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Entrepreneurial residency program kicks off in Omaha house

It’s nearing the end of summer and Eric Burns is preparing to move.

The Omaha resident will be leaving his West Omaha home and moving into a house near Midtown Crossing with four other guys from around the city.

No, he’s not gearing up for college – he already graduated from the University of Nebraska at Omaha.  Instead, he’ll be one of four entrepreneurial fellows in the first class of Year of the Startup.

Year of the Startup is an entrepreneurial residency program that fosters ideas through communal living. It’s also a way to save some money.

The fellows each pay a monthly fee to live in the house and at the end of the year-long program, the money they paid as their “rent” is returned to them.

It’s a way to help local startups save money while working on their ideas in a collaborative environment, said Year of the Startup founder Sabastian Hunt.

“I’m looking forward to moving in with them,” said Hunt, who will serve as the program coordinator after the September launch date. “I’m looking forward to what I’m going to learn from them. My role is really going to be starting the conversations and leading discussions.”

The four fellows were chosen in mid-June after an application and interview process conducted by Hunt and the program’s board of directors.

Hunt said that when choosing the fellows, the selection committee discussed who would work and live well together and what businesses and ideas Omaha needs to grow.

The group of fellows includes:

  • Eric Burns – VendorBids: A company that seeks to streamline the request for proposal (RFP) process for small- to medium-sized businesses.
  • Scott Williams – Omaha Biofuels Co-op: Its mission is to produce, use and promote biofuels.
  • Jonathan Rolfsen – CrossFlow: A workout company with a simple mission, “Improvement through movement.”
  • Jason Minor – Hemp Manufacturing: A company that will produce consumer goods sourced from hemp fibers and oil.

“When I set out to do this I didn’t think we’d get people as talented or as amazing as these people,” Hunt said. “I didn’t expect that at all.”

Hunt added that while the house only has space for four fellows and himself, two additional entrepreneurs who applied were asked to participate in the program. The group of entrepreneurs will be immersed in the startup ecosystem to network with people who can help them solve problems related to their individual business concepts.

Burns said he’s looking forward to being surrounded by “like-minded” individuals for the next year.

“Just bouncing ideas off of one another leverages each others’ strengths and is a great asset,” he said.

Burns has a degree in finance from UNO and currently works at Gallup. Because of his flexible work schedule, Burns said he’ll be able to keep his job while he goes through the fellowship. He’s looking forward to using his time and the additional startup-focused minds to develop an online application for this startup, VendorBids.

“The most exciting thing is having the resources and people that will be able to help me achieve the goals and ideas for the business,” Burns said.

The chosen group of fellows has already met a few times to talk about the fellowship and get to know each other, Hunt said.

Beyond the excitement that Hunt sees on the faces of the fellows, he said the Omaha startup community has been very supportive of his new program.

Hunt said a key element to the program is exposing the fellows to the startup ecosystem in Omaha. To that end, he’s connecting them with mentors from across the city. Year of the Startup is also partnering with Cali Commons to put on a weekly guest speaker event, featuring 25 speakers from the community every other week.

While Hunt said the community has been supportive of the program, he said a lot of the excitement centers on his somewhat radical idea for the program during the spring. Hunt hopes the fellows will be ready to launch their businesses in North Omaha and spur more economic activity the that area of town.

“North Omaha is where the idea started,” Hunt said. “I’ve understood the ins and outs of that community … When you have a community with a lot of vacant houses and there’s not a lot of economic activity, I think something like this would really restore the equilibrium.”

But the spring is a long way off for Hunt and his entrepreneurial fellows.

In the meantime, Hunt said he’s working to furnish the common living spaces in the house, finalize the list of mentors and prepare the fellows for the start of the program.

Hunt gains access to the program’s house on Aug. 15 and the official launch date for the program is Sept. 3.