Dr. Dale T. Eesley is the John Morgan Community Chair in Entrepreneurship, Founder and Director of the Center for Innovation, Entrepreneurship & Franchising, and an Associate Professor of Entrepreneurship & Strategy.

Dr. Eesley received his Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin, Madison in Entrepreneurship & Strategy. He has been teaching and consulting in the field of entrepreneurship for over 18 years.

The Startup Collaborative is a proud supporter of CIEF and works alongside Dale to ensure that college students who are seeking startup opportunities and capital know the ins-and-outs of how to traverse that path in the Greater Omaha area. 


Q: Dale, tell us about the Center for Innovation, Entrepreneurship & Financing (CIEF).


A: The goal of the center is to be a leader for the development and support of student entrepreneurs, high-growth startups and research to promote economic development. We do this by exposing students in every field of study to the potential of entrepreneurship, preparing students to start and grow high-potential new ventures, and conduct research that encourages local business formation and success.  


In addition to our main courses in Entrepreneurship I and II, we offer entrepreneurial finance, social entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial selling, we also have faculty in other departments that incorporate entrepreneurship into their own courses in psychology, arts, political science, geography etc.  


Outside the classroom, we offer a wide variety of opportunities for students to experience entrepreneurship, build their skills and connect with the startup community.  Events include Breakthrough Weekend, the BigIdea! Pitch Contest, the Maverick Business Plan Contest, the Midwest Entrepreneurship Conference (April 3 and 4, 2020) and A Celebration of Entrepreneurship Gala and Awards.


We also offer many programs, such as the Entrepreneurial Living Learning Community, the Maverick Venture Fund, Stedman’s Cafe, Collegiate Entrepreneurs’ Organization, the Maverick Young Entrepreneurs’ Summer Camp (Jr. High) and the eFellows faculty consortium.


Q: Give us the 101-version on what you believe the difference is between innovation and entrepreneurship.


A: Everyone has their own definition of entrepreneurship, but I am happy to just view it as starting or owning a business or organization in a context where there is risk or uncertainty.  


Innovation can lead to entrepreneurship, but it has a much broader application to business and even your personal life. Innovation is a process of improvement and discovery, often applied to an existing problem or to create something altogether new.  


Q: What is unique about the entrepreneurial ecosystem of our region?


A: I am always amazed at how supportive our community is for entrepreneurs. It is not difficult to network and find individuals who can give advice or resources entrepreneurs need. I tell my students that if they had a good reason to meet with a billionaire, we probably could arrange that meeting in less than a month!


Q: What is the most beneficial impact you’ve seen CIEF make for students?


A: We empower students to believe that they could either start or own a business, even early in their careers. We expose them to many entrepreneurs and small business owners, and they come to realize that they are just as smart and capable.  


Q: We’d love to hear about Breakthrough Weekend, how did that get started?

A: Startup Weekend ran four years ago in partnership with TechStars, CIEF and the Startup Collaborative. After the first year, we realized we had the ability to run the event without TechStars assistance and so Erica renamed it Breakthrough Weekend and we have been running it together since then. The Startup Collaborative created a great program that moves the teams through the first four badges in their program in just one weekend. Students love the structure and it is very well-suited to the types of students and ideas we get at BW. I hope the Startup Collaborative shares its program with more universities, it works very well.


Q: Are all UNO students eligible to participate, regardless of major?


A: Definitely. I would say half our students are from the college of business, a third of our students are from PKI, and the rest are a wide variety of other majors, other universities and community members.  


Q: What is the most valuable takeaway students receive from Breakthrough Weekend?


A: Perhaps the most valuable takeaway is that if you have an idea, you can improve your odds of success by carefully listening to your customers and testing your assumptions. Another big takeaway is simply meeting a lot of different people who are interested in innovation and entrepreneurship and the many programs that exist that are willing to help them.


Q: What’s next for CIEF and UNO’s entrepreneurial initiatives?

A: CIEF provides a lot of programming each year, and with current staffing, it can’t add much more in the near future. Instead of adding one more event, we will be focusing on obtaining major grants or donations that could support incubator space on campus, grow the Maverick Venture Fund so that we can invest more in our students and alumni and additional personnel to mentor our students and increase the output of quality research.