that included some of the Medical Center’s brightest minds…The committee served as a resource for the entire state to help people better understand what was happening with health care reform,” says Tom O’Connor, senior associate public relations director for the UNMC.

McGuire understood that the ACA would have the most impact on doctors, small hospitals, and small businesses.

“They are there to provide a service—they’re not there to figure out government regulations and compliance.” McGuire says. “Those [people] are really who we enjoy working with the most.”

To offer solutions for health care for those small businesses, McGuire founded E.D. Bellis in 2011.

E.D. Bellis is named for McGuire’s great-great-great-grandfather, who came to Omaha in 1870. Bellis was recommended by a talent agent in New York to be the first organist for Kountze Memorial Lutheran Church and would be described as the “finest organ player west of the Missouri” in his obituary.

“He was a very influential person in the Omaha community that brought music and culture to a city that really needed it,” McGuire says. “I felt that he was the perfect face for what we’re trying to build…we’re trying to bring something new, which is information and understanding to people that need it, just as he brought culture and music to a rough pioneer town.”

In 2013, E.D. Bellis began an agency and broker partnership program with the insurance company Guardian. In that capacity, ED Bellis lends their health care law and compliance expertise to customers of Guardian as a complimentary service.

“They’re unique to the marketplace,” says Doug Gillespie, group sales consultant at Guardian.

In 2015, they began working throughout Des Moines, and in 2016 they started working with the Quad Cities and Ohio.

In summer 2017, E.D. Bellis branched out to Presque Isle, Maine. It’s an area that has a shortage of health care expertise. Five or six hospitals cover a portion of the state the size of Connecticut.

McGuire liked the fact that they were innovative, exemplified by their participation in the pioneer Accountable Care Organization demonstration. ACOs were eligible for higher reimbursements from Medicaid and Medicare if they met all the required standards of providing higher quality care and keeping their population healthy. While 32 health care systems were selected to take part, only a third of them made money.

E.D. Bellis plans to complement their existing programs and capitalize on new opportunities as the laws change.

“What I believe we are onto is a national concept that could be replicated all across the country,” McGuire says. “If it does, it’s going to prove our concept and we’ll open up in other parts of the country as well.”

McGuire anticipates that Omaha will remain the headquarters for E.D. Bellis, partially because Omaha and Des Moines are insurance and health care-heavy. “Almost every large building all over the Midwest is some sort of insurance,” McGuire says. Yet, many are still in the dark about health care. E.D. Bellis is there to help.

“The Affordable Care Act has caused a lot of problems for a lot of people, but it’s done good things too,” McGuire says. “I didn’t do this to make a buck. I did this to fill a need.”

Visit edbellisinc.com for more information.

This article was printed in the February/March 2018 edition of B2B.

Weiner, Weiner, Hot Dog Dinner

January 30, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

A lot goes into the making of a hot dog. Even more goes into the making of a hot dog person. Tracie Mauk would know. She is a 35-year-old thespian and comedian (originally from Norfolk). She’s heavily involved in the Omaha comedy and acting community today, most famously as “Your Friend Bella, an Eastern European hot dog person.”

Being so involved didn’t come naturally for this reserved woman, who admits to taking a little while to warm up. “Acting was something I never explored in high school, either out of shyness or paralyzing fear,” Mauk says. “Once I gave it a shot, the bug bit hard.”

Mauk moved to Omaha in 2008 to pursue theatrical opportunities. She soon became involved with the Florentine Players and has been with them since 2009 as an actor, writer, and director. She has served as the troupe’s secretary, chair of production, and currently holds the title of vice president.

The theatrical workload keeps her busy, Mauk confides during a break in dress rehearsals for Eric Green’s Trapped at the Florence Community Theater. Evidently, not busy enough. While her acting career began to flourish in Florence, she succumbed to the siren song of comedy.

“I started getting into improv with the Florentine Players, then became friends with Monty Eich through Capes Comics, and started regularly attending Weisenheimers shows,” Mauk says.

The Weisenheimers are an Omaha-based improv group, and she subbed at their shows for a time before meeting Andrew McGreevy. “I joined his improv troupe SkullProv and began writing comedy sketches for Skullduggery Productions,” she says.

While performing with SkullProv she began tinkering with the character who would eventually become “Your Friend Bella.”

