Episode 9 | Sparking Change & Opportunity in Rural America

Jan. 4, 2017

Show Notes:

In this episode of Catch Up With Chuck, Chuck is joined by tech start-up CEO Brent Comstock to talk about what it takes to create a culture of entrepreneurship in rural communities.

Brent is from Auburn, Nebraska, where he started BCom Solutions and founded the Rural Impact Hub. They will discuss rural entrepreneurship and change making in rural communities.

Quick Links:

Full Transcript:

[0:03] Morning, welcome back to Catch Up With Chuck, [0:05] this broadcast that we do from the Rural Futures Institute, [0:08] at the University of Nebraska. [0:10] I’m Chuck Schroeder, I’m the founding executive director [0:13] of the Rural Futures Institute, [0:15] and for those of you that [0:17] have watched some of our materials, [0:18] you know that our goal is a thriving, [0:21] high touch, high tech future for rural Nebraska [0:25] and the Great Plains by 2040. [0:27] Well we know that in order to achieve that goal, [0:30] rural communities have to be a fertile seed bed [0:34] for business and social entrepreneurs [0:37] that are in the business of driving positive change [0:41] in their communities. [0:42] So joining me today in this first broadcast [0:44] of 2018, is our friend, a leading entrepreneur [0:49] and genuine agent of change [0:51] in rural America, Brent Comstock. [0:55] Brent is the founding CEO of BCom Solutions, [1:00] which was originated in Auburn, Nebraska. [1:03] Now have an office here in Lincoln, [1:05] but still rooted in Auburn. [1:07] But he is now also the founder of the Rural Impact Hub, [1:13] which is a nonprofit organization [1:15] working in partnership with BCom, [1:18] to create a national platform for action [1:21] and collaboration among rural activists. [1:24] I love that statement. [1:25] I always– [1:26] We do marketing. [1:27] (laughing) [1:28] You know, old fist shakers, I just love ’em. [1:29] So Brent, welcome. [1:30] Thank you, [1:31] Thanks for having me. We’re delighted to have you [1:32] As part of our program. [1:34] Well listen, you’ve been gunning up and acting on [1:38] ideas for rural based businesses for a long time. [1:41] Now, you’ve said yourself, you look 12, [1:43] even though you’re 22. [1:44] Maybe 13. [1:45] But your pretty young. [1:46] Yeah. [1:47] (laughing) [1:48] But you’ve been doin’ this for a long time. [1:49] Tell us a little bit about your history.

[1:51] Yeah, so I grew up in Auburn Nebraska, [1:53] and ended up that the short geographic pieces. [1:57] I’ve lived in Auburn, [1:58] I’ve lived on the east coast for college, [2:00] and then I came back about, [2:02] a little over half a year ago. [2:04] And while all that was going on, [2:06] I was building BCom Solutions, [2:08] which originally started as, you know, [2:10] your neighborhood computer repair store, [2:12] which has now evolved into a leading digital agency, [2:15] that works with political candidates, [2:17] capital campaigns, advocacy issues, [2:19] but also while doing BCom Solutions and building that, [2:23] we recognized a value in providing [2:26] services to rural communities. [2:29] And so as our company grew, and we expanded offices, [2:32] we have an office in Lincoln here, [2:34] and one in Auburn as well now. [2:36] So, as we continue to grow, we recognize the need [2:39] to have some sort of system, some sort of model [2:42] that could be replicable so that other rural communities [2:44] could have things like entrepreneurial activities [2:46] and eco systems that help facilitate change. [2:50] And so we built the Rural Impact Hub about a year ago [2:53] to do just that, and so I split my time [2:55] between those and in my spare spare time, [2:58] I dabble in venture capital in the Baltic Region of Europe. [3:01] Which is not all that dissimilar from rural Nebraska. [3:04] Sure. [3:05] And, you know, I’m 14, I mean 22. [3:08] (laughing)

[3:10] Well listen, okay, speaking of your youth, [3:12] the legend is that you started [3:15] your first business at age 12, [3:17] now listen, you may have been a computer whiz kid, [3:21] but there had to be more to it. [3:24] And we’re, we think a lot about people and relationships, [3:28] and our work with the Rural Futures Institute. [3:30] Talk a little bit about the family environment [3:33] at the Comstock house that encouraged [3:36] a 12-year-old to start his own business [3:38] and feel like you could do that. [3:40] Sure.

