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SPN Spaces: UNO’s Center for Innovation, Entrepreneurship & Franchising

SPN Spaces is a new series that takes a look inside the region’s most inspiring startups, workspaces, incubators, accelerators and organizations.

Inside Mammel Hall on the south side of the University of Nebraska at Omaha’s campus is the Center for Innovation, Entrepreneurship & Franchising. The Center supports entrepreneurial education and collaboration, innovative hands-on learning experiences, as well as faculty research, conferences and mentorship. CIEF also provides advisory services to start-ups and small business entities throughout the region.

The CIEF website says the center serves as a bridge between the entrepreneurs of tomorrow and the diverse entrepreneurial community in the Omaha, Nebraska area. SPN dropped in on UNO’s Maverick Startups class led by Dr. Dale T. Eesley, Director and John Morgan Community Chair in Entrepreneurship to talk more about how the CIEF and UNO are preparing the region’s next wave of founders.

Center for Innovation, Entrepreneurship & Franchising at University of Nebraska at Omaha’s College of Business Administration

Lead by: Dr. Dale T. Eesley, Director & John Morgan Community Chair in Entrepreneurship

SPN: What classes and programs does UNO offer through the CIEF that are supporting the Silicon Prairie’s next generation of business founders?

DE: The CIEF at UNO’s College of Business Administration offers a wide range of entrepreneurial classes, all of which have a heavy applied focus.  These include Entrepreneurial Foundations, Maverick Startups, New Venture Formation, Entrepreneurial Finance, Social Venturing, Entrepreneurial Selling, Commercializing Technology and Technology Ventures (IS&T students paired up with Business students in teams).

We also have a number of classes taught by faculty outside the College of Business Administration including Media Entrepreneurship, Geography, Gender & Entrepreneurship, Political Entrepreneurship, Entrepreneurship & the Arts, Entrepreneurship & Leadership in British Literature, and Creativity & Innovation in Organizations (taught by the Psychology department).


SPN: How are you emulating real-life business problems and experiences in the classroom?

DE: Classes such as Entrepreneurial Foundation and Social Venturing have hands-on projects where they apply their classroom learning to solve problems for local startups, businesses and non-profit organizations.  In Maverick Startups students engage in customer discovery and validation with 50 potential customers using their own concepts and business models.  New Venture Formation and Technology Ventures are classes where students work on their own business concepts and try to create new businesses or at least test their viability.

A new program we have started, the Maverick Venture Fund, trains 12 students a year on how to do seed-stage investing.  After a semester of training, they make actual investments in student, alumni, and community startups.  It doesn’t get any more real than that!  By the way, if you are searching for funding, please apply to pitch your venture to the fund!

SPN: Do things like startup classes and entrepreneurial groups in college give students an advantage over their self-taught peers once they graduate?

DE: Our classes are very hands-on and applied classes always enhance students’ ability to understand and master the content, so it stays with them long after graduation.  Our students have to venture “outside the building” and in so doing, they learn about the startup community in Omaha.  So compared to the self-taught, they know where to go for advice, partners and funding when they are ready to launch a new company.  Our graduates tend to stay in the Omaha area, so the connections they make through our classes have long-term benefits.

SPN: How are you teaching young entrepreneurs to look at their talents and skills (everything from music, to design, to athletics) differently?

DE: In our classes, we train students to think empathetically and to really understand their customers’ true needs.  We do this by having them identify their interests and experiences and then identify an area in which they can contribute.  We also use Gallup’s Builder Profile assessment to help them better understand how their talents can be used to create solutions.  We emphasize the development of an entrepreneurial mindset that can be used for much more than starting a new venture.  For example, our classes in Journalism, Political Science, Theater and Psychology apply entrepreneurial thinking and processes to topics far outside of business.

In the last two years, we have offered an Entrepreneurial Living Learning Community where freshman live together, take cohort classes, travel to places like Denver and Silicon Valley and engage in 30 hours of entrepreneurial activity each semester.  This is an incredible way for them to explore their entrepreneurial interests and what they discover about themselves helps shape what they do and the way they do it throughout their college experience.

SPN: Every entrepreneur will experience at least one “small failure” in their career. What advice do you give students for when they inevitably face setbacks?

My best advice, and one we teach in our classes, is that the startup process is a search for information, and failures are really important pieces of information!  By taking the steps to minimize the financial risk in the earliest stages, students will have the ability to fail fast multiple times while searching for the right business model.  I also support students who start their careers working for others because it lets them build their skills, save money, and let their employers pay the price for their early mistakes.  At the same time, if they have a great idea, I think now is the perfect time to go for it, before they are saddled with responsibilities and commitments we take on as older adults.

SPN: What CIEF events are coming up that will give the community a chance to get involved with the program and UNO? 

The CIEF offers a lot of events and programs outside of the classroom to enhance their entrepreneurial development.  We are always in search of judges, mentors, and sponsors for events such as:

We are particularly excited about this year’s Midwest Entrepreneurship Conference April 6 & 7. Over 400 people from Omaha and more than 25 universities will come together to learn from speakers that include billionaires, shark tank contestants and social entrepreneurs.  There’s something for everybody and it is open to the public.

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