Membership in the Nebraska chapter of Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO Nebraska) is by invitation only, and the membership qualification standards are stringent: first, candidates must be the founder, co-founder, owner or controlling shareholder of a company. Also, the company’s gross annual revenue must exceed $1 million or, if the company is venture-backed, private funds must exceed $2 million or publicly-raised funds must exceed $5 million and the company is given three years to meet the standard gross annual revenue requirement.
The requirements ensure that members truly are peers in the business community, said President-elect Julie Hockney of JH Interior Design. EO members typically are the key decision-makers in their companies.
“When you’re an owner of something, you have a whole different set of things you deal with rather than if you’re running a department or if you work for someone else,” she said. “It’s restricted because we need people that are of the same ilk if you will, that deal with the same things as our owners and have the same highs and lows … We can relate to each other on a specific level.”
EO Nebraska is part of a national organization that originated in the late 1980s as Young Entrepreneurs’ Organization (YEO) and was established in the U.S. by former members of the Association of Collegiate Entrepreneurs. World Entrepreneurs’ Organization soon emerged as the organization expanded globally. In the early 2000s, Entrepreneurs’ Organization was formally established as an umbrella organization. It now encompasses 220 chapters in more than 75 countries with a membership exceeding 18,000. The Nebraska chapter was formed in 2001.
“[EO Nebraska was] led by Bill Champion, who had talked to another YEO member of another city,” said Past President Chris Mangan of Paul Davis Restoration of Sioux City. “He called global headquarters in D.C. He signed a charter contract and then called the five of us [Paul Hogan, Phil Lieber, Duke Matz, Duane Bazis and Chris Mangan] and we started the chapter.”
EO Nebraska has grown substantially since then, Mangan said.
“Very similar to how a small company grows into a large one; in the beginning we had a few people fulfilling all the roles [like] marketing, sales/membership, finance, et cetera. Today we have one individual in each of these roles. Originally all six members were the members and the board, all at the same time. Today we have 12 board members representing 118 members.”
Current EO Nebraska President Joseph Frost (yorCMO, Frost Media Group) said the state group’s development has followed the larger organization.
“It’s a peer organization, so we learn from each other, and we support each other to grow our businesses,” he said. “It’s based on, essentially, four core values: Having a thirst for learning; trust and respect; think big, be bold; and together we grow.”
EO Nebraska has also evolved.
“There’s no particular industry. There are professional services businesses, there are franchisees or franchisors, there are manufacturing businesses, technology businesses, product businesses, creative, health care, real estate — almost all industries are represented,” Frost said, adding that Hockney, whose term as president begins in July, will be EO Nebraska’s first female president. “The majority of the membership is, as you might expect, male. We’ve had a big diversity push the last three years; we’ve added considerably more female members and female leaders to the organization … We want to continue that focus. We’d also like to continue to add people of color. That’s an initiative that we’ve had internally for several years and as an organization globally as well.”
Another goal was to launch an accelerator program, Frost said.
“We had previously launched the accelerator program a couple of times, and it didn’t stick,” he said. “So, this time we wanted to launch it in a more sustainable way to give it some longevity. We launched with 16 members, which is a global best launch ever. We’re super-excited about the trajectory of that program, being able to reach out to entrepreneurs that have not yet met that $1 million mark but are striving to get there.”
Other goals include drafting a three-year plan for EO Nebraska with member engagement and commitment, working with strategic alliance partners that provide resources for members and financial support for the organization. Providing meaningful programming such as small-group forums and learning events is also important, Frost said.
Going forward, Hockney said, membership retention is a major focus.
“That tells me that the members are getting value as they stay,” she said. “On top of that, I really am still pushing for more diversity: more women, more people of color.”
Hockney said she also wants to see awareness about EO Nebraska increase.
“A lot of people don’t know what EO is,” she said. “So, getting our name out and having people understand who we are and what we do is always going to be a long-term goal of ours.”
The organization’s growth has so far been somewhat organic, Mangan said, with people finding out about it mostly through word-of-mouth.
“We don’t do much marketing of the organization. But we feel we fulfill a real need for entrepreneurs who want to learn and grow,” he said. “In my opinion, it would be hard to find an organization that provides a better value for an entrepreneur who wants to learn how to become the best leader for their business, family and community.”
“EO Nebraska has been around for over 25 years and it hosts what I think are the most innovative and driven entrepreneurs in our community,” he said. “We don’t really brag about what we do, and we’ve not done much PR or press; it’s more about just giving the value to the member.
“We certainly would like all entrepreneurs who are interested in committing to growth and development innovation in their businesses in coming years to consider reaching out to us. We have the accelerator program for those that aren’t quite there. We have new entrepreneurs joining our membership who have exited multiple businesses but just want to get back into that entrepreneurial culture. There’s no age restriction, there’s no personality restriction; it’s just a matter of committing to those core values that we share and wanting to grow your business and be around peers that want to do the same.”