[3:41] So, my parents, my dad is an entrepreneur, [3:44] and my mom works with him. [3:45] They own a plumbing and heating business. [3:47] And, I think the most important thing [3:50] was the work ethic that was instilled from [3:52] kind of very early on. [3:54] My parents, you know, built their own business, [3:57] and grew it to be successful. [3:58] And this idea that, you know, you have to work to get [4:02] and achieve success was really important. [4:04] But I think the bigger thing, [4:06] which I learned after going to college [4:07] and having some friends that didn’t have [4:09] the same environment growing up, [4:10] was learning and understanding that my parents told me, [4:13] and my extended family told me from early on, [4:15] that you know, you can achieve what you want, [4:18] but you’ve gotta work towards it. [4:20] Whereas a lot of parents tend to be a little bit more [4:23] helicopters and say, you know, [4:24] you need to go into this career or that career, [4:26] my parents were happy to have me do what I wanted, [4:28] just knowing that it was my responsibility, [4:31] and as I was growing into an adult, that that was important. [4:33] And now that I look back on that, [4:36] that’s really been important to [4:37] be able to have that freedom. [4:40] Our business started in my parents’ basement. [4:43] Actually, it wasn’t even the basement. [4:45] My first first business was before 12, [4:48] and I would sell magazines, rent magazines out, [4:51] that I didn’t own to family members, [4:53] and then I would find them if they were overdue. [4:55] (laughing) [4:56] But that business took place under the stairs. [4:59] It was like the Harry Potter cupboard. [5:01] Then we upgraded to the storage room, [5:04] and then the technology business took off, [5:06] and then we built our office in Auburn, [5:07] and continued to grow. [5:09] But that supportive environment I think is critical [5:10] for people in entrepreneurship or in other industries too. [5:13] Anything else they want to do in life. [5:14] Yeah.

[5:15] It just established such a great pattern in you, [5:18] that it’s been fun for me to see you replicate. [5:21] Yeah. [5:22] Use those same tools, personally, [5:24] in so many different ways. [5:25] Okay, so, you may have been working [5:28] in the basement for a bit, [5:29] but one of the interesting parts about your story to me, [5:33] is as your business started growing, [5:37] you chose not to just do it in your garage or your basement, [5:42] and focus on what’s great for Brent and for my business. [5:46] Yeah. [5:47] You very early on said, [5:49] hey, what could we do on the Main Street [5:52] of Auburn Nebraska, [5:54] Yeah. [5:55] That would not only help our business grow, [5:57] but from as best I remember the story, [6:00] as we came down for the opening. [6:02] When you opened the doors it was immediately available [6:04] to the community for other activities [6:07] that were good for other people. [6:08] Yeah. [6:09] Tell a little bit about your relationship to community.

[6:12] Yeah, well when I went away to school in North Carolina, [6:15] four, four and a half years ago, [6:17] I didn’t have any explicit intention of coming back. [6:20] Which people, now even saying that, [6:22] it sounds kind of entertaining and funny [6:24] that I had a completely different plan [6:26] that involved Washington DC and all these other things, [6:28] which are still coming to fruition in a different context. [6:31] But I had every intention of going to the university [6:35] that had offered me a full ride, [6:37] and I was gonna stay there, and I was gonna, [6:39] you know, grow that. [6:40] And then I came back, I came home for a break, [6:43] and several businesses had pulled [6:45] their businesses out of downtown. [6:47] And so in Chapel Hill North Carolina [6:49] where people are fighting to get real estate space, [6:52] in Auburn Nebraska, people were, you know, [6:55] you could rent a whole block. [6:57] And so that was the original reason [6:58] why I started talking about this idea [7:00] that Main Street businesses, they need to evolve, [7:04] and organizations, they need to evolve [7:06] to be able to adapt with the times, [7:07] but at the same time that value of a Main Street business, [7:10] presence is so important. [7:12] Whether it’s digital presence, [7:14] but in rural communities, that physical presence. [7:17] Which we tried to tell people [7:19] did not mean you needed to have your own building, [7:21] but hey, come and, you know, rent this table, [7:24] and use this table as your space, [7:26] and then when you’re done with it you leave. [7:28] And that mindset of thinking is not new to the world. [7:31] We weren’t inventing anything. [7:32] But for rural communities that the adaptation, [7:35] the business, and kinda the downtown mentality, [7:37] was very different. [7:38] Sure. [7:39] That was new, and it’s still a challenge and a struggle. [7:41] People go, oh, so we can come in here, and use this space. [7:44] And they’re like, what’s the catch? [7:46] And I was like, well, you know, [7:49] you tell people that you used it so more people can use it. [7:52] That’s strange. [7:53] (laughing) [7:54] But it’s growing and I think that the Rural Impact Hub, [7:57] the layer on top of that that we added [7:59] in the last four years was, [8:01] place is important, presence is important, [8:04] people are important, but also programming. [8:07] If you wanna make change, [8:08] you can’t just expect to have an empty room [8:10] and people to come do it. [8:11] So we facilitated workshops, [8:13] we’re inviting national politicians [8:16] to come in this year since it’s an election year, [8:18] and have civil debates in our space. [8:20] Because politicians and groups of people [8:24] and thought leaders and academics, [8:26] they think about rural America, [8:28] they talk about it, some of them write about it, [8:31] but not a lot of times are people talking in rural America. [8:34] So there on Main Street, Auburn, Nebraska, [8:37] population 3400, and they’re experiencing that first hand. [8:41] Well, this whole notion of high touch and high tech, [8:44] again, not a new idea, [8:47] Right. [8:48] But is one that we see over and over, [8:51] is critical to success, and you demonstrate that. [8:53] So, we talk a lot about rural broadband, [8:57] and it’s a big issue nationally. [8:59] You and I have talked about it, [9:00] you’ve been in the middle of all that. [9:02] So, but to launch BCom Solutions in Auburn, [9:06] you had to have access to high quality broadband. [9:09] Or broadband. [9:10] (laughing) [9:12] Yeah, or broadband of some kind!

