The Silicon Review
The consequences of a failed product or project in a high-cost location can be disastrous to any company, and Kirk Zeller (founder of Silicon Prairie Center) observed that R&D teams would often gravitate toward improving upon existing "proven" technology platforms instead of endeavoring to create new platforms. Kirk believed that if startups could innovate in much lower-cost environments, R&D teams would feel more comfortable taking on more ambitious goals and be more likely to develop new technology platforms instead of simply improving upon existing ones. The Silicon Prairie Center was started to provide an environment where entrepreneurs could innovate in a very cost-effective way with the objective of "stay lean, stay in control," which is the Silicon Prairie Center tag line.
Before starting the Silicon Prairie Center, Kirk Zeller was innovating in Silicon Valley while struggling with the unfriendly business environment, high costs, and a tight labor market. While brainstorming to find a better way to build the businesses he had started, he came up with the idea of creating an entrepreneur incubator community in a low-cost, business-friendly location. And the Silicon Prairie Center was born.
"We believe that the Silicon Prairie Center provides an environment where startups are encouraged to be creative and innovate cost-effectively," said Kirk Zeller. The Silicon Prairie Center provides a low-cost innovation environment, which includes residences, office, and innovation space – all in one location. This helps encourage collaboration and open communication among the team members. It also enables hyper-focus with no commute, efficiency of downtown living, and minimal distractions. "The objective is to empower entrepreneurs to hit more milestones with less capital enabling entrepreneurs to 'stay lean and stay in control'."
The Silicon Prairie Center consists of four buildings in a downtown area, all within one block of each other. The residence building is on the main street and includes a café and other businesses on the ground level; immediately behind the residence building is the office building, which is an original Carnegie library. Down the alley from the office building are the two innovation and studio buildings. "One of them will have a coffee house starting in the fall of 2021 as it is, of course, important to keep entrepreneurs caffeinated!" commented Kirk Zeller, the founder of Silicon Prairie Center.
Progressive NEURO, Inc is a success story that began its journey from the Silicon Prairie Center. The company leveraged a creative mindset, having worked out of the Silicon Prairie Center to create new approaches to remove clots from the human brain. While most of the competitive companies in their space are working to improve existing technology platforms, Progressive NEURO, Inc is working to create new platforms. Progressive NEURO, Inc has effectively leveraged local innovation programs to receive funding and grants through Invest Nebraska and Nebraska's Business Innovation Act programs. "In addition to being one of our portfolio companies Progressive NEURO, Inc is an active contributor to the local startup ecosystem and is a great example of how to effectively collaborate within our local ecosystem working with local physicians, universities, and testing facilities," said Dan Hoffman, CEO of Invest Nebraska.
In the fall of 2021, the Silicon Prairie Center is going to start accepting applications for startups to join the incubator with access to the residences, office space, innovation space, and studio space.
In Times of the Pandemic
Lockdowns shut businesses down and affected industries across the country, but Silicon Prairie's innovation model allowed it to carry on with its good work. The lockdown-themed romantic comedy #MyCorona was filmed at the Silicon Prairie Center Studios and is now streaming on Amazon and IMDb TV. It is now one of the most award-winning pandemic-themed movies produced in 2020. It continues to win numerous awards at film festivals around the world.
#MyCorona was the first full-length feature film to be directed entirely remotely. A documentary was also produced at the Silicon Prairie Center Studios demonstrating how #MyCorona was directed remotely and filmed on a closed set in May 2020, with all the cast and crew staying on location at the Silicon Prairie Center. The documentary is titled "Directing Remotely and Filmmaking During the Pandemic: The Making of #MyCorona" and has won around ten Best Documentary awards at film festivals around the world. The documentary is expected to be released in the fall of 2021.
The Silicon Prairie Center's work to persevere and innovate during the pandemic was recognized by Congressman Adrian Smith's Innovation and Adaptation Recognition awarded to Silicon Prairie Center founder Kirk Zeller.
"During the pandemic, the Silicon Prairie Center became its own quarantine group. During this time, everyone was required to work in a cross-functional way as we were not able to have our colleagues located in other areas come for residency periods," mentioned Mr. Zeller.
The Road Ahead
Silicon Prairie Center is now starting to work to recruit companies from the high-cost tech hubs on the coast to innovate in its cost-effective space. Looking ahead, the Center plans to continue expanding its residential, innovation, and office space, as it attracts additional companies to work in the live-work incubator community.
"We also hope that the success of the Silicon Prairie Center-incubated companies will demonstrate that our model produces startups that develop more creative innovation and do so more cost-effectively than their peers on the coasts. We hope the future will see the Silicon Prairie Center as the pioneer of the live-work incubator community model," concluded Kirk Zeller.
Kirk Zeller, Founder
Kirk Zeller, DBA, is a Nebraska-based serial entrepreneur and filmmaker who spent much of his life living and working outside the United States. He believes to be effective as an entrepreneur that it is important to develop cross-functional skills which he developed through business experience and entrepreneurship-focused masters and doctoral study and research. Kirk believes in building lean startups by innovating in low cost areas and leveraging specialized expertise in traditional tech hubs on a contract basis when needed.