L5 Building Nebraska’s Entrepreneurial Community Through Education
If you want to evoke a passionate response from L5 co-founder Kevin Hagemoser, just tell him the business he worked so hard to build is a networking group. He’ll be only too happy to correct you.
“I abhorrently say it’s not a networking group,” Hagemoser said. “I call it a trade association for entrepreneurs.”
According to Hagemoser, L5, so named for its five founding Lincoln-based companies, provides much more than just a locale for meet-and-greets and referral passing. It’s a forum for Nebraska entrepreneurs to come together to share ideas and build a community that strengthens everyone involved through the shared experiences, struggles and triumphs that can only be learned from the school of hard knocks that every successful entrepreneur must eventually graduate from.
“The real value of L5 is bringing people together to build … significant relationships where they feel comfortable sharing things that are going on in their business that they probably don’t want everybody in the world to know,” Hagemoser said. “Those kinds of connections and the ability for people to share those kinds of information only happen once you get to know someone more than the surface stuff that happens at business networking events.”
Before a typical meeting L5 meeting, members receive a topic and a video clip via email usually accompanied by a blog post on the group’s Facebook site. Topics range from hiring practices to stock option and healthcare plans for employees to venture capital and bank financing.
L5 tries to provide a more intimate connection between entrepreneurs. If members don’t want to discuss a topic with the group at large during a meeting they can always split into a smaller group of like-minded people, or split off yet again and talk to each other one-on-one.
Dialogue at the actual meeting is important, but the real goal of L5 is to get members to connect with each other in a meaningful way so that they can learn from one another. The group is composed almost entirely of entrepreneurs so it’s easier for L5 members to relate with one another within the meetings, but L5 goes a step further in promoting member engagement by encouraging member entrepreneurs to meet with someone new from the group each month over coffee or lunch.
“That’s definitely beneficial,” L5 member Bart Dillashaw said. “In any big group meeting where there are a lot of people you may be fluctuating from conversation to conversation. It’s not the same sort of one-on-one or one-on-two direct conversation you could have with someone by following up later.”
This emphasis on connecting members with like-minded individuals also helps to deal with another common problem in entrepreneurship.
“Entrepreneurship is lonely,” Hagemoser said. “What do you do about that when you’re in the four walls of your business with your head down? How do you make sure that you don’t feel like it’s you against the world?”
Hagemoser’s company has changed a lot since the original Lincoln five asked each other how they could help Lincoln entrepreneurs engage with and learn from one another. For starters, L5 has grown from its original core to an eclectic mix of 27 entrepreneurs drawn from a host of different professions. Whether you have decades of experience and dozens of employees, or you’re brand-new to the game and you have an idea that needs to be vetted by knowledgeable professionals, there is a place for you in L5, according to Hagemoser.
“Every one of them has something to share and something to learn,” Hagemoser said.
But the changes go deeper than just an expanding membership, according to Hagemoser. L5′s business model is dynamic, and because of that the group has evolved and adapted to meet the needs of its members continually since its inception.
Many of Hagemoser’s initial assumptions about what entrepreneurs wanted to get out of L5 were proven wrong. Initially he wanted to match up entrepreneurs as mentors and mentees and also to have curriculum taught by experienced entrepreneurs. Both of those were a no-go: Experienced entrepreneurs didn’t have the time to teach and younger entrepreneurs didn’t have the time to listen. It was a sobering experience for Hagemoser.
“I had made an assumption and it was proven wrong in the marketplace,” Hagemoser said. “That was frustrating.”
When the marketplace disproved his initial assumptions Hagemoser had to adapt. L5 meetings are now more like a group discussion among entrepreneur peers rather than classes taught by entrepreneur instructors. The group is also looking to continue its expansion and to host more events in Omaha to cater to its Omaha-based entrepreneurs. Hagemoser said he would like to see the group expand to 50 members or more in the near future. L5 isn’t done changing either. According to Hagemoser, the group will continue to adapt as it grows in an attempt to better suit the needs of the Nebraska entrepreneur community.
“If you’re an entrepreneur and you’re trying to better yourself and you’re struggling with the normal things entrepreneurs struggle with, let’s create a dialogue,” Hagemoser said. “I’m open to suggestions. I would love to tailor L5 to the way that people want to learn and want to connect.”
Entrepreneurs interested in joining L5 or attending the next event should contact Kevin Hagemoser at: L5group@yahoo.com.