[9:14] So, just briefly, we’re gonna explore [9:16] this in more depth in weeks to come, [9:19] but from your standpoint as a business person, [9:22] was it just a matter of getting fiber to the door? [9:25] Or is it a more complex issue for the business [9:29] and in the community? [9:31] So interestingly enough, there was not, [9:33] rural broadband I think is critical, [9:35] that access is critical. [9:36] And the thing that I tell people, [9:38] I think a lot of times people think about fiber internet, [9:40] and they think about Netflix, and they think about [9:42] all the things that Facebook and Snapchat, [9:44] and I go to rural communities and meet with people [9:47] that are 80 and 90 years old, [9:48] and they go, well my great grandkids, [9:50] all they’re doing is they got their face in their phone. [9:52] And, rural broadband is surely helping support that, [9:55] but from my perspective, without access to the internet, [9:59] I wouldn’t be sitting here today. [10:00] Because I would, you know, go to college, [10:02] and get a degree and go get a job somewhere. [10:04] I wouldn’t have had the ability to build [10:06] a technology company in Auburn, Nebraska, [10:07] before I could drive a car. [10:09] And so, but in Auburn, we didn’t have a local provider, [10:13] which I think is really key when you have those [10:15] local community partners like a telephone company [10:17] that’s evolved into the fiber company. [10:20] And so that was really critical, [10:22] and I think that access provides people [10:25] with an opportunity and similar to what you talked about, [10:28] kinda that high touch mentality, [10:30] having it is one thing, but then being able to say, [10:33] okay we have it, now we can build all these [10:35] programs off of it is another thing. [10:37] When we look at the Rural Impact Hub in a scalability model, [10:39] it’s going to every rural broadband [10:42] company or affiliate and saying, here use this, [10:46] and so that way when you want [10:47] to take part in our programming, [10:49] you can tune in through a video, [10:50] you don’t have to drive 600 miles to get to us. [10:53] We’d welcome you to. [10:55] But that access I think is critical, [10:57] and I think it’s important as generations kind of change, [11:00] that that message isn’t lost.

[11:04] Listen I wanna explore in a little more depth [11:06] something that you’ve referenced a couple of times. [11:08] So here you have, you have BCom Solutions [11:11] that you started as a kid. [11:12] It’s grown, it’s been successful, [11:15] you’re involved in a number of [11:16] countries internationally now. [11:19] You’ve gotten into other realms, politics, [11:21] as you’ve referenced here, and crossing the spectrum [11:26] of ideological possessions [11:28] and all that yeah, that’s fun [11:29] And all that sort of thing that’s a whole other episode [11:31] So, how, you know, a rational person would say, [11:34] okay you’ve got this booming business, [11:36] you could focus all of your attention [11:38] and your energies right there, [11:40] what most people would do. [11:42] Well, instead, in 2017, you launch this nonprofit, [11:46] Rural Impact Hub, that, [11:49] I mean, it may help BCom Solutions, [11:54] but you wouldn’t have done it for just that purpose. [11:57] Right. [11:57] What the heck are you doing? [11:59] (laughing) [12:00] Well– [12:01] It seems to me, quite honestly, [12:03] there’s a values underpinning here, [12:04] that I just, I wanna explore for just a minute.

