Episode 23 | High-Touch Entrepreneurship

Apr. 19, 2018

Show Notes:

In this episode, Chuck is joined by Engler Entrepreneur and founder of Dwell Dinner & Co., Brooke Lehman, who is a senior at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. Her business, Dwell Dinner & Co., is an ever changing, long table gathering of bringing people together that placed at a recent New Venture Competition hosted by the UNL College of Business. They discuss student entrepreneurship, the importance of creating community, and harvesting high-touch, high-tech relationships.

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Full Transcript:

[0:10] Welcome to the Rural Futures Institute [0:12] at the University of Nebraska. [0:14] I’m Chuck Schroeder, I’m Executive Director of the Institute [0:17] and you are joining us for today’s broadcast [0:20] of Catch Up With Chuck. [0:22] One of the blessings of this job is that I get to meet [0:25] a lot of really interesting people, [0:27] and our guest today is prime evidence of that. [0:31] Brooke Lehman is a student, an undergraduate student, [0:35] here at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. [0:37] She’s involved with the Engler Agribusiness Entrepreneurship Program, and she has just launched a very unusual business [0:46] and we’re gonna talk about that today. [0:47] Brooke, welcome to the show. [0:48] Thank you, I’m excited to be here. [0:50] We are delighted to have you. [0:51] Listen, before we get into your business, [0:54] which is a great story in itself, [0:56] I think you’re personal story does a lot to set up, [1:01] Mm hmm, it does. [1:01] Dwell Dinners, and why it’s unusual, [1:05] and so I wanted to give you a chance to share [1:08] with our audience a bit of your upbringing and your family. [1:11] You were crossing boarders and crossing barriers [1:16] of various kinds, when most of us were trying [1:18] to get the car for Saturday night. [1:19] Yes, this is true. [1:21] I love the story, so tell us about it.

[1:23] Yeah, so my story, I have a lot of different things [1:26] that have influenced where I have come today. [1:29] A huge part of that would be Spain, and travel. [1:32] I have traveled a lot in my life and ever since the age [1:35] of 10 I have been going to Spain, about every other summer. [1:38] Grew up here in Lincoln, I didn’t say that. [1:40] Yes, I did grow up here in Lincoln, born and raised, [1:42] Lincolnite, love it. (laughs) [1:44] Nebraska kid, okay, alright go ahead. [1:45] And so, ever since the age of 10 I traveled a lot, [1:48] specifically to Spain, and we built relationships [1:51] with specific groups of people in small towns there. [1:54] That is kind of what gave me my passion [1:57] for people and other cultures. [1:59] Yeah, and really from those early days, [2:04] were having to meet people you hadn’t met before [2:06] and trying to cross cultural barriers, language barriers, [2:11] and try to make the world a better place. [2:13] Yeah. [2:14] Yeah, interesting stuff.

[2:15] Okay, you and I met when Dr. Tom Field, [2:19] who’s Director of the Engler Program [2:22] and a dear friend of the Rural Futures Institute, [2:25] asked if I would meet with this young woman [2:28] about a very unusual idea that she had [2:31] for her entrepreneurial venture. [2:33] Yeah. [2:34] That started our friendship. [2:36] Yes. [2:38] When people hear about your background, [2:40] I think a lot of people would rationally say, [2:43] well this a kid that’s probably taken focusing [2:46] in Philosophy, or Theology, but here you are in [2:50] this business start up program. [2:53] I want you to tell our audience [2:55] about the conceptual framework, as well as, [2:58] the execution of Dwell Dinners.

[3:02] I should go back a little bit, [3:03] but my passion for Dwell Dinner came all this traveling, [3:07] the connection I had with people, [3:09] and even a disconnect in my life in high school. [3:11] I had a lot of different groups of friends, [3:13] but I never felt a part of anyone group, [3:15] and so coming into college, I’m like, [3:17] how can I connect people in my friend group, [3:19] my classes, my work, [3:21] all of these different disconnected little communities, [3:23] but how could we come together [3:24] and bring those people together. [3:26] That’s kind of where the idea of Dwell Dinner and Co. [3:28] became, and so I really want to combine my passions [3:31] and talents for healthy cooking and food, [3:35] photography, and then bringing people together [3:36] in a really meaningful way, that wasn’t just around food [3:39] but around conversation that had more depth to it. [3:42] Not just, what’s the weather like, [3:43] and how was your day? [3:44] But are you passionate about, what do you care about? [3:48] That is what Dwell Dinner was founded upon, [3:50] is just this relational connectivity of depth [3:53] with other people that are both are age, [3:55] and older and younger, to just kind of connect this, [3:58] this connected world. [4:01] From that, I started hosting long table dinner gatherings [4:04] with 12 people each month. [4:06] Ever since my junior year, which I’m now a senior, [4:08] so since 2016 I’ve hosted a dinner every single month [4:13] with 12 people at each dinner. [4:15] It started out with people I knew, [4:17] but then it grew and other people heard about it [4:19] and signed up online and then they would come [4:22] to these dinners, to meet other people, to try food, [4:24] and the whole experience was tailored to them. [4:26] To come to a dinner, they had to fill out a form, [4:29] it would ask a few questions about themselves, [4:31] their personality, their favorite ingredient, [4:33] and in turn I would turn all [4:34] of that into this dinner experience. [4:36] That is kind of what the business is founded upon.

