Omaha World-Herald: Self Starters with Bright Ideas

With so many ways to earn a living, possibilities are limited only by one’s imagination. Meet eight Omaha entrepreneurs who’ve carved innovative niches with minimal startup costs.

Master organizer

Self-starters mortiz
Lisa Tonjes Moritz

Lisa Tonjes Moritz owns Helping Organize People/Photos Everyday, or “HOPE.” A member of the National Association of Personal Organizers, she specializes in photo and memorabilia organization. With only the upfront cost of books to hone her craft, Moritz launched her business by trading services with a website developer in exchange for an organized craft room.

For anyone considering professional organization, she recommends becoming involved with an association or group to brainstorm with successful peers.

“When I started in Omaha, I was afraid to reach out to anyone because I thought they would view me as competition,” she said. Because of that, she makes a point of helping others who are just starting out in the business.


Self-starters Ziesel
Tiff Ziesel

Freelance photographer Tiff Ziesel captures important milestones in life such as weddings and senior portraits.

Major startup costs for her business were the creation of a website and a camera.

“You have to start somewhere, whether it’s a basic digital camera or a DSLR,” Tiff said. “It’s really about your eye at the end of the day, and your composition.”

Trends come and go, so Tiff encourages potential photographers to keep an eye out for new ways to encapsulate a moment in time.

Voice talent

Nikki Boulay, a singer and voice actor, was exposed to her trade while working at an Omaha radio station two decades ago.

With a sweeping reach, voice acting is “everything from ‘Thanks for calling PayPal,’ to ‘Tonight, on the Oscars,’ to movie trailers,” she said. Vocal coaching and a demo tape were her only startup expenses.

Boulay said the industry is “feast or famine,” which makes it important to find consistent clients in a competitive and often changeable market.

Personal concierge

Self-starters Bender
Juli Bender

Omaha’s Girl Friday Concierge, owned and operated by Juli Bender, provides “your key to more time” by offering an assortment of services such as errand-running, gift-wrapping, proofreading, preparing mailing lists, and house and pet sitting.

To launch her business, Bender prepared by purchasing insurance, setting up a trademark and building a website.

She encourages anyone considering the concierge industry to charge appropriately.

“When you first start out, you don’t realize the operating expenses and paying all your own taxes and the value of your time,” Bender said. “If your prices are too low, you can’t make ends meet without running yourself ragged.”

Etiquette coach

Kelly Thedinger offers her expertise at the Protocol School of the Midwest, which helps professionals build better relationships and be more successful in their careers.

Self-starters thedinger
Kelly Thedinger

Offering consulting to everyone from religious organizations to incarcerated inmates, her mission is to teach networking skills, the art of conversation and proper etiquette for everyday interactions in business and personal environments. Her rates are based on the duration and subject matter of her seminars.

Thedinger said that although many people equate etiquette with being fancy, it really is the action of treating others with kindness and consideration.

Thedinger, who is certified by the American School of Protocol, said that after the appropriate training, the only investment for an etiquette coach is dedication and a client base.

Family advocate

Self-starters Andersen
Wendy Andersen

Wendy Andersen’s mission is to help parents of special needs kids. Redefining Normal serves the community through webinars, coaching and consulting. With a viewpoint of gratitude and advocacy, she meets with families to re-establish what it means to live a “normal” lifestyle. Andersen, who will launch a six-week course in March, teaches concepts such as physical activity and healthy meal planning.

“I have friends who do (consulting) with literally no startup costs and only word of mouth, but I do recommend a website.”

Senior caregiver

Self-starters Trimble
Valerie Trimble

Senior caregiver Valerie Trimble has worked in tandem with her mother, Judy Fleming, for more than nine years. Fleming, a retired nurse, was asked to watch over a friend’s mother, and Trimble joined part time on a temporary basis. Nine years later, they have continued to provide private, in-home care to families throughout Omaha, bringing comfort to older adults who need assistance. Trimble’s work includes light tidying of the house or apartment, providing companionship and assisting with daily tasks.

Trimble’s advice to those considering the work is that “you have to be a people person and a caring person, or you are just going to want to walk out.”


Self-starters Bonk

Lauren Bonk

Lauren Bonk makes use of skills she learned as a college student majoring in English and theater.

