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