At the Halo Institute, developing successful business startups is about stressing over the small stuff.
During the first year of operations at the not-for-profit incubator, Nick Hudson, founder of Halo Creative Capital LLC, discovered that focusing on details and making quick connections between entrepreneurs and experienced business professionals were key.
Fifteen young businesses have spent time at Halo headquarters near 11th and Leavenworth Streets over the last 12 months.
“In lots of ways, the things that make a difference really aren’t that much, they’re relatively minor,” said Hudson, an entrepreneur himself who owns Nomad Lounge, a nightclub at 1013 Jones St., and Excelsior Beauty. “Providing support. Providing a sounding board. Providing some connections. And providing some structure and encouragement in the right place. That all makes a huge difference.”
Halo’s Old Market space has a wholesome, welcoming, warehouse-type feel, with offices, a kitchen, a presentation area and even a basketball hoop.
Just this week, Roger Fransecky, CEO of the international consulting firm The Apogee Group and chairman of Halo’s board of directors, met with Todd Nichols, founder of a startup company called TalkAbroad.
TalkAbroad connects foreign language students at five universities with native speakers in South America via Skype, so the students gain real conversational experience.
The company currently is focusing its efforts on South America and Spanish but plans to expand its offerings to between 10 and 15 languages in the next five years, Nichols said.
Nichols, originally from Omaha, divides his time between Nebraska and California, where his company is based.
Fransecky said TalkAbroad is a perfect example of a successfully launched company that just needs a little help getting to the next step.
That’s where Halo and people like Hudson, Fransecky and their professional networks come in. This week, he recruited two Omaha lawyers to provide free legal advice to Nichols.
“What’s that worth?” Fransecky asked. “It’s really working. We’re really using our networks and our friends. It really takes the companies to a whole other level of confidence.”
Nichols said interacting with Fransecky and other business professionals has been beneficial.
“There’s a lot of value in having a group of talented businesspeople invest time and thought energy in your company,” Nichols said. “For TalkAbroad, that has meant sharing and receiving feedback and guidance on the business strategy, revenue streams and long-term planning.”
The Halo Institute, a partnership between Halo Creative Capital and Creighton University, selects creative and “socially responsible” entrepreneurs to work under the incubator’s roof and tap its resources and professional network.
Some of the resident companies Hudson mentioned as realizing significant success in the first year: Fluff Your Stuff, an interior redesign firm that plans to offer franchises across the United States; Fit Minded, a women’s book club that promotes wellness and increased physical activity; and the Verdis Group, a “green,” sustainability consultant that has worked with clients including Omaha Public Schools.
Other companies that have seen growth are Nichols’ ConnectAbroad, and HempRev, also known as BastLab Inc., which seeks new ways to use hemp and other nontraditional fibers in clothing, Hudson said.
Halo took some lumps during its first year, too.
The first, Fransecky said, was the “reality of the recession economy.”
Funding for Halo comes mostly from donations of professionals on its board and other donors. Money to run the operation, pay rent and keep the wheels turning was tight at times, Fransecky said.
The Halo Institute plans to expand its fundraising this year beyond those people directly involved, in order to strengthen its capital resources.
Operational costs for the first year were approximately $150,000.
“We’ll raise what we need, I expect,” Fransecky said. “This is really an investment in the future of the state. This is innovation at the grassroots, at the ground level.”
Other changes, Hudson and Fransecky said, would be the further development of networking tools and the organization of an event to build on the success of Big Omaha. That creative, entrepreneurial-focused conference started by Dusty Davidson and Jeff Slobotski, founders of the Silicon Prairie News blog, attracted 500 people during its second year last May.
Hudson said he and others at Halo also are working on an online tool that would further expand the relationships between entrepreneurs, business professionals, consultants and angel investors.
The tool would allow the founders of startup businesses at Halo to post questions or problems in an online forum that could be answered by specialists and other advisers.
“Maybe somebody has time to do a quick, two-minute e-mail, but not an hourlong meeting,” Hudson said. “We want to do more of that facilitating.”
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