Co-Founder of Crumb
If you think Silicon Valley is the best and only tech hub, you’re not alone. But you’re also wrong. Omaha’s Silicon Prairie was recently named the “Top City to Work in Tech” by financial advice tech company SmartAsset, and it’s easy to see why. Omaha is home to four Fortune 500 companies, established technology businesses and a thriving startup community, and there are plenty of reasons top talent and employers are converging to make Omaha a top tech city, including:
1. An abundance of great-paying tech jobs.
If you’re looking for a job in tech, start in Omaha. We have plenty. On average, there are around 600 open tech positions in the Greater Omaha area, and they pay well. If you’re a recent grad, you can expect to earn $40,000-$65,000 right out of the gate, depending on your specialty, and overall, tech workers tend to make between 47 and 118 percent more than the average Omaha worker.
2. Affordable living.
The money from those tech jobs goes farther in Omaha, too. The overall cost of living is 12 percent lower than the national average, and the median house price is $160,400. For comparison, the median house price for San Jose’s Silicon Valley is $980,000, meaning homeownership is much more realistic here. More interested in renting? The news is good there, too. A one-bedroom apartment rents for $730 a month compared to $3,670 in San Jose.If you’ve never been to Omaha, you’ll be happy to note that it’s not all farmland, either. There are suburbs and few cornfields on the edges, sure, but there’s also a thriving downtown and revitalized urban areas.
3. The startup seedbed.
Omaha is no stranger to innovative thinking—more than 40 growing startups are currently based here. One of them, Flywheel, a WordPress hosting and management startup, just raised $4 million in their Series A, and video analytics provider Drive Spotter just announced the completion of a $750,000 seed round. Omaha is also home to grownup startups like Hudl, a sports video analysis tool used by more than 100,000 teams around the world.
4. Tech training.
Omaha’s tech groups and schools help train those who want to get into the tech field and fill the funnel for companies looking for talent. Omaha Code School turns beginners into hirable web developers in just 16 weeks, and Interface Web School offers part-time classes that start after 5 p.m., so students can keep their jobs while preparing for the next step. For the younger set, CodeCrush offers an immersion experience for 8th and 9th grade girls.
5. A true tech community.
Omaha offers a great support system for the tech community with organizations like AIM and The Exchange Building, which provide community, mentorship, office space and access to capital for startups.
Word is getting out about the Silicon Prairie. A recent Dice study shows that Nebraska is the #3 fastest growing state for tech jobs (seven spots above California, by the way), and Omaha’s reputation as a top tech city is growing. The idea that Silicon Valley is the place to be for tech is quickly becoming outdated. With both opportunity and innovation, today’s tech talent and entrepreneurs are better served looking to the Silicon Prairie.
By: Erica Wassinger
Managing Director and Co-founder, Omaha Startup Collaborative
Omaha has the potential to be a top-tier city for tech startups. It’s our mission to see that come to life.
Our mission at Omaha Startup Collaborative (OSC) is to help improve the odds for our economy’s high risk, high potential tech startups.
We are a nonprofit incubator that provides mentorship, content and space for the region’s top tech entrepreneurs. It currently houses more than 40 startups.
OSC is built for people and, quite truly, the people are the magic that makes it.
Prior to OSC, I helped many of the region’s startups with marketing, sales and publicity. That’s when I really began to notice a potential obstacle to their success.
It became very clear that the ecosystem needed more connectivity between entrepreneurs, investors and other experts.
Seconding this notion was OSC co-founder and serial Omaha entrepreneur Mark Hasebroock. He had experienced that lack of connectivity (or density) firsthand through his building of Hayneedle.com. Inspired to address the issue, he and I teamed up and “charged after a destination and programming that would bring together and build our startups.”
My message to others – women and men – who are interested in joining Omaha’s tech ecosystem: There are no barriers to entry other than grit. If you’ve got the gumption to chase an idea and build a business, then you should participate.
By: Savannah Cuevas
When I started applying to colleges several years ago, I was willing to consider two geographical regions: the west coast and the east coast. Anywhere in between? No, thank you.
Alright, I’ll come clean… I used to be one of ‘those’ people – a Californian whose perception of Omaha was based on the old cows-and-cornfields caricature.
So, when my guidance counselor suggested Creighton University as a perfect fit for me, I waved her off – at first. But the more I spoke with her and the more I looked into it, the more this Riverside native thawed to the idea.
On my first tour, I fell in love with the school instantly – and as I explored and learned more about Omaha, I quickly fell in love with it too.
It took me a little while to realize that it wasn’t some kind of act –
people here are genuinely kind.
