Many midwestern entrepreneurs have noted the open and supportive ecosystem culture in their states. Nebraska is not different – its entrepreneurship scene is collaborative, kind and accessible to those connected. You can call a CEO of a company and they will meet with you.
But surprisingly, some say it’s an impediment. Almost 30% of respondents disagreed that “Nebraska Nice” is good for entrepreneurial growth, according to a recent report, “Entrepreneurship in Nebraska.”
The report was conducted by the Nebraska Business Development Center in partnership with the Center for Public Affairs Research at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. Researchers began with 13 interviews with ecosystem leaders, including Todd Johnson, the senior vice president for economic development at the Greater Omaha Chamber; Laurel Oetken, a project manager at The Startup Collaborative; and Ryan Anderson, the director of industry relations at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
They then surveyed 265 members of the entrepreneurship community, and received 133 responses. Some 53% of those respondents were male and 86% were white. Researchers also interviewed 10 entrepreneurs, whom leaders identified as influential.
Nebraska has an entrepreneurship rate of 0.27%, down from its peak of 0.37% in 1998, according to Kauffman Foundation Data. Its rate is lower than neighboring states – Iowa is at 0.31% and Missouri is at 0.37%.
Increasing From a Low Base
The number of Nebraska businesses increased by 7% from March 2020 to March 2021, but the number of new businesses has been static or negative since 2017, when it was at around 68,000.
Its supportive atmosphere encourages some to go for a project that will almost certainly fail or dissuades people from asking critical questions of mentees and colleagues as they build businesses, some say. There’s a fear of failure in the ecosystem, both among entrepreneurs and ecosystem members, interviewees noted.
The survey asked respondents to pick between three choices: A profit of $5 million, but a 20% chance of success, a profit of $2 million, but a 50% chance of success, or a profit of $1.25 million but an 80% chance of success. More than 60% of respondents selected the third option, the lowest risk and lowest profit.
“I’ve seen this mindset stifle entrepreneurs’ growth and success because they won’t talk about their successes or lean into and share the powerful vision they see and feel,” one respondent wrote. “We need to be more audacious, bold and public about what we want to see change in the world and our community.”
That’s not to say that Nebraskan entrepreneurs aren’t passionate. Nearly all – 94% – of respondents say they are committed to the mission of their business.
But entrepreneurs are craving more support earlier. Many struggle to find funding and mentorship in the state at that stage, according to the report. Putting more resources into ideas and early-stage entrepreneurship could help people shoulder more risk and grow the ecosystem.
Nebraska’s ecosystem is facing five key challenges, according to the report:
- The entrepreneurship talent pipeline
- The culture of “Nebraska Nice”
- Lack of consistent goals and collective action
- Gaps in programming and resources
Nebraska Needs a One-Stop Shop
Entrepreneurs in the state called for simpler applications and processes, especially with funding resources, echoing concerns and needs of the business owners across the country. They also see gaps in venture capital, grants, networking avenues, and education.
The report also calls for a “one-stop shop” guide for entrepreneurs that outlines best practices. It points to the KC Source Link developed in Kansas City and the Pennsylvania One Stop shop.
“Efforts to apply ‘Nebraska Nice’ to the practice of accessing resources would be greatly appreciated,” according to the report.
The state can increase its pipeline by introducing entrepreneurship to more people, especially underrepresented founders, according to the report. This includes increasing the access to resources and programs.
Ecosystem builders are passionate, but their goals are not unified, according to the report. For instance, there’s a wide variance in the definition of entrepreneurship – something that may seem minor but an evident tension point due to the state’s limited resources.
Also, some ecosystem leaders aren’t meeting with entrepreneurs at all – 11% do not interact. Only 22% interact with seven or more innovators a month. The report suggests ecosystem builders and resource directors meet regularly to create unified goals and strategies.