Over the last 25 years, I've had a front-row seat to the accelerating pace of change. From the rise of new technologies to the disruption of a global pandemic, I've seen firsthand the power of innovators and entrepreneurs and the skills, tools, and mindsets needed to navigate and thrive in an environment of uncertainty.
I've helped startups and corporate innovators develop better ways to launch new ideas and compete. My work inside and alongside prominent corporations and the latest startups has given me hands-on access to the process of launching new ideas. I've seen how people grow and adapt to an ever-increasing array of change and disruption. I've learned from investing in startups, training corporate innovation teams, and working with c-suite executives on the changing role of technology, startups, innovation, and the future of work.
In addition to my own hands-on experiences, I've compiled lessons from leaders in innovation and entrepreneurship. Over the past six years, I've interviewed hundreds of founders, investors, entrepreneurs, and corporate leaders for our weekly Inside Outside Innovation podcast. And I've hosted thousands of new innovators as part of our IO Summit event series and InsideOutside.io community.
Seeing all this firsthand has convinced me that if you're not learning and building innovation skills every day, you and your organization won't be able to keep up and grow as needed. You will end up taking the slow, or more likely quick, march towards irrelevance.
Thriving in a world of accelerating change requires letting go of "business as usual." It requires transforming new ideas into impactful outcomes. It requires innovating at the speed of change. In my keynote address, The Rise of the New Innovator: Keeping Pace in an Era of Accelerated Uncertainty, I'll discuss the context of the changing landscape of innovation and offer some tools and tactics to develop better builders, makers, and idea accelerators.
I hope to see you at the 2021 Entrepreneurship Best Practices Summit! REGISTER NOW.
firstname.lastname@example.org | 402-770-9567 | Twitter: @ardinger
As Director of the Department of Economic Development, I was appointed by Governor Ricketts in 2019 to lead initiatives to grow our state’s economy. This means working to create opportunities for our citizens — whether that’s supporting entrepreneurs and small business owners, recruiting tech and manufacturing jobs, or growing our international trade footprint. But it also means addressing challenges like the workforce housing shortage, skilled labor needs, and our continued economic recovery from the pandemic, with its impact on local businesses and families.
Where do we stand today? Due to our efforts as a state, Nebraska is emerging from the pandemic with one of the strongest economies in the nation. In August, our unemployment rate hit 2.2 percent — an all-time, record low. Meanwhile, thousands of jobs in skilled positions like tech, manufacturing and health care are available to be filled. Overall, our businesses and industries — though saddled with losses and setbacks just like the rest of the country — have shown their resilience, and are rebounding swiftly. The future is bright.
These resilient outcomes reflect the strong backbone that defines our communities and our economy. For example, jobs in agriculture, manufacturing, and technology, which are abundant in Nebraska, are generally less susceptible to economic downturns; this explains why we fared better than most states during the past three recessions. Just as importantly, Nebraska’s small businesses displayed their ability to adapt to trying circumstances, with local patrons eagerly showing their support: stories of small-town Facebook groups dedicated to keeping Main Street alive abounded during the pandemic’s darkest days, proof of the community spirit that binds us together as fellow Nebraskans.
In Nebraska, relationships matter. Kindness matters. Trust matters. People treat each other like neighbors. This explains why, at the height of the pandemic, we were the number one state in the nation for small business access to SBA disaster loans and funding from the Paycheck Protection Program; tight-knit relationships between local bankers and business owners, combined with swift action by community leaders, allowed us to quickly pump around $4 billion in liquidity into small businesses in need of support. We did this faster and more efficiently than any other state in the U.S., and the impacts are still being felt today.
This same connectedness was essential as my Department and staff proudly worked side-by-side with our fellow agencies in State Government — supported by local leaders across Nebraska — to develop, launch and promote a portfolio of grants that supplied over $413 million in federal CARES dollars to assist struggling small businesses and Nebraska industries. As a result of this monumental effort, we were ultimately able to send desperately needed relief to over 25,000 establishments, from Main Street small businesses to livestock producers, bars and restaurants, personal service providers, movie theaters, zoos and more. This is an achievement that could not have been carried out without the incredible amount of teamwork and dedication that was displayed.