In establishing The Curtain & Pen website and blog, she focused on learning everything she could about copywriting, and recommends that aspiring writers do the same. She said it is important to know what audience will be reading a particular piece and to cater to it.

By establishing a consistent group of clients, she has built a steady business that continues to grow each year.

Bonk’s startup costs included Internet and a domain name for her blog.

Personal Assistant

Self-starters with bright ideas
Stephanie Feltus

Stephanie Feltus was a working mother who saw a need and filled it when she launched MyRobyn, a household assistant business that offers meal preparation, errand-running, laundry services and light housekeeping.

She advises potential entrepreneurs to be wary of unnecessary costs, as some startup investments are more important than others.

That advice comes from personal experience. Feltus said when she started her business and built a website for it, “I probably overspent money, thinking ‘if you build it, they will come,’ because five years ago it was not as easy to develop a web presence on your own.”


Women’s Edition: Spay and Neuter

Cuddly Critters:

With so many great pets out there in need of loving homes, it is essential for pet owners to
spay and neuter their furry family members for the good of the community and the overall health of their loved ones. With so many unplanned cat and dog litters, responsible pet owners need to take preventative action and spay and neuter their animals. Not only is spaying and neutering a great decision for the good of the community and overpopulation of cats and dogs, it can prevent health and behavioral issues for your pet down the road.

Cats, once in heat, never stop cycling with the seasons. The actions of an animal in heat can be manic and may lead to problematic behavior, including trying to get outside to mate, yowling, and urine marking (sometimes, throughout the house). Once an animal’s hormones have set in and this cycle of behavior has started, it can be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to stop. One of the biggest dangers to a pet’s well-being is if it experiences hormonal aggression and gets into a fight with another animal. Injuries from fights, as well as sexual contact between animals, is how feline leukemia and feline immunodeficiency virus are spread.

In addition to avoiding unwanted pregnancy, there are numerous positive outcomes from spaying and neutering. For felines, health benefits include the prevention of uterine and mammary cancer. Spaying also prevents breast cancer, which is 50 percent fatal in dogs and 90 percent fatal in cats, according to If animals are spayed before they go into heat, the risk of developing mammary gland cancer is eliminated completely. Male dogs are at risk for testicular cancer, prostatitis, and other health issues that can be easily prevented by neutering.

Generally speaking, neutering applies to male animals and spaying applies to females. (Either surgery is sometimes referred to as “altering” your pet.) Males are neutered by removing both testicles in a relatively simple surgery. The surgical site will be a simple skin incision that generally heals within a week. Pets can be back on their feet in as little as 24 hours. Spaying consists of an ovarian hysterectomy, which is the removal of the ovaries and uterus. For this procedure, the veterinarian must go through the muscle wall and into the body cavity; thus, your female pet will need at least a week to 10 days to recover. Recovery time can vary, depending on the sex and age of your pet.

According to veterinarians, the ideal age at which to have your pet spayed or neutered is between six and eight months. The main reason for this is to ameliorate the risks associated with anesthesia, which is the highest risk of surgery and can have greater side effects on an older animal. At this ideal age, animals have a stronger liver and more body fat to absorb the anesthetic more easily. However, Humane Societies alter animals as young as six weeks old for the sake of population control, so speak to your vet to decide what is right for your pet.

Larger breeds of dogs also have a bit of flexibility as to when they may be neutered, as some studies say it is good to wait until they are old enough for their growth plates to have fused. The key is to get your pet spayed or neutered before its hormones have reached optimum levels and it starts exhibiting unwanted behaviors—and, of course, before it produces any unwanted litters!

Spaying or neutering a pet is affordable—it usually costs a couple hundred dollars or less. If the cost is prohibitive, contact your local Humane Society for help in finding a lower-cost program. If paying for spaying or neutering sounds expensive, consider the cost of caring for an unplanned litter! More food, vaccinations, time, and energy are all needed to care for a larger animal family. Spaying and neutering also helps save on costly vet bills in the future because your pet won’t be so eager to get outside and get into a scuffle with other animals.

There are so many great dogs and cats out there already looking for a loving home. Do yourself, your pets, and your community a favor—be sure to spay and neuter. You’ll know you’ve done what you can to keep your pets happy and healthy for as long as possible.