[12:06] Yeah, well I think one of the key things, [12:08] somedays, it’s you know, BCom Solutions is a nonpr– [12:11] If I work on the Rural Impact Hub enough, [12:13] then BCom Solutions becomes the nonprofit. [12:15] (laughing) [12:16] I won’t tell anyone on our team that, but, [12:19] you know, so there is a underlying value, [12:23] and that was, as our business has grown, [12:26] we’ve struggles with, how do we remain in touch, [12:29] in connection with rural communities. [12:31] And when I moved back, the assumption was [12:33] that I would centralize all of my [12:35] attention to one rural community. [12:37] And I’ve traveled to hundreds of rural communities, [12:39] and spoken to thousands of people, [12:40] from Alaska to Florida and everywhere in between, [12:43] and every time I see great opportunities [12:46] and things going on, [12:47] but it’s usually someone gets tied down [12:49] to that community, and then they can’t share, [12:52] they can’t spread their ideas, [12:53] and then they get kinda brain drain, [12:55] and so I was like, we need to build a model that’s scalable, [12:57] or replicable, we try and use the word replicable, [13:00] because we want each community to be able to pick it off [13:03] and use it as their own, not to think of it [13:05] as this big corporation that’s expanding, ’cause it’s not. [13:09] And at the same time entrepreneurship is important. [13:12] I am, you know, probably the strongest advocate [13:15] for building rural entrepreneurship from an early age.

[13:17] But there are also some underlying issues [13:20] that entrepreneurship and entrepreneurs have to face [13:23] when they work in a rural community. [13:24] Not really any different from urban communities, [13:26] but racism is still alive in rural communities. [13:29] Sexism is still alive in communities. [13:32] The idea of identity in a rural community, [13:35] people has this identity crisis of, oh, [13:37] I’m three hours from the nearest thing. [13:40] A small business planning workshop [13:42] is not necessarily gonna help them first, [13:44] but helping them identify like-minded people will. [13:48] And that’s not a political issue, that’s not a gender issue, [13:51] that’s just an issue of some people are in a rural community [13:54] because that’s where they came from [13:56] that’s where they’re gonna stay, [13:57] and they’re consistent and they’re [13:59] happy with working their job. [14:00] Some people are living in this rural community [14:01] saying there’s so many opportunities, [14:03] but they feel like they don’t [14:04] have that body to support them. [14:05] Sure. [14:06] And that directly helps BCom Solutions, [14:08] because we are working to be the digital resource [14:11] for rural politicians, rural nonprofits, [14:14] and capital campaigns. [14:15] And so when people say well what services do you bring? [14:19] It’s like, here’s all the digital resources, [14:21] oh, and not only do we sell those technology services, [14:25] but we understand the place that you’re working in [14:27] because we’re spending every day [14:28] in some way being involved in some capacity.

[14:31] The final thing on that is the rural urban divide. [14:34] Which I think is largely this misnomer [14:36] that people, you know, you exit Lincoln, [14:39] and then you go to this big wall, [14:41] and then you open the gate, and then oh! [14:43] There’s rural, you’ve arrived. [14:45] Like that doesn’t happen, but people talk about it [14:47] as if it’s this mysterious thing. [14:50] And so one of the things that we’re working with [14:53] in the Rural Impact Hub is how do urban-ites [14:57] and residents in urban communities [14:59] still stay in touch with rural communities? [15:01] And that’s been a challenge for me [15:03] as someone who has residence in Lincoln, [15:06] spends time in a lot of rural communities, [15:09] largely in Auburn too, [15:10] but how do people still accept me [15:13] as someone who’s from a rural community [15:15] and that I’m not selling out? [15:16] Right. [15:17] But there are hybrid models, because my philosophy is, [15:20] if there’s a business owner who would like to invest [15:23] in a rural community 10, 20 million dollars, [15:26] but he or she wants to stay living in Omaha or Kearney, [15:31] or you know, why wouldn’t that rural community say, [15:34] oh well we’re happy, bring the business in, [15:37] let’s find a model to make you involved and engaged, [15:39] because that supports the economy of that community, [15:41] and it supports the business owner [15:43] in wanting to continue to be involved. [15:45] And that rural urban divide I think [15:47] is something that people constantly talk about, [15:48] politicians talk about it, residences talk about it, [15:50] nonprofits talk about it, and that’s something [15:53] that we’re trying to always talk about. [15:55] That the divide is the issue, it’s not, [15:57] we need to separate rural and urban into two buckets.