Finally, I believe in an economic future built on technology. Nebraska’s rapidly growing tech industry and climate of innovation has been another key component in our resilience and recovery. From meat packing facilities and manufacturing plants that use the latest in human-guided robotics, to restaurants and other establishments that were able to pivot on a dime to online business models, technology has been a primary driver of adaptation and growth in our state. One of my personal goals for the Department is to continue to maximize the growth of Nebraska’s tech industry; we are thrilled to be working alongside Governor Ricketts to pursue the delivery of high-speed broadband access to every household, urban and rural, while we continue to recruit and grow high-tech jobs that will create great opportunities for our workforce of tomorrow.
Now, in 2021, our two-year focus on stabilization and recovery is finally becoming a focus on the future, when we will pursue promising avenues of opportunity for an even brighter tomorrow. My Department has set goals for 2021 and beyond that focus on mission-critical priorities such as supporting local business expansion; growing Nebraska agriculture; fostering local entrepreneurship and innovation; working with the community college system to address workforce talent needs, such as STEM and the skilled trades; promoting our state both domestically and abroad; addressing the workforce housing shortage; expanding high-speed broadband; and so much more. Through it all, we seek to foster a climate of economic opportunity where every individual, every family, has a chance to succeed.
Here in Nebraska, we all wear the same jersey. It is in that spirit that we must continue to work together, as a team, to make the good life in our state ever greater.
email@example.com | 402.471.3125 | opportunity.nebraska.gov
Bold thinking and bold words have long been the hallmarks of how people define entrepreneurs. Often these bold words are positive such as: passionate; risk-taking; motivated; and creative. These words resonate with companies, investors, and staff, because these words often increase innovation and profits that help build communities.
However, on my professional journey there have also been moments when the bold words that were used to describe me included “aggressive” instead of “determined”; “audacious” rather than “brave”; or yet still “abrasive” instead of “definitive”.
I like to think I have a thick skin, and never really paid it any mind. I focused more on the work and generating relationships with partners, and generally kept on trucking forward. Maybe it was because I was often one of the only females in the community entrepreneurship discussion circles, and for some reason, individuals thought I should be demurer because of my gender, but my mind and my mouth just wouldn’t comply, and some of those risks worked out. Self-reflection is important and I like to hope that I honed my manners to being both authentic and effective.
I have observed that women crave different supports at different points on their journey. Early on, they likely seek a safe and supportive space to know when, how, and where to risk, to learn how to listen to the bold words of positivity, and shut out the noise of the negative. This is most desired through direct mentorship. For women later in their journey, a collaborative and trusted circle of peers and ongoing advisement outweighs the steps in any book without relationship relevance. For experienced entrepreneurial women, the “why” behind the “what” they sought relationships had had been established – as had their confidence – so regular connections to growth, and an in-depth exploration of new facets of skills development was desired through more leadership platforms.
In each stage of a professional journey, an entrepreneur will undoubtedly find hurdles to overcome, skills they must master, and take on an inner battle of boldly risking for the potential reward of massive returns versus gloriously and potentially public failure. More women in this community deserve to be described using big, loud, bold, and moreover, positive defining words. I stand behind each woman entrepreneur as you wish to be a champion.
Join other like-minded women entrepreneurs on Tuesday, September 14 at the Friedhof Building, Columbus Nebraska for the Empowering Women Entrepreneurs. Registration required.
You will gain insight on ‘Moving forward in the post-pandemic world’, ‘Prioritize yourself and set boundaries’ ‘Transition from Cottage to Brick & Mortar’ ‘Wealth and Wisdom’ Delicate act of balancing time’ ‘Believe in you’ (mental wellness) and a visit to local women entrepreneurship businesses that think outside the box.
Contact: Doris Lux for more information or to register for the conference.
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