I began my journey with the Rise of the Rest tour, a road trip designed to celebrate entrepreneurship across the U.S., in Omaha, Neb. I soon discovered that despite the struggles, entrepreneurs can succeed anywhere; they just need to know where to look and have confidence in their abilities.
When I landed in Omaha, I wasn’t sure what I’d encounter when I called a ride to my hotel. It’s getting trickier to call an Uber or Lyft at some airports, so I’d prepared myself for the worst. But since Uber drivers in this city can operate at the airport the process was simple and painless.
While I was impressed, my driver wasn’t. Soon enough he found out why I’d come to Omaha and wasted no time telling me that the city hadn’t done enough for him, that he was trying to build a business and had no support.
I felt for him, but knew that resources surrounded him. In fact, the very next day, I visited a makerspace in Lincoln, Neb. equipped with everything from kilns and quilting machines to 3-D printers. I met a startup called Hudle that helps athletes improve their performance — and one that’s proven it’s possible for a Nebraska company to snag more than $ 70 million in funding. These people were engaged and excited.
I was reminded of my Uber driver on my visit to Albuquerque. This was the first city where believing change was possible would be one of the most important barriers to real growth. There’s great innovation there, and I met people working on new technologies for producing clean water, along with those looking to make fuel cell technologies scalable.
But there are struggles, too. The city ranks nearly last in child well-being and one in five struggle with hunger. More often than not, educated professionals are leaving, not staying, in the state.
Some of the most notable innovators could have built in this city but didn’t. Microsoft was actually founded here — but pulled up stakes for Seattle. Tony Hseih, an Albuquerque native, is now an evangelist for revitalization, but in Las Vegas.
But it takes faith, determination and hard work — to stay out of a negative feedback loop and believe a risk is worth taking. “People complain,” says Lisa Adkins, COO of the BioScience Center, the state’s only bioscience incubator and accelerator. “But I tell them I’m here. I’m committed.”
When it comes to confidence, some cities and entrepreneurs have much to learn from Silicon Valley. That’s not a place for the humble or unsure. “Do you focus on the negatives or the positives? This is where Silicon Valley really does lead the way. They are endlessly fearless,” says Steve Case, AOL co-founder and creator of the Rise of the Rest tour.
That confidence is essential to having the stamina to overcoming entrepreneurship’s hard road — and inspire a team to follow you. Adds Case, “Imagine: What if it did work? Imagine, if, instead of sitting on the sidelines skeptically thinking ‘I don’t know’ you leaned in and tried to help.”
Cities can build makerspaces and research labs, and officials can craft policy changes and tax laws, but that’s never enough to grow a business or a city. The most critical tool is confidence, and without that, nothing is possible.