Flash forward four+ years – I have my diploma from Creighton and a degree in business administration with an emphasis on entrepreneurship. That genuine kindness I’ve come to know is one of the factors that convinced me to stay and continue growing my roots here. I’m also a huge fan of the international assembly of eating options – from Ethiopian to Persian to authentic Mexican; the cool hangout spots like The Crescent Moon; and the great outdoor places where I can actually be adventurous: Fontenelle Forest, Schramm Park State Recreation Area… and of course, there’s that tremendous new job of mine.
Back in March, I began working for the Greater Omaha Chamber as the project management coordinator for the REACH Initiative. The Chamber launched REACH last year to help small and emerging construction businesses succeed – whether by helping them forge connections, securing financing or through education. My position is brand new so we’re still defining and refining it, but a few of my key responsibilities include organizational support and coordinating educational events that fill the needs of our small and emerging businesses. We’ve done programs on financial literacy and insurance – and we have a module on marketing coming up on April 19. I love the fact that I come to work every day in service to others. It’s natural for us to ask, “Am I doing enough?” “Am I contributing enough?” I get to help our business owners meet their dreams – and that is a beautiful thing.
When I was in my senior year at Creighton, the thought that I might be leaving Omaha actually made my parents sad. They fell in love with the city, too. (My Dad says if he’d have learned more about Omaha 10 years ago – he would have moved the family here.) I’m now trying to recruit my sister and her husband to relocate. There are jobs here, I tell them – and a cost of living that’s already allowed me to pay off some of my student loans. Plus, I’m not spending the prime of my young professional years stuck in endless bumper-to-bumper traffic.
I am a California native, but this is where I want to be.
One of the things that resonated with me – and ultimately drew me to the Chamber and my new job – is our community’s We Don’t Coast message. Hearing that immediately made so much sense to me. I get it – and that’s why I’m here. I’m basically that slogan. I’m ready to work hard and embrace our “We Don’t Coast” attitude. While I am loving my new job and the people I work with, I hope to be a small and emerging business owner myself someday. I know I’m in a city that will support me. I know this is my place to grow.
Is CodeCrush having an impact? One young student calls it “easily the best experience I’ve ever had so far.”
So, that would be a ‘yes’ – a powerful endorsement that something transformative is happening at the University of Nebraska Omaha’s College of Information Science and Technology.
“I’ve seen a whole new world that could now end up being what my life becomes,” the student continues.
In other words, CodeCrush – crushing it.
“Feedback has been pretty overwhelmingly awesome,” says Amanda Rucker, a UNO communications specialist who’s also in charge of CodeCrush.
Launched three years ago to help bridge the gender gap in the IT profession, CodeCrush is a three-day, four-night on-campus “immersion” – a comprehensive learning experience for 8th and 9th grade girls (and their mentor teachers) that is intended to stoke an infatuation with IT in all its forms. It has quickly become the largest IT immersion experience for girls in the region.
“Our goal is to introduce them to the diversity of IT and show that they have role models in IT that they can aspire to,” Rucker says. “Ultimately, it’s about teaching them that they can do whatever they want. You just put your mind to it – and not let people tell you that you can or cannot do.”
CodeCrush days are a mix of workshops, panel discussions, afternoons immersed in “real world” IT and nights spent kicking back.
While students are doing their thing, the mentoring teachers are participating in their own version of CodeCrush, taking classes with UNO instructors, learning how to incorporate those IT lessons into their classroom.
“We have a lot of teachers from rural communities who don’t have a lot of resources. They become energized and excited to go back with new ideas.”
“It’s amazing to watch the students bloom into these confident young ladies,” Rucker says. “All of a sudden they realize, ‘Oh my gosh, I get told all the time that girls don’t play video games and yet, here are dozens of other girls who love them as much as me.'”
“We were looking at the gender gap in the industry and our own college, trying to figure out ways we could address it,” Rucker says.
Next year, thanks to a $200,000 challenge grant from the Peter Kiewit Foundation, the program will be able to accommodate even more students – expanding from one spring session to a spring session, a fall session and a summer summit in between.
This is where we plug in. Our outlet for celebrating life, shopping local and pressing play. This funky destination. The heartbeat of our city. Character and cobblestone streets, pulsing with energy, empowering us to be us. Always has. Always will.
Our Old Market.
Omaha – We Don’t Coast
Aubrey Sookram was one of 32 independent designers feeling the love from the fashion community at Omaha Fashion Week in August 2014. The biannual showcase has grown into the Midwest’s largest fashion event, surpassing Minneapolis, Denver, Kansas City and St. Louis in terms of audience size and the number of designers served.
OFW is much more than a fashion extravaganza and string of glamorous nights out. It’s a “talent incubator” that helps designers produce and market their designs and participate in a professional production at no cost.
