Participants share their business ideas during Friday’s workshop.


Aspiring business owners, experienced entrepreneurs, and business and economic development experts gathered in Sidney on March 15-16 for a state-sponsored workshop launched to promote successful startups across the Panhandle region.

Sidney Startup Days—hosted by Sidney Economic Development (SED) with partners Econic, the Nebraska Department of Economic Development (DED), Invest Nebraska and others—provided a forum where residents were able to pitch their business ideas, receive feedback from their peers, learn tricks of the trade from experienced business owners and familiarize themselves with ways to get their vision off the ground.

“Some of the nation’s most successful companies have been started and grown by Nebraskans right here at home,” said Governor Pete Ricketts. “Our state’s biggest economic strengths are rooted in our talented, hard-working people and welcoming communities. By supporting entrepreneurs, this program will help to create jobs and foster new opportunities across the Panhandle.”

While focused on educating potential business owners, Startup Days at its core was also intended to promote the realistic mindset, dogged determination and resilience that hopeful entrepreneurs will need to succeed in the small business space.

“On one hand, this workshop was about teaching people the basics of executing a business idea,” said DED Director Dave Rippe. “But it also provided a discussion space where experienced entrepreneurs could share the insights they’ve gained over years of trial and error. For example, that you have to be adaptive and flexible, to persevere. I think that was the extra factor that made this event not just helpful, but invaluable.”

Following a meet-and-greet and networking session at a local restaurant on Thursday evening, Friday’s workshop at Western Nebraska Community College commenced with a talk on determination and mental toughness given by Paul Jarrett, co-owner of the successful startup Bulu Box. Jarrett was one of eight mentors hand-picked to lead the event. In the introductions that followed, other mentors shared their own stories about their business’ journey from concept to creation, including the missteps and small victories that occurred along the way.

Mentors selected to assist in the workshop included Paul Jarrett; Dan Hoffman of Invest Nebraska; Jill Thayer Liliedahl of SitStay; David Arnold, formerly of Straight Shot Accelerator; Todd and Diane Dickie of Power Sports Nation; and Econic’s Josh Berry and Nicole Shephard.

Also present to represent some of Nebraska’s resources for new and potential business owners were representatives from SED, DED, Western Nebraska Community College, the Nebraska Business Development Center, the Nebraska Department of Labor, USDA’s Nebraska Office and the Panhandle Area Development District.

Kicking off Friday’s main activities, the workshop’s 36 attendees were invited to pitch their ideas to the audience, to be followed by questions and constructive feedback. Participants then split into groups, each being assigned a mentor, to start crafting a pitch for a business idea selected by their team. Over the course of the afternoon, Econic—a company that specializes in entrepreneurship and corporate innovation—led a number of supplemental instructional exercises, with topics ranging from crafting a business plan to avoiding common pitfalls, such as having unrealistic expectations or giving up too early.

At the end of the day, teams pitched their business plans, which included ideas ranging from food service to information technology and value added agriculture.

“This event was a tremendous success because I think everyone—even our mentors—walked away feeling not only more prepared, but also more inspired to pursue their business ambitions,” said Nicole Shephard, Econic’s innovation consultant and head of design strategy. “On behalf of Econic, I would like to thank Sidney and all of our partners who came together to create this amazing opportunity. We look forward to the possibility of similar events in the future.”