You’ve heard of Silicon Valley, and likely Silicon Alley, but have you heard of Silicon Prairie?
Silicon Prairie is geographically hard to define but it’s there– somewhere between Chicago and Colorado, Dallas and the Dakotas–and it’s getting noticed because of one local news source Silicon Prairie News.
And the Prairie’s entrepreneurs can thank one man, a native Nebraskan named Jeff Slobotski, who decided he wanted to write about the tech sector. After a few days of writing about California’s burgeoning scene, he decided to refocus his efforts on his own community. Recalling the words of my college professor, if you’re going to be a writer, write about what you know.
Slobotski decided to give his community a voice and that voice goes by the name of Silicon Prairie News. He called on the skills of his then friend, now CTO and co-founder Dusty Davidson, who runs BrightMix, a small, local software company. In July 2008, Slobotski started blogging as a hobby, interviewing local entrepreneurs on his lunch breaks and publishing stories at night.
In June 2009, Slobotski took on Danny Schreiber full time as SPN’s Managing Editor. Schreiber’s favorite players in the SP scene? Dwolla, a mobile payments service that is giving PayPal a run for its money and RockDex, a start up that is capturing the social metrics of plays on YouTube, LastFM and MySpace for musicians.
The boys had a lot to write about, they just needed people to listen. Slobotski, Davidson and Schreiber decided to throw an event to grab the world’s attention; they called it Big Omaha.
Last year’s Big Omaha was a success with over 550 people from 20 states including Foursquare’s Dennis Crowley, Charity: Water‘s Scott Harrison and Zappo’s Tony Hsieh. SPN was suddenly profitable, making money off of sponsorships and ticket sales from the event. Soon they had local businesses and Omaha’s Chamber of Commerce knocking on their door, asking if they could advertise on SPN. The readers came.
SPN currently has 4 full-time employees, 12 freelance writers and 3600 RSS feed email subscribers. At the end of November, the site averaged 25,000 unique visitors, 45,000 page views, and was growing at 10% a month.
“If it weren’t for Silicon Prairie News, there wouldn’t be a start-up scene in the mid-west. They are our voice. Their existence reinforces our culture.” says Ben Milne, the CEO of Dwolla.
Monday through Friday, expect fresh, daily content focusing on Silicon Prairie entrepreneurs like Dwolla and Hudl, an online coaching application, recently named by Inc. magazine’s 30 under 30. On the weekends, to keep traffic flowing, they’ll repurpose TED Talks or big interviews from other more well-known tech blogs.
“Our first goal is to highlight the story, the angel investors and the entrepreneurs. Our second goal is to tighten, build and connect the community and ecosystem here,” says Slobotski. “There’s value in what we’re doing by reporting on it but our events build communities that get people talking and brainstorming ideas together.”
The overall scene in Silicon Prairie is comprised of a lot of consumer related tech starts up. With the large amount of capital potentially available (read: Berkshire Hathaway and everyone else who is connected to Warren Buffet by one string or another), the scene could be well funded with the right connections.
This coming week, they will launch Silicon Prairie News’ Kansas City bureau, of which Kansan Royce Haynes will be involved. Haynes, like many SPN readers found the site through hearing about Big Omaha on Twitter. “I didn’t expect something of this caliber to take place in Omaha, Nebraska,” he says, “It’s going to be great to now be a part of it and to able to highlight all of the entrepreneurial activity going on in Kansas City.”
Interested in getting in on the Silicon Prairie fun? Save the date for a sweet SPN party Sunday night at SXSWi in March and a Big Omaha style event in Des Moines, Iowa this fall.