23, No. 12, Jan. 22, 2004
On the job: Dan DoBell
Sharita Forrest, Assistant Editor
by Bill Wiegand
is a business manager at Enterprise Works in the UI
day job” is advice that many aspiring entertainers are loath to
hear but might carry more credence if it came from a veteran musician
such as Dan DoBell. In DoBell’s “day job” as business
manager at Enterprise Works in the UI Research Park, he helps entrepreneurs
on the Urbana campus launch their fledgling companies. But on weekends
this affable accountant can be found on local stages playing guitar
with the band Maurice and the Mindset, a group he co-founded last year.
DoBell, who earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting and an MBA
from Iowa State University, was business director of Iowa State’s
research park before joining the staff at Illinois about 2-1/2
Tell me about your musical career.
I started as a drummer in a Christian rock band in high school. I learned
how to play the guitar, sold my drums at 17 or 18 and have played guitar
ever since. When I graduated, I played full time with a five-man USO
show band and did the club circuit through the Midwest. We had tuxedos
and a horn section and did shows with comedy, choreography, costume
changes and instrument changes.
When the ’80s rolled around, we got a new lead singer and went
with the ‘hair band’ thing. I was on the road for three
years and then decided, I’ve had enough of this. I’m going
to go with whatever is going to get me the most money and always keep
me gainfully employed. I opened up the Des Moines Register one day and
the first four pages of the help wanted ads were for accountants, so
I said, ‘That’s what I’ll do.’
But I’ve always continued to play music on the weekends. I’ve
been with bands who have opened for Steppenwolf, Head East, Black Oak
Arkansas, Blue Oyster Cult, 38 special. I was in one of the top rock
bands back in Iowa before I came here: Standing Hampton.
When I came here, I was hoping to find a band to play with and was going
nuts, saying ‘I want to play!’ So I decided I’d just
have to start a band. It has just been going great. I’m like a
caged animal; I’ve just got to play.
Is being in a band as exciting as we all think it is?
It’s a lot of work. There’s grunt work that has to be done
and nobody wants to do it, like making phone calls to nightclubs, delivering
promo packets, printing up posters. Believe me, it’s not all fun
What does your job at the university entail?
I’m the business manager for the Research Park and the business
incubator EnterpriseWorks, so I handle all of the front-line bean counting.
When a professor or someone else affiliated with the university has
intellectual property they want to commercialize, we help them with
the resources to start a company, assist with business plans, prepare
financial statements and handle receivables, give them guidance on their
university accounts and act as a liaison between the company and the
At EnterpriseWorks our goal is to graduate them to be profitable within
about three years or less. We monitor them and measure their milestones
versus their financial statements.
We have 19 tenants. We predict that we’ll be full in about a year
to a year and a half, which would mean roughly 25-30 tenants, depending
upon the type of business. It could be a guy with a cubicle for $95
a month or it could be a big, well-funded entity that wants two or three
labs for a couple of years while they ramp things up.
What’s your favorite part of what you
It’s the people. Hanging out with them. Talking about their projects.
We’re working with the most brilliant scientists in the world
and they’re all just wonderful characters. Being able to say that
I’m in the same building as some of the world’s greatest
scientists is just a wonderful joy. The things these people are working
on are just mind-boggling: robotics, biotech, software, chemistry. It’s
a lot of fun.
What’s the most challenging part?
Same thing: those professors. This is their technology, their baby,
so they can be really protective and demanding. They love their invention
and their science, but the idea of doing tax returns and financial statements
is just not a fun thing. I don’t do their taxes or financial statements
but I have to deal with them on a business level.