Women’s Edition: Elite Cheer Academy

Equipped with a martial arts dojo, four tumbling and cheer spaces, and a coffee bar for parents, the new Elite Cheer and Academy of Martial Arts is in the final stages of renovation. The new building is located at 3405 Oak View Drive. Upon completion, it will have a deluxe, sky-box style viewing area overlooking the main classroom so that parents may watch their children learn to tumble. The facility offers a wide variety of classes for ages three and up.

Kevin Hooker, one of the owners and operators, wears several hats at Elite Cheer. When the business began in 1993, he and his business partner, Lance, coached Lincoln Southeast High School all the way to the national championships. Soon after, they began getting referrals for athletes preparing for cheerleading tryouts. “That kick-started everything,” Kevin recalls. “We went from two to three kids to 30 kids…that’s when we started teaching private lessons.”

Currently, Kevin’s day-to-day has evolved into running the business, which has more than 30 employees. “I do not get to coach as much as I want to,” he comments. “The last four years have been dedicated to this building. I am really looking forward to coming back into coaching.” What he finds most rewarding about coaching is, unsurprisingly, the kids. “I knew I wanted to be a coach our first year when we were teaching a group of junior high kids and one of the girls got a skill she had never gotten before,” he shares. “That feeling of their accomplishment just punched me in the face.”

One of the great aspects of cheerleading as a sport is that virtually anyone can do it. “Every position has a specific athletic type,” Kevin notes. “As long as kids want to learn, and they want to put in the work to be an athlete, we can get them to be phenomenal athletes.” Using specialized flooring to aid in students’ progression, athletes learn the varying difficulties of jumps and tricks by beginning with certain surface types. “All of our progressions go from softer surface to harder surface,” Kevin explains. “For example, the trampoline is a softer surface than tumble track, which is a bit firmer.” Athletes eventually work their way onto the spring floor and finally onto foam.

Kevin stresses that every part of Elite Cheer’s training structure has a specific purpose, giving additional tools for training. For this reason, they have added levels to the traditional 1–5 system. “We broke it down even more because there are so many skill sets in our program. We now have level 1.5, level 2, level 2.5, level 3, level 3.5—just to give us a broader range of training.”

Overall, teaching the physical skills of gymnastics and cheer also teaches the young athletes about hard work, dedication, and the payoff for hard work over time. Shawna, a team volunteer and the mother of one of Elite’s 17-year-old athletes, says her daughter started tumbling at the age of eight and started doing cheer along with her friends. “The girls love it! The coaches push them to work their hardest. It’s good for them; it builds character.”

When Kevin first started coaching, there were few rules in cheer competition. Until the establishment of the U.S. All Star Federation (USASF), Elite Cheer essentially had creative liberty to try any move they put their mind to. This, however, is not the case today. “When we started this company, there were basically no rules,” Kevin recalls. “For the last 12 years, we have probably had a new rule set every year.” Like any innovative coach, Kevin takes his team as far as they can go without breaking the rules to impress at competition. An intimate knowledge of the rules can make or break a team at competition, in Kevin’s opinion. “If you do not have experience, you just will not do well.”

With a total of 14 teams to coach, Kevin and his staff have their work cut out for them. At Elite Cheer, their philosophy remains that the kids and their best interests always come first. “A lot of our success comes from our coaches,” Kevin says. “I would rather have a coach who loves kids than one who loves gymnastics. I can teach you how to be a gymnastics coach; I cannot teach you how to love kids.” This philosophy has served them well, because students keep coming back. Elite Cheer even has a Legacy Program, in which children of previous students can receive discounted rates on classes.

The other side of Elite is the martial arts instruction, where they teach Kenpo Karate and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. According to Kevin, they use martial arts as the vehicle to teach personal development. “Our students develop the skills they need to be successful not only on the mat but, more importantly, at the game of life,” says Kevin. “Building character traits like perseverance, integrity, humility, dedication, respect, discipline, and many others while they reach achievement of their goals helps them to build their self-esteem and confidence. Whether they train for a short time or their entire lifetime, they’ll use these benefits every single day for the rest of their lives.”