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Since the Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) Global Accelerator got its start 10-plus years ago, more than 1,400 participants have graduated from this vaunted program with the admirable goal of truly accelerating the participating business’s revenues – from $250,000-plus to upwards of $1 million in just 12 to 24 months. Now, EO Nebraska’s Accelerator program (EOA) is getting a second life.
“Historically, EO Nebraska had an accelerator program in 2015 and 2016, but we stopped the program because our chapter was not large enough yet to sustainably support this program with recruiting and coaches,” explained Jeff Barclay, EOA Nebraska chair. “As EO Nebraska grew, we recognized our chapter was now large enough to sustain an accelerator program and we relaunched the program in April 2023.”
By September 2023, EO Nebraska had reportedly recruited 16 new accelerator participants, eight EO member coaches and launched its first “learning day” opportunity.
Fellow Accelerator Co-Chair, Steve Lichter, indicated that the global program’s proven track record and programming contributed to its relaunch in the Midlands.
“By combining in-class training with coaching, mentoring and monthly accountability meetings, the accelerator [participants] are able to learn directly from other entrepreneurs,” he said, when asked about the ingredients behind the program’s success. “This is one of the common themes we hear from entrepreneurs, they feel like they are on an island. They feel like no one else is having struggles in their business.”
The co-chairs noted that, through the accelerator program, entrepreneurs quickly realize they are not alone – and can learn ways to grow their business from other owners.
“Additionally, the peer-to-peer networking, as well as the support they receive from our sponsor organizations, really provides the best of all worlds for an entrepreneur to profitably scale and grow their business,” Lichter added.
In all, Barclay said there are 115-plus local entrepreneurs in EO Nebraska and 14 sponsors.
“We have a tremendous network of experts, mentors and coaches that can provide support, coaching, mentoring, training, and networking,” he said.
Lichter said the support from EOA’s network, led by experienced entrepreneurs who have dealt with similar challenges and issues in their own businesses, is invaluable.
“You also have direct access to a worldwide network, giving an expansive view on any topic,” Lichter noted. “The accelerator [participants are] invited to additional learning and social events held by the EO chapter, as an additional fringe benefit.”
EOA members can sign up for regional/Midwest events that present additional opportunities for learning and networking. Notable past speakers range from Magic Johnson to George Bush.
More information on EO, the chapter and accelerator can be found at EONetwork.org.
Women of EO
With a robust 10-year history as a premiere global group within the Entrepreneurs’ Organization, MyEO Women is hitting the ground running in Nebraska. Both the global and local groups are dedicated to retaining and recruiting women in EO.
“Membership in EO Nebraska offers opportunities for learning, leadership, networking and forums,” said Stephanie Clark, MyEO chair on the EO Nebraska board. “It’s a wonderful supportive personal and professional ecosystem for growth and development.”
Notably, Clark said MyEO Nebraska wants to encourage more of the state’s female entrepreneurs/business owners to become members.
“So, they can access EO Nebraska opportunities and resources,” Clark explained. “I credit our incoming President, Julie Hockney, for doing a fantastic job of increasing the number of female entrepreneur-business owners in EO Nebraska over the last year.”
When asked about its structure, Clark said, partly, that chapter delegates and regional ambassadors contribute to respective boards and, in turn, represent a tool for membership, engagement and learning. As to traction and successes, she said MyEO Women has focused on bringing more women together.
“MyEO Women holds a summit each year to collaborate and expand our knowledge and alliances,” she stated. “There have been six global MyEO Women Summits, with each one having over 100 attendees in locations such as Aspen, Colorado; Athens, Greece; Napa, California; Bogota, Columbia; Barcelona, Spain; and Marrakech, Morrocco.”
She said the 2023 MyEO Women’s Summit will be held in Seoul, South Korea.
“Locally, MyEO Women of EO Nebraska organized a phenomenal event with former U.S. Senator Martha McSally in November,” Clark added. “McSally was the first female combat pilot and commander of a combat squadron in the United States Air Force. She spoke to the members of EO Nebraska for nearly five hours – her talk was inspired!”
For Clark personally, she said EO has presented leadership opportunities that have helped her to grow as a leader.
“I am privileged to have been asked to be a chair on the EO Nebraska Board for two years,” she noted. “In my role, I work alongside the board to set the strategic direction for EO Nebraska.”
The board’s two other women, incoming President, Julie Hockney and Membership Chair, Gwenn Aspen, are both successful business owners, Clark said.
“As fellow entrepreneurs, we share a common understanding of the challenges in our businesses, and our discussions often provide valuable insights through experience shares,” she said. “These insights help to inform the decisions I make in my own business.
“Because of EO, I have access to likeminded entrepreneurs who are working to build successful businesses that create jobs in Nebraska.”