If there’s one thing I’ve learned from producing and hosting “What If…” (the NET Television series on innovation and creativity), it’s this.
Innovators and entrepreneurs are wired differently than other folks. They see opportunity. Take matters into their own hands. And don’t quit.
Like Ben Blecha. Cancer cost him half a leg while studying engineering at UNL. He struggled to find a prosthetic that fit. So he went to school to learn how to make his own, then started his own prosthetics business in Benkelman. Then Blecha changed directions and started Hero Braces, one of just a handful of companies in the world making braces for injured dogs.
“I always look at how something can be better or how I can solve something, or I'll wake up in the middle of the night and have an idea and I'll Google for two hours so I can go back to sleep. That's just the fun part for me,” Ben told me in our “What If…” story.
After college Sarah Spitsen turned a candle-making hobby into a business and opened a store. It failed. Left her homeless, broke and sleeping on friends’ couches. So try something else? Nope. Spitsen tried again and found success after launching Feya Candles in Lincoln.
“In order to grow Feya, I sold all my belongings. I hopped in my car, and I toured the country living out of my car. I would sell candles along the way, and then give meals (from sales) back to the local homeless shelters before I'd leave town,” Sarah said in our “What If…” story.
Joe and Matt Brugger always knew they’d return to their family farm west of Albion. But they didn’t want to wait forever to do it their own way. So as UNL students and marching band cymbal players they started Upstream Farms, a separate business in tandem with the family operation that includes growing hops, making whiskey and selling beef direct to consumers.
“It's the intersection of agriculture, creativity, entrepreneurship, innovation, even music in a way. All those things we are passionate about, we wanted to create a space that we could do that and do it for the rest of our lives,” Matt told us in our “What If…” story.
There are so many stories like this in Nebraska. Rural high school kids starting a gelato business. A southeast Nebraska farmer seeing a magazine article and thinking “hey, we can raise shrimp here.” A south Omaha guy drawing on his own challenged childhood to start a bike shop and coffee shop to help young adults aging out of foster care. Play the stings inside the piano? Why not. Study crops with a huge suspended rig of cameras? Sure!
Meeting innovative Nebraskans is fun. Plus the way they’re wired rubbed off on us, inspiring our team to experiment while we’re telling these stories and creating these shows. That includes me trying stuff. I made an acceptable thumb piano and successfully clipped “maize” roots. But my steer roping skills need work. A lot of work. Oh well. The “What If…” spirit is contagious…and that’s a good thing for everyone!
About Innovator Insights
“Innovator Insights” is another part of the “What If…” project. Short videos featuring innovators and entrepreneurs answering questions for the next generation of innovators. A resource for educators, with viewer guides and activities, discussion questions, and Spanish caption versions.
Questions about the “What If…” project – Mike Tobias, mtobias@netNebraska.org
Questions about “Innovator Insights” on PBS Learning Media – Melanie Eirich, meirich@netNebraska.org
“Marketing is about spreading ideas, and spreading ideas is the single most important output of our civilization.” – Seth Godin
In the world of remote working and online commerce, never before has spreading ideas been more prevalent or easy to do. Last semester, in an entry-level entrepreneurship course I was teaching, one student came to me and shared that she wanted to start an online business. I love helping nascent entrepreneurs… this is my sweet spot, when the ideas are flowing and the purpose or intent of a business is still malleable. Watching the evolution of idea to launch based on the research, the market and ultimately the customer input is an exciting stage for everyone involved.
My response to the student had several components:
The third point is critical. The current time and space for online activity will be fleeting. By that, I mean, as it exists now, there are not many restrictions or government regulation or oversight when it comes to doing business online. As with any developing technology, this will likely change soon. In fact, we have seen a great deal in the last two-three years about how experts are concerned about the “attention economy” and the impact it is having on our emerging generations. There is also worry about the protection of consumer data and behaviors online, which currently allows for targeted promotions and marketing efforts, but who knows how that will become mitigated in the future. The gap between what is ethical and what is fair game in the name of capitalism continues to narrow.
The opportunity to create buzz and build an audience for you and your business is vast. Now the key is to do it well and to do it in a sustainable way. This is accomplished through diligent planning. Many businesses try to do everything all at the same time, but being effective and efficient takes effort and resources. It is important to learn about the different social media platforms, how they work and the audience they reach. Entrepreneurs must be realistic about how much time and talent is required to engage with existing and potential customers. Understanding the numbers and metrics available online is also critical.
Last May, in the midst of the pandemic when businesses were increasing their online presence more than ever, our team collaborated with the Kearney Area Chamber of Commerce and some area entrepreneurs to deliver two great webinars that dove deep into the world of marketing online and measuring success. Please feel free to reference these videos or share them with entrepreneurs you are working with. They are packed full of incredible “how-to” information and tips for being successful with your business online.
Social Media Management – Brand Identity and Engagement: https://youtu.be/AHX17ZpJOyI
Social Media Management – Making Metrics Meaningful: https://youtu.be/cRQsG-JJdNs