A few days ago I gave a talk about Flywheel at Cornstalks, the monthly meeting of high growth (and would-be high growth) entrepreneurs in Omaha. Each month for the past six years, this group has gathered together on the last Thursday of the month to hear from a presenter and generally discuss issues related to growing and scaling startups in the Midwest.

From a Silicon Prairie News article a long long time ago

Why was Cornstalks created?

Cornstalks was created to be a forum that allowed high growth entrepreneurs to come out of their labs, garages and basements to meet and discuss real problems that were facing them and their companies. Some issues include finding investors, creating a good capital structure, intellectual property protection and finding good employees. These challenges are typically topics of the presentations and discussed amongst the group.

I remember sitting at a meeting many years ago (Late 2007 maybe?), where the seed for Cornstalks was planted (haha). It was likely at this meeting that I first met Tom Chapman, and a handful of other folks who remain friends and members of the community to this day.

The first Cornstalks meeting took place on January 31, 2008. Almost exactly six years ago! Here’s a few photos I managed to dig up:

Tom Chapman running the show, with Steve Hutchinson and Mary Ann O’brien presenting.

Over the years, Cornstalks has seen virtually everyone involved with a “startup” in Omaha present at one time or another. The funny thing to me is that Cornstalks actually pre-dates Silicon Prairie News, so many of the presenters aren’t recorded in any way.

However, SPN worked to record many of the talks over the years. Here are a few of the highlights:

That’s just a small sampling of the many presenters, some of whom were from outside the region, like Matt Galligan who had just started SimpleGEO at the time.

So when Dusty Reynolds texted the other day and asked if I’d like to speak:

You wanna hold a new record for most times spoken at Cornstalks??!!

Funny, it’s probably true at this point. In fact, I probably have the attendance record as well. It’s hard to really pin down, but I definitely remember talking about Brightmix (likely about culture and internships). I definitely remember presenting with John Grange about Layeredi. And I even pitched Tripleseat at the first Cornstalks Demo Night.

Maybe this past week will be my last :)

The entrepreneurial community in Omaha has changed drastically in the past 6 years, with a lot more things happening than were ever happening before. In a world with 1 Million Cups and myriad other events, there are more opportunities than ever for local entrepreneurs to surround themselves with their peers.

I believe that Cornstalks now needs to evolve to find its place in the world. The attendees have always been a mixed bag, but I truly believe to have an impact, the people in the room truly need to be the “right” mix. I think Tom said it best oh so long ago:

Why haven’t I heard of Cornstalks?

Cornstalks is neither by invitation only nor is it widely publicized. However, meetings are open to the public. All of these things are intentional. One of the issues that was revealed during formational meetings was that existing entrepreneurial groups have become diluted due to the intrusion of lifestyle entrepreneurs or pure service providers seeking new business (lawyers, accountants, etc.). These groups are intentionally excluded from Cornstalks to keep the mission and message pure. Thus, Cornstalks has elected to a word of mouth and light channel marketing strategy to grow slowly but deliberately around the central audience of high growth entrepreneurs and inventors.

That central concept has both been a blessing and a curse.

Cornstalks holds a special place in my heart, and in many ways is one of the unsung heros of the Omaha entrepreneurial renaissance over the past 7 years. Times have changed and I’m not sure what it will become in the future, but I’ll never forget the stories I’ve heard and the people I’ve met through this under-the-radar monthly meetup.

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