“We have a thriving and very diverse fashion scene here.
Everything from high-fashion couture, day wear, evening wear,
kids’ fashions and for the plus-sized market.
The reality of the situation is Omaha should not be ignored!”
-Aubrey Sookram, founder/designer, MarKoos Modern Design
Necessity is the mother of invention. Just ask a mother of three, Aubrey Sookram.
“Working in fashion was always intentional. But as a young mother, when I couldn’t find clothing I wanted for my daughter, I began dabbling in designing for kids,” she said.
That dabbling evolved into MarKoos Modern Design, a children’s clothing brand that is “just a little bit quirky. I love to mix color and pattern, and there is always a touch of ‘hipster chic’ thrown in.”
Sookram whose educational background is in marketing, merchandising and fashion design, said she always intended to move to the West Coast to start her career. But when life happened (she met her husband and had a child), she decided the best place for her is right here: “Near my family, with good neighborhoods, schools and a good moral backbone.”
She added, “Growing a business here is made easier due to the level of community support. This year (2014) in particular, I am feeling the love from local clients. There is nothing quite like Omaha taking care of its own.”
Written by: Christopher Vaughn Couse
Zine (n.): an abbreviation for ‘magazine’ or ‘fanzine;’ most commonly a small circulation of self-published work, traditionally photocopied, which can cover many subjects, often including politics, social theory, literature, art and design.
Omaha Zine Fest (n.): A first-of-its-kind cultural event in Omaha, bringing together more than 80 local and regional zine makers and distributors to showcase their work. Saturday, March 12, 11 a.m. – 5 p.m., 1316 Jones Street in the Old Market. Free, family-friendly and open to the public.
I know quite a few people in Omaha who are into creating and collecting zines, but Omaha Zine Fest is the first chance for everyone to collect under one roof, show their work, and have a collection of conversations about zines and the culture in Omaha.
I am a firm believer that art should be enjoyed by all.
In the past, I’ve made small-run zines that have included poetry and other creative writing, photography, drawings and a mix of all four. (A small collection of those works can be viewed here on my website.)
Being a self-taught artist has helped build my DIY ethics and taught me that you don’t always need a gallery to show your work or a publisher to help produce a collection of comics, poems, recipes, etc.
You just need to be self-motivated and put your
best efforts and work out there.
I’ll be tabling at Omaha Zine Fest with a few of my own zines, prints, buttons and stickers. I am a firm believer that art should be enjoyed by all. I love that Omaha Zine Fest – and producing zines in general – make my art more accessible for anyone who wants to collect it.
A few months back, my fellow tabling zinester friend, Keith, interviewed the women behind Omaha Zine Fest for his blog CRUCIAL CHANGES. (You can read that post here.) They’ve put a lot of work into organizing a phenomenal day, which will include workshops and speakers from the Midwest publishing industry. For a full list and times, check out OZF’s Facebook event page here.
Omaha Zine Fest and The Union for Contemporary Arts have also teamed up to provide two great workshops this week: Zine Binding Techniques on Wednesday, March 9, and Printing Your Own Zines on Thursday, March 10. Both start at 6 p.m. and are free for Co-OP members, $10 (per event) for non-members.
Omaha Zine Fest – a brand new event in the Old Market. What’s not to love about that? Looking forward to connecting with a big crowd – and some of the talented artists and ‘zine-sters’ I know and/or follow on Instagram – on Saturday!
In a world – where creative talent isn’t confined to the coasts – a local crowd showed some local filmmakers some local love…
The previews are over… It’s time for the 11th annual Omaha Film Festival (OFF) to roll – the line-up includes more than 100 domestic and international narrative feature films, documentaries and short films, including animated shorts.
This year, we’re stoked for the brand new “Nebraska Spotlight” category, which includes six narrative feature films and documentaries made in Nebraska or by Nebraskans:
- “It Snows all the Time,” a very personal film produced by Omahan Erich Hover
- “Black Luck,” co-directed by David Weiss and Omaha Film Festival Executive Director Jason Levering
- “No Resolution,” directorial debut of local music legend Tim Kasher
- “Once in a Lew Moon,” a documentary about screenwriting guru and Nebraska native Lew Hunter
- “Take Me to the River,” last year’s Sundance Film Festival darling shot entirely in and around Loop City, NE
- “I Dream of an Omaha Where…,” a powerful documentary directed by Mele Mason
Voted one of the “Top 25 Film Festivals Worth the Entry Fee” by Movie Maker magazine, this year’s OFF runs March 8-13. Check out www.OmahaFilmFestival.org for ticket information, the full schedule of films, parties, and the conference schedule.