The idea that financial and legal experts would be just a stroll down the hallway away piqued Pat Lazure's interest.
So the Omahan was pleased when he saw the Mastercraft Advisors — a group of companies that aim to offer startups and entrepreneurs easy access to expertise in their respective areas — set up shop in his north downtown workspace and begin fielding questions from other curious entrepreneurs.
Lazure, managing partner of Drop Kick Ventures, is one of a handful of entrepreneurs who have visited with the Mastercraft Advisors since they formed and moved into the Mastercraft building at 1111 N. 13th St. in late November.
The alliance is made up of First National Bank of Omaha, intellectual property law firm Advent IP, business law firm Koley Jessen and accounting firm Lutz & Co.
“It's great to see big institutions stepping up and recognizing prospective new businesses,” Lazure said. “It's altruistic.”
Alliance members hold afternoon office hours at studio 140 in the Mastercraft building, the former furniture store turned office space that is home to 35 startups and entrepreneurs. They're also available by appointment on Fridays.
“We wanted to come together and be able to offer the sophistication of services that we do to our Fortune 500 clients,” said David Milligan, founder and patent attorney for Advent IP.
The group formed after Dusty Reynolds, director of entrepreneurship and innovation for the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce, noticed lawyers and CPAs showing up at entrepreneur community events in other cities. He saw friendships and partnerships forming between those service providers and startups instead of a typical setup where “a service provider would start the clock at the first word and stop it as you went out the door,” he said.
Reynolds saw a need for something similar in Omaha and began talking with companies he thought could help. He said he didn't set out to find the four companies that now make up the Mastercraft Advisors, but that the group came together organically.
“Those four kind of surfaced,” Reynolds said. “There's common synergy between those companies.”
For now, their initial services are off the clock. After that, the advisers offer entrepreneur and startup clients reduced rates, fixed fees or other alternative billing options according to its needs.
So far, the Mastercraft Advisors have reached at least 135 people through a launch event and a handful of entrepreneurs who have made their way into the office to ask questions.
Inquiries vary from how startups can structure themselves for growth and capital to their options for contracting or hiring workers.
They have also organized a series of “lunch and learns” on common roadblocks and themes startups encounter. The topics in the twice-a-month series that starts in January include understanding a venture capital term sheet, protecting ideas from imitation and taking advantage of state tax incentives and credits.
The advisers acknowledge they won't always know the answer, but they'll find someone who does.
“Appropriately, it's entrepreneurial in itself,” Milligan said. “There hasn't been anything else like this here, but there's certainly been a need.”
Many of the alliance members have been involved in or heard about similar ventures in other cities, like Seattle and Chicago. They've seen the benefits first-hand, such as cautioning a startup from going down a wrong path before it's too late.
Already, their efforts in Omaha have garnered interest from at least one firm in Lincoln wanting to create a similar group.
Working outside of their normal workspaces allows the group to see how other companies — many of which are more casual and employ a younger workforce — function, said Scott Carrico, audit partner and director of marketing and business development for Lutz. It's also a good way for the four members of the alliance to learn from startups.
“We've gotten to the point that we work like the startups do — we collaborate among ourselves,” Carrico said, noting that the four companies had experience working with one another before they formed the alliance.
For example, Advent IP or Koley Jessen may work on a client's legal issues, while First National picks up banking and Lutz handles the accounting.
Their presence in the Mastercraft building fills a long-felt void for a fast-growing, technology-based community, said Ryan Ellis, president of P.J. Morgan Real Estate and real estate agent for leasing at the Mastercraft. In the last two years, tenants have grown from six to 35.
“In any market, that's a pretty dramatic increase,” he said, noting he thinks it's due to its creative atmosphere. “There's just a really incredible vibe in the there.”
The advisers are excited to contribute to the entrepreneurial momentum in Omaha and anticipate their efforts will be successful because each member is rooting for entrepreneurs and startups to do well, said Eric Oxley, an attorney for Koley Jessen.
“If you're not willing to make an effort to be part of the community,” he said, “I don't know how you can help build it. We all have a passion to build this community.”
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