“Celebrate Failure” and Other Advice From Nebraska Innovators

Jan. 21, 2021, 6:30 a.m. ·

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Passion, risk taking, persistence, learning from failure. A few things Nebraska innovators say they’ve needed to be successful. NET Television producer Mike Tobias shares advice and perspective from a range of entrepreneurs and creators he’s interviewed for “Innovator Insights” video segments that are part of the NET Television “What If…” project on innovation and creativity in Nebraska.


"What If..." is the award-winning NET Television series on innovation and creativity in Nebraska. Season 2 premieres Thursday, Jan. 21 at 8:30 pm CT on NET Television. Learn more and watch stories and shows HERE.

Watch all the "What If..." Innovator Insights segments HERE. (Educators: we also have versions with Spanish captions, and provide materials for classroom use!)


Sarah Spitsen (Tiffany Johanson/NET Television image)


Tina Diaz-Ciechomski (Justin Cheney/NET Television image)


Garry Clark (Chris Flanery/NET Television image)


Matt and Joe Brugger (Justin Cheney, NET Television image)


Mailani Veney (Justin Cheney/NET Television image)


Jeff Slobotski (Justin Cheney/NET Television image)


Ben Blecha (Christian Champoux/NET Television image)


Erica Wassinger (Justin Cheney/NET Television image)


Cassie Lapaseotes (Christian Champoux/NET Television image)

In a north Lincoln warehouse, Sarah Spitsen and her small team make and package a shipment of scented candles. Spitsen calls herself chief candle lady and food giver for her business, Feya Candle Company. “Food giver” refers to meals Feya gives needy people for each candle sold. The business is thriving. Something that probably seemed like a dream a few years ago when her first attempt opening a candle business failed. We asked her about learning from failure for one of our “What If…” Innovator Insights segments.

“I fail about a hundred times a day, and I'm not afraid to admit it,” Spitsen says. “I fail constantly. And I'm one of those learners that has to learn how not to do something before I really truly understand how to do it. So I actually celebrate failure. I laugh at myself, I get back up and I constantly try again. Because without the hundreds of failures per day, I would not be where I am today.” (WATCH the Sarah Spitsen Innovator Insights segment)

We’ve posed questions like this (developed with input from educators) to innovators, entrepreneurs and creators from a wide range of fields, backgrounds and places in Nebraska. Here’s what others shared with us.

Learning from Failure?

Tina Diaz-Ciechomski, Omaha entrepreneur/Future Construction Specialties: “I think it's really important to learn from any mistakes that happen running a business because you'll have some. Nothing's ever perfect. So if you just learn, kind of grow from it, study the things that you may have made a mistake on and then make sure the next time you do whatever you can to keep that from happening again.” (WATCH the Tina Diaz-Ciechomski Innovator Insights segment)

Importance of risk taking?

Garry Clark, executive director/Greater Fremont Development Council: “It is very important that we consider ourselves risk takers, because the opportunities, the growth, the magic spot, the magic places in our world, it all comes from stepping outside of the box and considering new opportunities, advantages, and spaces. And I wouldn't be in Nebraska if I didn't take a risk.” (WATCH the Garry Clark Innovator Insights segment)

Pursuing Your Passion?

Joe Brugger, Albion entrepreneur/Upstream Farms: “If you don't pursue something that you're passionate about, there's going to be a certain amount of unfulfillment in whatever it is that you're doing. I think that there's this perception that it has to be a job, right? It has to be a nine-to-five job, that you have to go to every single day. And maybe it's just part time. Maybe it's just something that you do on the side. Maybe it's a hobby. But passion is what drives us every single day to get up in the morning. And it's a thing that you look forward to, even when it sucks, even when it's not fun, it's something that you're going to do and you're going to continue to pursue.” (WATCH the Brugger Brothers Innovator Insights segment)

Where Do Ideas Come From?

Matt Brugger, Albion entrepreneur/Upstream Farms (and Joe’s twin brother): “I think ideas come from this relentless hope. They start in your heart and you have a hope that the world can be a better place or a different place from what it is now. And when you back that with knowledge and wisdom, and then most importantly execution, you have a really good idea. But I will say ideas are awesome, but ideas with execution are a lot better.” (WATCH the Brugger Brothers Innovator Insights segment)

Importance of Persistence?

Mailani Veney, Lincoln entrepreneur/Kana Systems: “Persistence. That's one of my favorite things. So, every one of you should have a brand. So, say whatever your name is, and I asked you, ‘What is your brand?’ You should be able to say that really quickly. So my name is Mailani and my brand is Aloha Spirit and Grit. Grit is another word for persistence. Aloha spirit is you help others to flourish, you do things that benefit others. And grit means when you have a goal, you are persistent. You will keep going after that goal, even when things pop up, when there's challenges, et cetera.” (WATCH the Mailani Veney Innovator Insights segment)

What would you tell your kid self now?

Jeff Slobotski, Omaha founder of Silicon Prairie News and Big Omaha/venture capital investor/Millwork Commons developer: “I would tell my kid self now to not worry about what other people think. 99 percent of the times, I feel like other people don't even care or are paying attention to you. They're paying attention or worried about themselves. So, if I could look back, I would say, ‘Try more things, take more risks, and truly, don't worry about what other people are thinking of you.’” (WATCH the Jeff Slobotski Innovator Insights segment)

Where do ideas come from?

Ben Blecha, Benkelman entrepreneur/Hero Braces: “Ideas come from solving problems. Every idea starts from a problem. I think day to day we're trying to either solve our problems or somebody else's problems and it's just more fun to like, how do I fix it?” (WATCH the Ben Blecha Innovator Insights segment)

Best advice for young innovators?

Erica Wassinger, co-founder of The Startup Collaborative/Omaha Chamber of Commerce: “Starting up seems harder than it actually is and I would say to you, if you're thinking about some problem that you believe could be done better or solved is to take it into small chunks. Start with the first foot ahead of you and don't try to solve the entire thing right away. So when I say that, it can be as simple as identifying really clearly the problem you're trying to solve and talking to 20 people you think have that same problem as you. Those 20 conversations will yield so much insight as to what the market is saying and whispering or screaming about what they need, and then the steps look a lot like that, right? So now form your hypothesis on what the solution should be and go back to the market and talk to them. Did it prove to be true or not true? Be very comfortable in that, that process of discovering and listening to the market because that's where you are going to not just build the first business, but you will build four or five businesses out of that.” (WATCH the Erica Wassinger Innovator Insights segment)

Cassie Lapaseotes, Bridgeport ag entrepreneur/Lapaseotes Feed Yard manager: “Find new opportunities, take advantage of the opportunities, take advantage of people trying to help you, take advantage of your mentors, travel the world, find joy in life and have fun.” (WATCH the Cassie Lapaseotes Innovator Insights segment)

Sarah Spitsen, Lincoln entrepreneur/Feya Candles: “Trust your gut. You know when you're truly passionate about something, it's okay to move forward. You know if it's time to stop and try not to listen to all those around you who are telling you to stop when you know you should be going forward. Take those risks, make the jumps, learn everything you can, but just trust yourself when you're going somewhere.” (WATCH the Sarah Spitsen Innovator Insights segment)