[4:39] That’s also how I create then, this experience, [4:41] the conceptualization of it is me thinking about [4:45] what is the end goal, [4:46] what do I want people to leave feeling? [4:48] If I want them to feel connected, and motivated, [4:51] and inspired, which is usually kind of the end feeling [4:54] I want people to go away with, and also feeling like [4:57] it was purposeful, these connections that they made, [4:59] these relationships that have made, [5:01] are gonna help them later in life. [5:03] Maybe they don’t realize it then, [5:05] but maybe two months down the road, [5:06] they’re like, oh I met someone at Dwell Dinner [5:08] that can help me with this idea. [5:10] I have proven stories that that’s happened. [5:13] That’s super motivating [5:14] and what keeps me doing it every time, after a dinner. [5:19] It’s always the people, the conversations that are had, [5:21] and it’s amazing to see what people will share during [5:24] a dinner, when you do dram out.

[5:26] Another question is, are you a doer, dreamer, thinker? [5:28] I usually start out with listing off who all the doers, [5:32] dreamers, and thinkers are, [5:34] and why they think that they might be that. [5:36] That really starts to get people talking about understanding [5:39] themselves, and then understanding other people better. [5:41] Some other questions I ask are, what’s your passion, [5:44] or what’s a detail about you that most people don’t know? [5:46] Some of them are funny like, [5:50] my finger can move in a weird way, [5:54] or some people are like, [5:56] most people think I’m super confident [5:57] but on the inside I’m actually super insecure [5:59] and hate talking in front of people. [6:01] I get a lot of that, which is really interesting [6:03] to think that we all have these ideas in our heads [6:06] that we think we’re the only one, [6:08] but really everybody is just as insecure [6:10] and afraid of talking. [6:13] That’s what kind of brings it down [6:14] to a more relational level of, [6:15] once we can all realize this, [6:17] that we’re all just really lonely or insecure people [6:19] on the inside, then people open up and it’s like wow, [6:23] there’s this whole community of people around us that care, [6:26] and want to help us move forward with our life. [6:28] So yeah, that’s a little bit more about Dwell.

[6:31] When we think about the business model, [6:33] that these 12 people, either pay a fee, [6:37] or somebody sponsors the evening. [6:39] Yeah. [6:40] That’s kind of the way it works? [6:41] Yep. [6:42] And how do you find them, or how do they find you? [6:44] So far, it’s just been through word of mouth [6:45] and social media. [6:46] I do have an Instagram and a website, [6:48] where I’ve reached out to people, [6:50] but most people so far in the Lincoln community, [6:52] and then other friends that have gone [6:54] have told their people, you need to go to this. [6:56] I have had a few speaking opportunities at Nonprofit Hub, [7:00] I did a workshop. [7:01] I’ve done a few collaborations [7:03] with some more bigger industry speakers [7:05] and photographers that are little bit more well known.

[7:08] Sure, okay so somebody sittin’ in our audience, [7:12] and they’re hearing this story, [7:13] and they’re thinkin’ this is a pretty unusual business. [7:17] Yes, and it is hard. [7:20] And it’s not a traditional business, [7:21] but we have to say now, [7:24] that it’s potential as a business success [7:27] has been ratified if you will by judges at a recent, [7:33] Pitch competition. [7:34] Pitch competition, sponsored by the College of Business [7:37] here at UNL, so this was not an internal process [7:41] with your buddies here at Miller Hall, [7:43] this was at the College of Business. [7:46] You were runner up, in that contest. [7:48] Talk a little bit about that and what the judges had to say.

[7:52] That was a really awesome experience for me, [7:54] and I honestly didn’t think I was gonna get [7:57] that far in the competition. [7:58] I was like, I’m gonna go pitch once, [7:59] I’ll get some feedback, make a few connections, [8:01] and I’ll have learned. [8:02] But, I ended up making it into the second day, [8:03] the third round, so that was all crazy. [8:06] Going into that was terrifying, [8:08] the whole time I was shaking and nervous, [8:11] but when it came time to pitch, [8:13] I did my pitch that I had practiced. [8:15] The judges, the first thing they always said was, [8:17] wow that was a really professional, well done pitch, [8:20] that you told a story. [8:22] I think that was kind of my differentiating factor, [8:25] is that I tried to tell a story rather than just say, [8:28] here’s a business plan and financials. [8:30] I told the story of Dwell Dinner [8:32] and how it’s impactful on people [8:34] and what it really does. [8:36] It could just seem like a food service, [8:38] or a catering service, or an event planning, [8:40] but it’s actually much more than that. [8:41] It’s the relational connection that people are having, [8:44] and the conversation and the facilitation. [8:47] Judges were always then asking about, [8:49] how do you actually make that happen. [8:51] They’re like, it sounds cool in theory, [8:52] but how do you do it? [8:54] That was always a big question. [8:55] And like you said, how do you find your customers, [8:58] and right now it’s been small, I’ve just been doing [9:00] it once a month, so as a scaled business [9:02] there’s a lot more that it entails, such as, [9:05] doing corporate events and stuff like that. [9:07] Sure, but they thought it had genuine promise. [9:12] Yeah, it was like you said, [9:13] no one had ever heard of it, it had potential. [9:16] And these were business guys, I need to point out too [9:18] that these are business leaders, [9:22] who are in the business of looking at business ventures. [9:26] I thought their recognition on your potential [9:29] was pretty significant. [9:31] There are so many different avenues [9:33] and ways it could take place to turn into a business, [9:37] that they saw a lot of different potential. [9:39] So for more than anything, I did win some money, [9:41] but I also made connections. [9:43] They all gave me their business card and said, [9:45] hey, reach out to us, we would love to use your services, [9:48] or help get you connected. [9:50] It was really beneficial on that way. [9:51] What a boost. [9:52] That’s exciting.