[16:00] Well it’s what I just have loved about the concept [16:02] since the time you launched it, [16:05] is that it does create an opportunity [16:07] for crossing that divide, [16:09] but also for those entrepreneurs, [16:11] civic leaders in rural communities, [16:14] who as you say, they wanna be connected with [16:17] like-minded people, like interest, different interests, [16:22] that can help spark them, and sometimes that’s hard. [16:25] It’s a little bit of the philosophy that we’ve applied [16:27] in our sponsorship of connecting young Nebraskans. [16:29] And connecting young professionals across the state. [16:32] Who can sometimes feel kind of isolated, [16:34] and it’s just amazing what happens when you cross [16:38] that high touch divide and get people together.

[16:41] So, okay, let me jump a little bit. [16:44] In our program last week, we had Cathy Lang, [16:48] who is the new director of the [16:50] Nebraska Business Development Center, [16:52] which is based at the University of Nebraska, [16:55] Cathy and her organization have a state wide mission [16:58] to encourage small business development. [17:01] In your adventures, you’ve worked with local, state, [17:05] federal agencies that are kind of in this game. [17:08] What advice would you have for them [17:11] for doing things that actually matter for you, [17:14] the small business guy who’s trying to make something happen [17:17] in a rural community?

[17:18] Well I think this is really funny, [17:20] because I just got done sending an email [17:23] to someone in DC talking about the impracticalities [17:27] of grant programs that are built for rural businesses, [17:30] that 90% of them don’t qualify for [17:33] because they don’t meet the minimum revenue threshold, [17:37] or they don’t meet all these different requirements. [17:40] I think the biggest advice, is the simple fact that, [17:44] rural communities are unique, they’re not cities, [17:48] so the same model shouldn’t be adapted or adopted. [17:52] And so what usually happens, is people take an urban program [17:56] and they go, this is something we could scale [17:58] to every rural community. [17:59] Well sure, but without changing the requirements, [18:01] you’re never gonna, nothing’s ever gonna happen. [18:03] The other challenge is that there is this, [18:06] and I don’t think this is just in rural, [18:08] but I think it’s everywhere, [18:10] but in rural communities, we call the city slickers, [18:13] the city slickers for a reason. [18:15] Because, typically they come in, [18:17] they talk talk talk, and then they leave. [18:19] And so in these programs come in, [18:21] number one, most people don’t know about them. [18:23] Sure.

[18:24] There’s marketing number one. [18:26] And number two, the idea of building a relationship, [18:29] a federal program, or a state program, or a local program, [18:31] I consider it community organizing. [18:34] And if you don’t do the organizing piece, [18:36] which is why we love working in the political space too, [18:38] because it’s the same mindset, [18:39] you’ve gotta build that relationship. [18:41] You’ve gotta understand the people, [18:42] and you’ve got to show that you’re actually [18:45] invested and interested in it. [18:46] Or they’re going, you know, [18:47] we’ve survived without your money, we don’t need it. [18:49] Or your assistance, or whatever it may be. [18:51] The marketing thing is a whole other challenge. [18:54] You know, local newspapers are still a thing. [18:57] So if you wanna target people that are 50 plus, [19:00] hit the local newspapers. [19:01] But social media, is, in the targeting capabilities, [19:06] is so much better. [19:07] We have people reaching out to us on a regular basis [19:09] saying, we notice that you targeted rural communities, [19:11] for X, Y, Z, reasons, and people think [19:13] that these residents in you know, Scottsbluff [19:17] or in Benkelman or way out west, [19:20] they think that they’re isolated. [19:21] Well yeah, they’re isolated, [19:23] but they’re looking at their phone. [19:24] Sure. [19:25] So why would you advertise in the newspaper [19:26] that they don’t know exists, [19:28] instead of targeting those rural, or using social media? [19:31] And so with those programs and with politicians, [19:34] I’ve told our team several times, [19:36] like a dream customer of ours, [19:37] would be either a local candidate [19:40] that wants to use digital to get elected, [19:43] or a federal race like a presidential race, [19:46] that we’re in no capacity to serve as their [19:48] entire digital operation. [19:50] But they come to us and they say, [19:51] you know rural audiences, which we do. [19:53] And I think that’s really important [19:56] from a marketing perspective, [19:57] is that there are people there [19:58] that are waiting for these programs. [20:00] There are people there that wait until after it’s too late. [20:03] But I think they exist, [20:04] and I think that’s really challenging, [20:05] is that there are many generations in rural communities, [20:08] and so the marketing strategy [20:09] cannot be any different than in the city, [20:11] your target audience is just gonna be a little bit smaller. [20:14] Little smaller, sure, of course.