Women’s Edition: Facial Surgery Institute

Since 2010, Dr. Bruce Kuhn has owned and operated the Facial Surgery Institute, at 2727 South 144th Street. With a career in medicine that spans nearly 30 years, Dr. Kuhn is exceptional—he is not only a skilled medical doctor and surgeon but also a dentist. He combined these skill sets as the head of Oral and Facial Plastic Surgery for eight years and as a clinical professor at UNMC before co-founding the Facial Surgery Institute. He now provides comfort and expertise to his many satisfied patients.

A day at the Facial Surgery Institute varies depending on what kind of procedures the team has scheduled. These might include ear, nose, chin, or jaw surgery; face and neck lifts; or laser skin resurfacing (the Facial Surgery Institute offers an array of cosmetic as well as reconstructive procedures). According to Dr. Kuhn, about 50–60 percent of patients come to the Facial Surgery Institute for traditional oral surgery, such as wisdom tooth removal or dental implants. Dr. Kuhn explains his philosophy toward his field this way: “Facial plastic surgery, whether cosmetic or reconstructive, encourages and promotes a strong, positive self-image. No matter how small or large the change on the outside, these procedures can create extraordinary changes on the inside.”

Melan, a patient of Dr. Kuhn, was referred to Facial Surgery Institute for dental implants. In addition to the three dental implants, Dr. Kuhn and his team corrected an asymmetrical facial deformity that was a result of a terrible boating accident that occurred in 2000. “Dr. Kuhn is an amazing surgeon,” Melan says. “He was so easy to talk to,  very upfront and caring. After that successful procedure, I had a chin/neck lift and laser skin resurfacing. I can honestly say I think I look the best I’ve ever looked thanks, to Dr. Kuhn and his staff.”

Dr. Kuhn’s success depends on his attention to detail and his devotion to his patients. According to his nurse, Angela, “he’s extremely particular, and he is very much a patient advocate. His expertise, his bedside manner, and his true desire for good outcomes set him apart.” Dr. Kuhn recalls a surgery that required innovative thinking. “We spent six hours on a nose that had been operated on before by other doctors…it was absolutely debilitated,” says Dr. Kuhn. When faced with a nose that was virtually destroyed, Dr. Kuhn rebuilt the nose by taking a rib graft and was able to produce the best result possible for his patient in the long term. He takes pride in the way he handles his toughest cases, whether he’s faced with a technical problem or a frustrated patient. “Those that come in grumpy, I like the best,” he says. “I like the challenge. Hopefully, by the time they leave, they’re saying, ‘Well, that was fun!’”

One attribute that is clear when speaking with Dr. Kuhn is his humility. He credits his success to his team and nursing staff, who, according to him, “do 95 percent of the work.” He doesn’t spend much time comparing himself to the competition. “I’ve been partners with many of them before,” he points out. “We all do the best we can for patients. Our town is very fortunate to have great health care.”

As many surgeons can attest, one of the challenges to running a successful surgical practice is handling insurance coverage, and Dr. Kuhn is no exception. “People come in with different issues,” he explains, “and they want it to be affordable. They want their insurance to pay for everything that they have done. That is not the way it happens, and we get put in a position to negotiate for the patient with the insurance carrier.”

Dr. Kuhn and his team are at the forefront of technology, and they perform over 200 aesthetic procedures a year. For example, when preparing for jaw surgery, all the planning is done virtually to ensure the best possible outcome for the patient, even before the first incision is made. They also use laser technology for small incisions around delicate areas as well as laser resurfacing. Technology goes through trends, so Dr. Kuhn tries to select what is best for his patients. Before investing in new technology, he asks himself, “Will what I’m doing today still work for someone 20 years from now?”

Having achieved accreditation with the American Association for Ambulatory Health Care (AAAHC), the Facial Surgery Institute is raising the bar and helping set the standards for best practices in surgical medicine throughout the country. The Facial Surgery Institute is the only AAAHC-Oral and Maxillofacial accredited facility in the state of Nebraska, which is a great reason to reach out to them if you are considering cosmetic or reconstructive surgery. Their phone number is 402-330-8460.

If you are at all on the fence about seeing Dr. Kuhn, just take the word of this patient testimonial: “The Best! My husband had to have a wisdom tooth removed, and he has a lot of anxiety. Dr. Kuhn is so compassionate and understanding. He discussed the procedure with him beforehand and made sure he understood everything that was going to take place. His staff was excellent and so friendly, too. An overall wonderful experience.”

For more information, check out the Facial Surgery Institute online at