Big Omaha Has Changed
Big Omaha was really good this year, for those of you who have not been in a couple of years or fondly remember the “good old days”. I would offer that I think Big Omaha has matured in some ways that I both did not expect, and that I appreciate.
Diversity. Big Omaha is a conference that has specifically targeted inclusion since its inception. And that focus has really paid off. With scholarships and grants from the Kauffman Foundation, but also with clear intent and marketing, Big Omaha was MUCH more diverse in year nine than in year one. Year one was basically white males. At the time, I remember counting and thinking how few women were part of the ecosystem. This year there were many women and many people that were from groups of under-representation.
Speakers. The last three or four years have had a dearth of powerful, topical speakers. Many told their stories that were interesting and inspiring – but rarely educational. This year’s crop was different. For the first time in at least five years, there were three or four tidbits that people were talking about throughout the conference. In particular, the inverse pyramid of bullshit was popular.
I’m old. I have always felt like I was a little mature for the Big Omaha party scene. This year – I just felt old. I went to the Friday night party and desperately wanted to go home to go to bed – which I did around 10pm. When I left, for the first time in a while, I felt like it was fine. Most of my startup friends weren’t there anymore. We have grown up. Most have spouses, children, and Saturday morning responsibilities.
The Silicon Prairie needs a revival. When Sarah Lacy attended Big Omaha in the early days, she described it as a Midwestern Startup Revival. I chatted with some folks from KC and other Midwestern cities and they were attending a conference – not a revival. However, I believe that a revival is what we as a region need. I am excited about all of the exciting things happening around here – but I wish that we still worked more closely together. Part of that is simple selfishness as it makes it easier for me to see my friends. But a big chunk is that we need to work together to thrive. We are all better off when Omaha or KC or Des Moines is strong and has a lot going on – but it requires us to also know that it is real and true.
Students. I teach a class at UNO and I was DELIGHTED by how many of my students were at Big Omaha. I was delighted by how many are continuing on their path in entrepreneurship. Whether it was the volunteers, the ones asking for advice, or the sheer number of more mature ideas and complaints – it was refreshing to see such progress from UNO and its students. Good job Dale Eesley.
That’s my review. I had a better attitude and surprisingly, I think that made a big impact. Thanks to all that chatted with me (and are now reading this blog post).