[20:15] Okay listen, we know that we have folks in our audiences, [20:19] moms and dads, prospective students [20:22] that are watching Brent Comstock today, [20:26] and thinking about your success, [20:28] and I’ll just bet they’re saying to themselves, [20:30] Okay, for my education track, [20:33] I’m gonna have to focus exclusively on business, [20:38] information technology courses, [20:40] that’s gonna be the key to my success. [20:43] I know a little bit about the track that you have followed [20:46] and that is not it. [20:47] Yeah. [20:48] I want you to share with our audience [20:51] a bit of the diversity of your interests, [20:55] and that you included in your academic track. [20:58] Yeah, well I think it’s, [21:00] so I took classes in college ranging from [21:03] accounting to mergers and acquisitions, [21:06] to Arabic to understanding Christianity’s role [21:11] in a non-religious government affiliation, [21:15] and all of these different things. [21:17] And people were probably looking at this thing, [21:19] what in the world is going on?

[21:21] I took a, I can’t remember what the most obscure, [21:23] I took swimming of course too, [21:24] because that was the easiest physical education class. [21:28] So, amongst all of those, [21:31] I have two programs of study, [21:34] in business and in religious studies, [21:37] which has been so fascinating [21:38] because I came from, predominately white, [21:43] conservative, Christian, America. [21:48] And, this diversity piece was also something that [21:51] the diversity of the mind, I think is really important. [21:54] And so I tell people all the time, [21:57] number one you have to take a religious studies class. [22:00] Most of the people in my religious studies program [22:02] were not religious. [22:03] Which a lot of the people from back home are like, [22:06] oh religious studies, you’re going to be a pastor. [22:09] And then I said business, and they said, [22:11] oh, you’re gonna be a church treasurer. [22:13] (laughing) [22:14] And well, if this doesn’t work, [22:16] then I’ll just move right on down the road, [22:18] but when you understand someone’s religion, [22:21] or when you understand the way, [22:22] and religion is largely culture. [22:24] When you understand that, as a business person, [22:27] I’m more well equipped to go into, [22:29] you know, Saudi Arabia, or to Italy, [22:32] or to a different country. [22:35] Not because I can value a business [22:37] and know mergers and acquisitions and know how to do that, [22:41] that’s important, but to get [22:42] and to facilitate that relationship, [22:45] is all about, you don’t schedule times during, you know, [22:47] prayer time in Dubai, or doing all these different pieces. [22:50] And I wouldn’t have that if I just did the business major [22:53] or I just did the computer science program. [22:56] Which doesn’t mean, and the major, [22:57] we’re hiring by the way, if you’re a current student. [23:00] (laughing)

[23:01] And this was relevant, and we have internships. [23:05] And they’re paid. [23:06] But I don’t think I’ve ever looked at someone’s major. [23:09] Or asked. [23:10] We have an agronomist as our [23:12] digital director at our company, [23:15] who get an undergrad and grad degree at this institution, [23:18] and it’s like well, that’s a natural path of course, [23:22] going from east campus in agronomy [23:24] to working at a web design company. [23:26] Perfect! [23:27] We’re not weird or anything. [23:29] But, that doesn’t matter. [23:32] And I think that’s really important, [23:33] and it’s hard for the institutional knowledge [23:36] to kind of evolve into that. [23:38] But I’ve never looked at someone’s area of study. [23:40] Now when it’s unique, I ask them about it. [23:43] Sure. [23:43] If they list a language, I, you know, [23:45] Google the first three or four phrases you should know, [23:48] and then I test them on it. [23:50] But I think that’s really important, [23:52] is studying what you’re interested in, [23:54] because the degree is important, [23:56] I fundamentally believe that, and that networking [23:58] opportunities are even more incredible. [24:01] I’m fascinated with alumni bases [24:02] and how there are so many untapped [24:05] opportunities in alumni bases. [24:07] And, the mentors that I’ve had, [24:09] and I tell people, you know, [24:11] hired people, had customers, had two offices, [24:14] won awards, including a congregational award for [24:16] rural economic development, before I had a college degree. [24:19] There was something involved in the equation, [24:22] that wasn’t just academics and higher education, [24:25] and that was largely mentors. [24:27] Many of which came from going to college. [24:30] So I think that’s really important.