[9:53] Well listen, Brooke, we’ve said many times [9:56] on this show in the past, that our goal [9:59] at the Rural Futures Institute is to achieve a thriving, [10:02] high touch, high tech future for Nebraska [10:07] and the Great Plains by 2040. [10:09] Lots of smart people are focused [10:12] on the high tech side of that equation. [10:15] That’s where the excitement is, [10:17] there’s an amazing ongoing evolution in that realm, [10:22] that’s where the money is. [10:24] I just have to say, I’m personally concerned, [10:26] that too few of our brightest and best, [10:29] are focused on the high touch side of that equation. [10:33] Or, on the high tech. [10:34] Yeah, rather the touch rather than high tech. [10:38] It does seem to me that, that’s your role, [10:41] and I want you talk a little bit about [10:43] what you think might be done to address [10:45] that high touch side, [10:48] and do Dwell Dinners.

[10:49] What I’m doing through Dwell Dinners is what is really [10:51] what I’m doing to help the high touch side of things. [10:54] That’s my contribution to this whole thing. [10:59] An other avenue I see Dwell Dinner is, [11:03] going into tech companies, which I have a full-time position [11:07] I actually just got after graduation, [11:09] where I’ll be working at Flywheel, [11:11] which, they’re a tech company and they do WordPress hosting. [11:14] I’ll be doing employee experience. [11:16] More than ever companies are needing [11:18] to cultivate a culture, that is connected. [11:21] People that work in tech, they’re already a family [11:23] but they don’t really act like a family, [11:25] they’re very disconnected, [11:26] they just go to work and do their tech work. [11:28] But, there’s a community right there, [11:30] and they need to act like a community. [11:32] That’s kind of what a lot of innovative companies [11:34] are doing, is creating a culture [11:35] and really creating conversation, and connections, [11:38] and caring about their employees, [11:40] seeing the value that they all have [11:42] and reaching out to the community. [11:44] I think any kind of tech company, [11:47] can cultivate a culture that then they carry out [11:50] into the message that they’re sharing. [11:53] I see bringing Dwell Dinner into those environments [11:56] to create connections within people. [11:59] That’s what I’m doing and that’s what I’m passionate about, [12:01] is that face to face interaction, [12:02] ’cause there really is nothing like that.

[12:05] Sure, well I have to tell ya, [12:07] some people might ask well what’s this got [12:10] to do with the Rural Futures Institute? [12:12] One of the real challenges that we know faces rural America [12:17] and rural people globally, [12:18] is the gaps between rural and urban. [12:22] Between high tech and low tech, [12:25] all kinds of, crossing cultural barriers [12:29] that are significant in some rural communities today. [12:33] When we see your talent, coming to bare in this way, [12:39] we think it’s really important, [12:40] so we’re proud to be associated with you. [12:43] What would like to add today?

[12:45] I don’t have a whole lot, other than just keep [12:48] on asking good questions in life, [12:51] ’cause I think that’s the thing, at least my generation, [12:53] it’s hard to ask the hard questions, [12:56] the deep questions, that really lead to the next thing. [12:59] That’s kind of what conversation is all about [13:01] and when we do get face to face [13:03] people don’t know the questions [13:05] that we should be asking to have these deeper connections. [13:08] Just really taking an interest in others, [13:10] is kind of what my life in goal is to do, [13:13] is to wherever I am, take hold of that opportunity, [13:17] that person you never know what a connection can lead to. [13:19] We’re cheering for your success. [13:21] Thank you. [13:22] Thanks for what your doing. [13:23] Yeah.

[13:24] Well, listen folks, we would ask you to stay in touch [13:25] with the Rural Futures Institute through our website, [13:29] through Facebook, and Facebook live is where [13:32] you see Catch Up With Chuck, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, [13:37] all of those good tools. [13:39] We’re gonna be back next week, with another conversation [13:43] with real people, about real places, [13:46] and demonstrating that thriving rural communities [13:49] are a legitimate best choice for worthwhile living. [13:52] Thanks for joining us.


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Episode 24 | Entrepreneurial Opportunity-Building for Rural Nebraskans