“Bella started as a Halloween bit where I’d put on a hot dog costume, talk in a goofy accent, and pro- vide spurious trick-or-treat safety tips. I took this bit around town to as many open mics as I could around Halloween,” Mauk says.

Eventually, Bella evolved into a character that returned regularly, hot dog costume and all. “It just never felt like Bella without it. Even though I ran out of excuses to wear it. I’ve just let it become part of the bizarre experience of having someone with a vaguely Eastern European accent give heartfelt advice with the aid of cute visuals,” she says.

Mauk has been Bella and many other non-wiener characters as part of Backline, Big Canvas (a nonprofit improv group and school that she helped form in 2014), and Omaha Live, airing at midnight after Saturday Night Live.

One bit about Mauk that audiences might now know is that she was born with cloacal exstrophy (also known as OEIS Syndrome). As a result, she has lived her entire life with an ileostomy (a surgical opening in her abdomen), though she chooses not to lead with that factoid on stage.

“I don’t bring it up often because it’s not one of your sexier birth defects or conditions, and there’s really never a natural conversational way to tell all your friends that you have to go to the bathroom different than they do,” says Mauk with whimsy about the disability she doesn’t allow to define her. “I mean, do you know how your friends process and eliminate waste from their bodies? I bet you don’t. Typical.”

A goal for Mauk has been putting out the kind of change she wants to see in the world: compassion, understanding, tolerance, and kindness. Empathy for Mauk comes from being other people (even hot dog people).

“With improv and theater, it’s just a great way to pretend to be somebody who isn’t me for a while. It’s a wonderful escape to put on someone else’s life, if just for a little bit. I hope to put a friendlier face to comedy and to show that you don’t have to be crude or mean to get laughs,” she says. “Comedy gave me a through-line to unlock so many parts of myself that have only made for a better, more confident, and open human being. It’s still terrifying to go on stage sometimes, but it gives you a lot of little battles to overcome and walk away stronger.”

Visit florencetheater.org for more information about the Florentine Players. Visit bigcanvasne.com for more information about Big Canvas.

This article was printed in the January/February edition of Omaha Magazine.

The Hidden Menace of Elder Abuse

January 29, 2018 by
Illustration by Matt Wieczorek

During Labor Day weekend in 2014, Jill Panzer and her youngest aunt set out for a seven-hour drive to Hemingford, Nebraska, to pick up Jill’s grandmother, Edna. The two were going under the guise that Edna would be staying in Omaha for a few weeks. Unbeknownst to Edna or her eldest daughter (who was also Edna’s caretaker), the two planned on keeping Edna in Omaha, because they suspected she was being exploited by her caregiver.

Panzer, the granddaughter, suspected something was amiss because her mother (Edna’s second of three daughters) said Edna—who had turned 90 a few years earlier—was appearing more and more confused during visits. Her eldest aunt moved into Edna’s home in the fall of 2011, months after Edna stumbled over her ottoman and injured her back.

Panzer says Edna’s eldest daughter began giving her mother the drug Lorazepam without a prescription to help Edna sleep at night and to help with her anxiety. Edna was later legally prescribed the drug. Then, the granddaughter says her youngest aunt visited Edna in July 2014. During that visit, she reported back to family in Omaha that the matriarch had a gash on her arm from a fall. She appeared extremely confused. Edna’s finances were also showing irregularities, such as missed rent payments that were due to Edna.

“We started looking and realizing there were a bunch of little things happening,” Panzer says.

When they arrived at Edna’s house, Panzer and her youngest aunt noticed Edna wasn’t packed for the trip. Edna’s eldest daughter told Panzer that Edna wasn’t feeling well and couldn’t make the trip to Omaha. In Edna’s home, her eldest and youngest daughter began arguing. While Edna and her daughters were talking, Panzer went to her grandmother’s room and began packing whatever clothes she could into suitcases and sacks. Panzer would later find out that many of the things she packed wouldn’t even fit her grandmother.

“I literally just packed up my entire car while those two women were going back and forth about everything,” Panzer says.

As the arguing continued, Edna began to feel ill. She went to the bathroom. Panzer tried to convince her to go back to Omaha with them. Panzer told her youngest aunt, “If I have to call the sheriff, we are leaving this house today with my grandmother.”

Panzer got her grandmother’s walker and helped her into the van. As she buckled her grandmother in, Edna’s youngest and eldest daughters were still talking. Finally, Edna’s youngest daughter got in the van with Panzer.