[24:32] And if you go to, if you’re a perspective student, [24:34] I would look at the campus environment, [24:36] I would look at the educational program, [24:38] ’cause if you want to study medicine [24:40] and they don’t have a good premed, [24:41] there are some industries where it’s out of the blue. [24:45] But, if you, those mentorships are really important. [24:49] And you can understand from meeting with a professor. [24:52] You can understand from meeting with an administrator. [24:54] If that’s gonna be the right fit. [24:57] And actually I remember, [24:58] in example of that, one of my mentors early on was Connie. [25:04] And Connie was, you know, trying to advocate [25:08] for me to come to UNL, I did not, [25:11] but I remember she said, well we’re gonna come up for a day, [25:14] and we’re gonna spend a day at UNL. [25:16] And we went, we came here, and I was like, [25:19] Connie, I don’t have any interest in agriculture. [25:22] Which is really funny now, [25:23] because we’re working with agriculture institutions [25:26] and organizations and I’m like, [25:28] well this would have been nice to know. [25:29] (laughing) [25:30] We’re comparing you know, notes about associations [25:33] that involve pork and cattle, and all those. [25:35] But we came here, we looked at the Engler Program, [25:39] we looked at, I met with now Chancellor Green, [25:42] who at the time was the vice chancellor, [25:44] and we went to all these different programs. [25:46] And I think immediately after that day, [25:48] I decided I wasn’t going here. [25:50] It had nothing to really do with the experience, [25:52] but I knew that I had people here [25:54] that I could lean on for support. [25:56] And that’s something that’s been valuable. [25:57] And it doesn’t matter the institution. [25:59] I went to, you know, school on the east coast, [26:01] and then come back and those relationships are still active. [26:03] Sure. [26:04] And that made a, that was a big deal. [26:06] And that was, you know, something that I really leaned on [26:08] when I looked at colleges, was, [26:10] what will be my support base wherever I go?

[26:13] Yeah, I wanna throw in here, [26:15] you also have a deep interest in music. [26:17] Oh yeah, that’s the other, [26:19] That’s the fifth thing Which actually I’m gonna, [26:21] I’m gonna roll into our next question. [26:22] You and I share– [26:22] You’re gonna roll the piano out? [26:23] Yeah! [26:24] (laughing) [26:25] We could, it would make the point. [26:27] You and I share a fascination with the role of elders. [26:31] Yeah. [26:33] In various cultures and society. [26:35] Now, most people look at Brent Comstock, [26:37] and see this classic 22-year-old millennial. [26:42] However, I have heard you say happily, [26:45] sometimes I act like an 80-year-old. [26:48] Yeah. [26:50] I want you to say a little bit, [26:52] we’ve had some great conversations along this line. [26:54] I want you to say a little bit about the influence [26:57] of elders in your life. [26:59] And I know that in very early stage, [27:01] you were performing music for elders [27:03] for their entertainment. [27:04] But the role of elders, and you have some thoughts [27:07] about their role in entrepreneur companies.

[27:09] Yeah, well I love old people. [27:11] We’ll just put that out there now. [27:13] And I am fascinated with intergenerational [27:19] kind of, connections and opportunities. [27:22] Obviously, growing up in a rural community, [27:25] there’s a lot of elderly people. [27:27] Elders to young people, but also people that are elderly. [27:30] And my earliest business customers [27:33] were 85, and that’s not an exaggeration, [27:37] year old ladies that my mom new from aerobics. [27:40] Or that my parents and I saw at church. [27:43] And, I just think there’s a historical piece there, [27:47] that I spend all day in technology, [27:49] so we could completely change our business model, [27:51] we try not to, but tomorrow. [27:53] And it wouldn’t be that uncommon. [27:56] But something that you lose in a startup, [27:59] or in a technology company, [28:01] or being the CEO of a company at 22, [28:03] I could have, I could be 22 and have a PHD. [28:06] But I still don’t have that experience. [28:09] And I think a lot of times, people try and again, [28:12] kinda like the rural urban divide, [28:13] it’s like the old young divide. [28:15] And they try and separate those groups. [28:17] And I learned from playing piano recitals [28:20] for people at a nursing home, [28:23] to interacting with people at church [28:26] to then working for them, to then going to college, [28:29] and realizing that a lot of my friends [28:31] were 40, 50, 60, 70 years old. [28:34] Our oldest customer, I think, was like 96 or 97. [28:38] And, that’s been really fundamental to me as a person. [28:44] And that role of elders, and in my capacity, [28:48] in mentors, I love hearing stories. [28:51] I love to talk of that as I’m in established. [28:54] And, you know, you learn so many different things. [28:58] And we talked about this when we were talking about [29:00] the arts and you know, visual arts, [29:01] and performing arts, you know, [29:04] I’ve been in every capacity from performing, [29:09] we would go and I would go in the summer to Iowa, [29:11] and I would play a little tour of nursing homes. [29:14] And I got everything from a tip in a tip jar, [29:18] to one lady telling me that her granddaughter was my age, [29:23] and was single and available. [29:25] (laughing)

[29:26] Which, you know, there’s a catch. [29:29] But, it was just so interesting to meet [29:33] and connect with people, and it’s something that, [29:35] it’s also a stress reliever. [29:38] You know, doing all the things that [29:40] we’ve talked about is certainly not easy. [29:42] I wouldn’t say that it’s rocket science, [29:43] it takes a lot of manual, you have to do things. [29:45] I think, if anything, people look [29:46] at all the different things that I am doing [29:49] and our company is doing, [29:50] and they see all the kinda disconnected in some ways. [29:53] But we’re not in the business of [29:55] spending a lot of time on research and stu– [29:57] which there’s nothing wrong with it, [29:58] but we’re not an academic institution, [30:00] we have to survive and do things. [30:01] Sure. [30:02] And that’s something that music has been [30:05] kind of a release for me as well. [30:08] And whether that’s singing in a church choir, [30:11] playing the pipe organ, or playing the piano, [30:13] and it follows me everywhere. [30:14] When I went to North Carolina, [30:16] I walked into church [30:20] at a church I was going to, and asked if they needed, [30:24] you know, an accompanist for some sort of ensemble, [30:27] and I ended up spending four years accompanying [30:30] the children’s choirs at this church. [30:32] There were two that I accompanied, [30:34] and when I wasn’t accompanying the church choir, [30:37] the children’s choirs, [30:38] I was sitting in the back of the church on Sundays [30:42] with a man who was probably 50 to 60 years older than I was, [30:46] who became one of my best friends. [30:47] And my friend, my roommates were like, [30:49] oh Brent’s goin’ to hang out with Bill again, that’s odd. [30:51] (laughing) [30:52] and so it’s all interconnected, [30:54] but I mean, I’ve learned so many different things. [30:57] And I think it’s great for our business. [30:59] So the next thing I’m gonna try and roll out [31:02] is a elders internship program. [31:04] Cause once you retire, people are like, [31:06] well, you know, I’m gonna go work at Walmart, [31:08] which I don’t think there’s anything wrong with, [31:10] but I think there are so many different ways [31:12] that you can get elders involved in giving [31:14] their expertise and mindset, [31:16] in a business that they have no idea what’s going on. [31:18] And we have no idea what they’ve done in life. [31:20] I haven’t shared that with my team yet, so. [31:23] (laughing) [31:24] We’ll tag that note and I’ll send that [31:27] to clip right onto them. [31:28] It’s been important, and it still is, [31:31] and I hope that, and I’m trying to do this now even.

[31:35] When I see people, there are a couple of people I know [31:38] that are freshmen in college that they’re [31:41] having difficulty navigating the situation. [31:44] They’re trying to understand that. [31:46] I have a lot of friends who maybe [31:48] don’t align with me politically, [31:50] who know though that I have some sort of connection, [31:53] or I have knowledge about a political subject [31:54] they’re trying to understand. [31:56] And they’ll reach out to me, and I think that, [31:59] that fostering and mentorship is important [32:01] regardless of age. [32:02] But you’d obviously get a lot of cool stories [32:04] when you meet with someone who’s been through [32:05] two world wars and, you know. [32:07] It’s just really fascinating.

[32:10] Well listen, I made a funny face a minute ago [32:13] because I know we’ve run way long, and– [32:15] We’ve lost our viewership and– [32:17] But this a night on TV will come out. [32:20] Well Brent, this has been such a treat. [32:23] You’re a change maker with strong Nebraska roots. [32:26] Your adventures have had global impact. [32:29] We’re so proud to have you as a friend [32:31] of the Rural Futures Institute, [32:33] and I hope as time goes on we continue to engage [32:35] in big ideas, this has been great fun. [32:38] Yeah, thank you. [32:39] Well listen, I’m gonna ask you to stay in touch [32:42] with the Rural Futures Institute [32:43] through Facebook and Twitter, as well as our website. [32:47] And we’ll be coming back in weeks to come [32:50] with more Catch Up With Chuck, [32:51] meeting with people and looking at places. [32:54] Talking about success stories in rural America, [32:58] and demonstrating that strong rural communities [33:01] are a legitimate best choice for worthwhile living. [33:03] Thanks so much for joining us.

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