Tag Archives: On the Rise

Changing Lives After a Life-Changer

October 31, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

She never imagined that checking a small box on a job application would have such a big impact.

Jasmine L. Harris was trying to turn her life around from a couple of misdemeanors as a young adult. She learned that answering “yes” to the question of criminal charges in her background put up barriers to employment.

“All I heard was, ‘We can’t hire you’ for almost two years,” Harris says. “And that was with misdemeanors. Someone with a felony on their record doesn’t stand a chance.”

With only her family in her corner and a young son for whom she was now responsible, Harris determined she was going to get her life on track and make a better way for others with similar life experiences.

“I had to get a grip on my life because I was going nowhere fast,” says Harris, who earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of Nebraska-Omaha, then a Master of Public Health from the University of Nebraska Medical Center. “If I didn’t make drastic changes, I was going to be dead or in jail.”

With her newfound lease on life, Harris became a health educator and tobacco prevention coordinator for Creighton University School of Medicine’s Clinical Research Office. She also served as civic engagement committee chair for the Urban League of Nebraska Young Professionals, where she focused on advocacy and awareness of criminal justice issues.

Her passion became helping those who wanted to move beyond past mistakes and find someone to believe in their future. That passion led Harris to co-found Waymaker LLC, an organization that motivates women and girls to overcome setbacks from being involved in the criminal justice system—the kind of service Harris could have used when she was climbing her way back. 

“We focused on making a way of life—creating second chances—for women and girls who were having similar experiences as mine,” says Harris, who focused much of her work in North Omaha where she grew up. “A lot of times, all someone needs is a second chance.”

Harris was the driving force behind efforts such as Black and Brown Legislative Day, when people of color were hosted at the state capitol to learn about the legislative process and register to vote. She also helped push for legislation that would remove the “Criminal History” section from an application for any job in the state—a bill that didn’t make it off the legislative floor.

Harris then turned her attention to volunteering with a new Nebraska organization called Defy Ventures, a group that works with incarcerated and previously-incarcerated people to help them land jobs or become business entrepreneurs. 

She deployed programs such as “CEO of Your New Life,” which focuses on character development, employment readiness, and entrepreneurship training. Defy helps people in post-release develop a new business pitch in a “Shark Tank”-like competition—with the idea that the new business will eventually hire others who have been in jail.

“The main goal is to help people, upon release, be ready for gainful, meaningful employment,” says Harris, who landed a full-time position as Defy’s post-release program manager. “We teach how to talk about your incarceration in a way that doesn’t turn off employers or cause them to pity you.”

Harris, awarded the Omaha NAACP Freedom Fighter Award in 2017 and named one of the Ten Outstanding Young Omahans by the Omaha Jaycees, knows there might be opportunity to help more people in a bigger city. But the “love-hate relationship” she had with her hometown when she was a teen is now all love. She is motivated by the endless opportunity she sees here.

“I came back here because I see the potential in Omaha,” Harris says. “I see people who sincerely want to help and are making the change. I want to be an integral part of that.”


Visit defyventures.org for more information.

This article was printed in the October/November 2018 edition of B2B. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Nathan Miller

August 6, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Nate Miller is changing the world of architecture. It is hard to imagine, looking at the bald, bespectacled 30-something wearing clean, dark jeans and working quietly in a coffee shop.

“I think the business industry and the world of construction is ripe for disruption,” Miller says.

He is disrupting this industry through data mining. The building industry comprises several professions—architects, engineers, construction managers, and more. Creating buildings involves using software for computer-aided design, conceptual modeling, building information, and many other components. While software companies have complete packages for the building industry, the separate industries often prefer one software over another, so an architecture company that designs a building using Revit (Autodesk’s CAD program) may not be able to connect their information with an engineering company that uses Bentley’s Reliability, Availability, and Maintainability program. The result is a lot of time spent translating programs. The software companies aren’t interested in creating translation programs—that’s where Miller and his company, Proving Ground, comes in.

“[The building industry] is shifting into much more integrated practices. Nate’s role is in developing new techniques,” says Jeff Day, professor and director of the architecture program at UNL as well as principal at his own firm, Min | Day.

“A lot of softwares already have connection points built into them. Ways in which, at a programming level, you can begin to access a document, or part of a document, and extract data,” Miller says.

Proving Ground builds tools, often in the form of plug-ins, that tap into those connection points. They customize their products for individual architecture clients based on their needs, such as having a business client with a lean budget or needing access to daylight.