“I hit my power button, the sliding door in the van shut. I threw it in reverse, and we just drove,” Panzer says.

During the drive, Edna was upset. Eventually, the mood calmed enough that they ate fried chicken at a restaurant in Broken Bow on the way back to Omaha. When they finally arrived, Edna stayed at her youngest daughter’s home.

Panzer and her youngest aunt arranged medical evaluations for Edna. Doctors determined Edna didn’t show signs of physical abuse, but they did note her blood pressure medication was being administered improperly.

Along with scheduling medical evaluations, Panzer began making calls to close any financial accounts that Edna’s eldest daughter had access to, including Edna’s credit cards and bank accounts. On paper, this would appear to be a challenge, because Edna’s eldest daughter’s husband was her power of attorney. All it took was Edna’s verbal OK to close many of her accounts.

“It was that stinkin’ easy. All I had to do was put my grandmother on the phone. It’s almost criminal,” Panzer says.

As Edna’s financial and medical issues were being resolved, the matter of placing her in an assisted living center still loomed. Neither Panzer nor her youngest aunt were able to care for Edna full time. Panzer’s mother (Edna’s middle daughter) lived hours away. Panzer says her grandmother reluctantly agreed to stay in an assisted living center for rehab, but not permanently.

“She’s buried two husbands. She’s always been a fiercely independent, proud woman,” Panzer says.

Since that Labor Day trip in 2014, Edna has continued to live in the same assisted living center. Panzer was able to get a new, independent power of attorney for Edna. Her home in Hemingford was sold, and Panzer had to hire lawyers and go to court to evict Edna’s grandchild (the daughter of Edna’s eldest daughter) from Edna’s house.

“I don’t have a unique story,” Panzer says.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention lists the forms of elder abuse as the physical, sexual, or emotional abuse of an older adult. It also lists neglect and financial exploitation as other forms of abuse. In 2016, the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services reported that Adult Protective Services received 126 cases of elder abuse in Douglas and Sarpy counties.

Attorney Susan Spahn handles estate and trust matters at Endacott, Peetz & Timmer law firm. As people’s life expectancy continues to increase, so does the time when people are living in a “gray area,” which Spahn defines as a place where people are capable of living independently, but at the same time, are vulnerable to exploitation from family members, or telephone and internet-based scams.

“They can tell stories from the past that are accurate, but if you ask them to make a decision that requires thought, they cannot do it,” Spahn says.

When a parent becomes less and less able to make financial decisions for themselves, their children are the most likely to be called to handle the finances. It’s no coincidence that the most common perpetrators of financial abuse for elders come from immediate family members.

Spahn compares the hidden scourge of elder abuse to the rampant spousal abuse that went unreported in the middle of the 20th century. “Nobody would talk about it. And it was viewed as a civil matter,” she says.

Some of the biggest temptations for elder abuse comes when a family member may still be reliant on their parents for financial assistance. Then, when the parent becomes unable to handle their own financial matters, the dependent child suddenly has access to a parent’s bank account and starts writing checks to themselves, Spahn says.

Another issue Spahn has seen is with inheritance, and children who are expecting their inheritance to help them as they age themselves.

“If mom and dad are holding on to 95, then that means they’re approaching their retirement without their inheritance, and they don’t like that,” Spahn says.

Spahn says the best way to prevent financial elder abuse is to appoint someone they trust the most with their bills as their power of attorney.

“I tell my clients the power of attorney is more important than their will,” Spahn says. “The will isn’t pulled out until after they’re gone.”

If a person either doesn’t have children, or has children who live too far away to be an effective power of attorney, Spahn says the next best step is to appoint a corporate fiduciary to handle their financial matters. Most banks have trust departments, where people can appoint independent financial guardians.

If a parent has more than one child, Spahn says one of the best ways to alleviate family tension amongst siblings is to have the designated power of attorney provide copies of banking and financial statements, and use software like Quicken to provide online access to such information.

“If one child is not willing to do that, then that’s a red flag,” Spahn says. “If mom is still alive, and the kids are hiring lawyers, they’ve all just lost.”

To report elder abuse, people are urged to call Adult Protective Services at 800-652-1999. Callers may remain anonymous. Visit the National Center on Elder Abuse at ncea.acl.gov for more information.

This article was printed in the January/February 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine.