Tag Archives: Jeff Slobotski

Big Omaha

May 24, 2017 by
Photography by Big Omaha

Rewind to May 8, 2009, and you will find a community of 400-plus graphic designers, entrepreneurs, creatives, developers, small business owners, and even a handful of investors seated in tidy rows at KANEKO in the Old Market. It was a first-of-its-kind conference for Omaha.

Many of these people knew of this event through casual conversations—mostly on Twitter—about a little-known conference coming to town called “Big Omaha.” It was the brainchild and second-born of friends Jeff Slobotski and Dusty Davidson (the previous year’s Silicon Prairie News being their firstborn). The two recognized a movement and a simmering energy surrounding the local tech community. It was a cadre of women and men who decided start-up and tech success could happen not on the West Coast but in their own backyards.

The inaugural Big Omaha sold out 10 days prior to the conference. The energy it created has sustained these past eight years. The result? Omaha is now a destination for start-ups seeking new ideas, new energy, and even new money in the form of investors.

“Big Omaha provides inspiration for people to start something,” explains Brian Lee of AIM, a not-for-profit organization that promotes technology to empower people, enhance organizations, and create brilliant communities. Lee serves as managing director of Big Omaha and Silicon Prairie News.

Two years ago, Big Omaha and Silicon Prairie News were acquired by AIM. Although the ownership structure has changed, the Big Omaha experience remains true to what Slobotski and Davidson created with the first conference in 2009.

“Big Omaha has had a huge impact on our community,” Lee says. “It is part of a larger movement in the past eight years that started with Big Omaha.”

Now the conference welcomes a sold-out audience of 700 attendees with guest speakers in a range of tech- and entrepreneurial-based industries who have crisscrossed the globe. When the speakers take the stage, the majority are candid about their successes and their failures, which they are encouraged to share in engaging, meaningful, transparent, and memorable ways.

“We ask our speakers to address overcoming challenges, which helps our audience find inspiration,” Lee says. “In the Midwest, we appreciate authenticity. Hearing those struggles helps a lot.”

Part of the splash of Big Omaha’s first conference in 2009 was its clever cow branding, developed by Omaha-based Oxide Design Co. The cow visuals have remained, although design duties changed hands in 2015 from Oxide to Grain & Mortar.

Now that Big Omaha is owned and operated by AIM, its goal is to cover costs through sponsorships and ticket sales, Lee says.

The conference continues to be a hot event. Tickets that cost as much as $599 are scooped up annually by local, national, and even international attendees.

Big Omaha could move to a larger venue, selling more tickets and earning more revenue. But Lee says from his vantage point, the Big Omaha culture isn’t about a bottom line.

“Our goal is not to outgrow KANEKO. We want to preserve the charm and the experience (of Big Omaha) for as long as we can.”

Part of this charm is the togetherness. Everyone who attends Big Omaha hears the same speakers in the same order. Speakers are encouraged to remain the entire two days of the conference, immersing themselves in the experience and networking with Big Omaha ticket-holders. (The pre-party and post-party have become a popular part of the two-day conference.)

Graphic design, architecture, tech innovation, and entrepreneurship ideas abound here. UNL architecture students provided an art installation in 2016, and a guest speaker in 2015 and 2017 was fashion entrepreneur Mona Bijoor, a favorite among the fashion designers and fashionistas
in attendance.

The conference’s first row is filled with familiar faces each year. One of them is Megan Hunt of Omaha, who has attended every single Big Omaha since 2009.

“I remember the incredible momentum that had built up in the Midwest startup community for this event,” Hunt recalls. “The desire we all had for a space to come together, share the work we were doing, and learn from the superstars in our field was palpable. The way that Dusty and Jeff harnessed that energy and built Omaha’s reputation as a hub of entrepreneurship is nothing short of legendary.”

Hunt has owned a web-based bridal design company, a co-working space, and, most recently, a web-based clothing retailer known as Hello Holiday that also boasts a very visual storefront in the heart of Dundee.

“I love going to Big Omaha because, for me, running a business is not just dollars and cents and strategy around growth,” Hunt adds. “It takes a lot of creativity and ingenuity. Big Omaha is my favorite conference because they do understand this so well, emphasizing how interdisciplinary business and technology can be, and welcoming artists, musicians, designers, and writers—people who may normally be in the minority at
other conferences.”

Big Omaha 2017

Big Omaha returned to KANEKO for the ninth consecutive year May 18 and 19. Below is the lineup of speakers.

Joe Ariel, co-founder and CEO of Goldbely

Mona Bijoor, managing partner at King Circle Capital and founder of JOOR

Christina Brodbeck, founding partner at Rivet Ventures

Daniel Burka, design partner at GV, formerly Google Ventures

Shirley Chung, chef and owner at Steamers Co.

Baldwin Cunningham, vice president of strategy at Brit + Co., co-founder of Partnered

Diana Goodwin, founder and CEO of AquaMobile

Alex Klein, co-founder and CEO of Kano Computing

Brandon Levy, co-founder and CEO of Stitch Labs

Mitch Lowe, co-founder of Netflix, CEO of MoviePass

Margenette Moore-Roberts, global head of inclusive diversity at Yahoo

Nish Nadaraja, former Yelp brand director, partner at Rich Kid Cool

Brian Neider, a partner at Lead Edge Capital

Vanessa Torrivilla, co-founder and creative director of Goldbely

Shandra Woworuntu, founder of Mentari

Matt Zeiler, founder and CEO of Clarifai

Visit bigomaha.co for more information.

Big Omaha participants try virtual reality goggles at a previous year’s event.

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

First Monday of the Month


December 3, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

There are really two different shifts for breakfast, Jeff Slobotski explains. Some show up at the 11-Worth Cafe at 7 a.m., and others don’t roll in until 8:30. But that’s okay, because the First Monday of the Month Breakfast Club of Champions isn’t 
about structure.

The idea for a monthly breakfast of professionals from all disciplines is one of those brainwaves you can’t assign to one person. Slobotski, co-founder of Silicon Prairie News, says he had a conversation with Omaha friends about getting people together around a meal. “It was that conversation and a San Francisco friend who said she was doing this first Monday of the month thing that made me think, this is a thing that should happen,” Slobotski says.

He put an open invitation on Facebook last June, inviting over 200 people to show up the following Monday at the 11-Worth Cafe on 24th and Leavenworth. “Basically we all show up for breakfast and just take over the place,” the event page reads. “We hang out, drink coffee, and get jazzed to start the day/week & month off right. Let’s do this thing. Go!”

“Honestly it wasn’t until the third time that I actually talked with Tony,” Slobotski admits. That’s Tony Caniglia, the owner of 11-Worth Cafe. Slobotski figured it would be nice to give the establishment a heads-up that things might get a little crazy for a few hours on certain Monday mornings. “We didn’t want their servers quitting after a Monday shift,” he says.

So 40-70 people show up for a chatty breakfast at a local diner. What’s the end goal here?

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“There’s this resurgence, this energy, in the city,” Slobotski says. “People want to be involved, and I think that shows a general passion for the city. Let’s all take our labels off and just come together as people. You don’t come to this wearing a name tag with a stack of business cards.”

“We’ve seen changes in the way business networking takes place,” says Mike Battershell, vice president of Bergman Incentives and a core First Monday breakfaster. “You’re looking for opportunities to get your name out there, but you’re also just looking for ways to make your community better.”

Slobotski describes Battershell as an instigator. “Mike’s the kind of guy who won’t just post to Facebook saying something needs to happen,” he says. “He’ll give you a phone number and a name. He’s an informed instigator.”

For Battershell, the breakfasts are about spreading that information. “You’re probably going to sit next to someone you wouldn’t otherwise sit with. Say you’re a programmer, and you’re sitting next to an artist who’s sitting across from an elected official,” he says. “That’s a catalyst for business opportunities and community improvement projects.”

Diverse backgrounds are key, both agree. “I’m very passionate about not creating another insular group,” Slobotski says. “How can we continue to be open? Be proactive? Be inviting to folks from different geographies and industries, different spheres within the city?”

The welcoming nature of the 11-Worth itself doesn’t hurt. “The wait staff at 11-Worth is great,” Battershell says. “If you get up and move, they’ll remember that you had the corned beef and hash.” In fact, he says he bounces from seat to seat about four times in the morning.

Oh yes, that’s allowed. “If there’s a break in conversation, it’s totally appropriate to jump up and move on,” Slobotski assures. After all: no structure, no special recognition, no food chain.

And no judgment.

Slobotski laughingly admits he orders the same breakfast every time. “The number 11. Two eggs sunny side up, two pieces of white toast, grape jam, massive side of hash browns. The place is underground-famous for its 
hash browns.”