This ability to connect systems is helping to drive the world of design by data. “There are so many ways that one can, whether with data and tech, or fabrication concepts and prefabrication, use data,” Miller says.

Miller discovered this passion by learning. He graduated from UNL with a master’s in architecture in 2007 and began working for NBBJ Design in Los Angeles. As he built a design portfolio, he became interested in how to leverage data to help his own computations and design processes.

His ability to prove this came when he worked as the lead designer on the stadium at Hangzhou Sports Park in China. The shell was created in a series of aesthetically pleasing steel flower petals, which used less steel than a more traditional steel cover. The bowl was created from concrete. The company liked that this progressive design also reduced costs by using 2/3 less steel than a stadium of comparable size.

That progressive project proved to Miller that data-driven design worked well. He began thinking about implementing data-driven design on a wider range of products—just as CASE Inc. in New York, a building information and technology consultancy, called him with a job offer.

Miller wasn’t thinking about the Big Apple. He was thinking about the Big O. He wanted to come home. CASE agreed to let him work from Omaha, and Miller continued learning, and using, data-driven design as director of architecture and engineering solutions.

CASE’s clients at WeWork were also using data-driven research for a specific area of architecture and real estate. They focus on subscription-based co-work environments for startups.

WeWork learned their eight-person conference rooms were frequently booked for groups of four or five people. They researched why people were meeting in smaller groups, and discovered what those people needed—number of electrical outlets, club chairs vs. desk chairs and a table, etc. WeWork then started providing less space for conference rooms and more space for desks.

WeWork acquired CASE in 2015, and Miller, who now discovered he enjoyed consulting and working on the tech side, decided to create Proving Ground.

“I think he has a good sense of where the opportunities are in his practice,” Day says. “He’s more like a tech startup than an architect, so he’s coming at this as an architect, but in a tech way.”

Visit provingground.io for more information.

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

Grant Stanley

August 28, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Anyone familiar with his personal and business histories knows Grant Stanley is a natural-born entrepreneur.

Stanley learned first-hand about his desire to be his own boss when he instinctively started his first business as an elementary school student. While walking through his Omaha neighborhood one day, he noticed the many homes that needed landscaping assistance, and despite having no experience, called upon those neighbors and offered suggestions and recommendations.

Recognizing his drive and ingenuity at a young age, they hired him to do their yards, and a future business magnate was born. He went on to attend business school at UNO—studying analytics and graduating in just over two years—and it didn’t take him long to realize that’s where his true future lay.

“I’m not sure exactly where it came from; I guess it was always just part of who I am,” Stanley says of his entrepreneurial outlook. “I enjoy working for myself, calling my own shots, and making my own decisions. Success or failure, it’s just in my nature.”

With his business plan in place, Stanley set out to find a partner—someone who shared his entrepreneurial spirit and passion for data along with a skill set to complement him.

Wanting someone fresh and undisturbed by the corporate world, he set out on the UNO campus and found Tadd Wood, who was still working on his degree.

“I enjoy working for myself, calling my own shots, and making my own decisions. Success or failure, it’s just in my nature.”

Once he agreed to work with Stanley, Wood decided not to limit his learning to one degree. When he was done, he’d earned four degrees in four years and was set to help Stanley move the business idea forward.

“I still had the landscaping business, but I knew it was time to get out of it,” Stanley says. “It’s our vision to make predictive analytics simple and affordable because all companies, not just the largest, should be able to benefit from predictive analytics and data science.”

These days, the two friends and business partners are elbow-deep in providing forecasting (or predictive analysis) for companies throughout the country and world.

Their up-and-coming Omaha company, Contemporary Analysis (CAN), has a simple message: “We build systems that help you work smart.” It’s their contention that their systems help improve sales, marketing, customer service, employee engagement, and strategic planning—all with the goal of achieving optimal performance with less effort.

Simple yet very effective, and considering they are competing with big hitters like IBM and serving clients throughout the world (but largely in Omaha), they are more than holding their own.

“All of our services tie into predictive analysis using database information and looking for patterns in the data to help us predict the future,” says Stanley, who founded CAN in January 2008 and brought Wood into the fold a month later. Both were just 20 at the time.

“Data is a great driver to determine what is likely to happen, particularly with human behavior and patterns. In the case of most of our business partners, we use this information to determine sales, buying patterns, and other historical indicators. It’s all science.”

And chemistry—something the two definitely share as they continue to grow their business and fulfill their dreams.