Integrity. Innovation. Impact.

Elizabeth and Manny Villafana

Elizabeth and Manny Villafana

Learning by Example


BBA 1980 (Elizabeth in Finance)

Elizabeth Elder, BBA80, and Manuel “Manny” A.Villafana understand the power of a good example. Each of them learned, either through education or life experience, the value of exceptional business mentors. That’s why the couple has chosen to establish the Manny and Elizabeth Elder Villafana Entrepreneurship Mentor Fund in the Tippie College of Business.

Through a generous $50,000 gift commitment, the Wayzata, Minn., residents are sharing their success as health care entrepreneurs with students in the Tippie College. They hope this investment will further enhance Manny Villafana’s many contributions as a visiting entrepreneurial mentor and lecturer in the College.

“We would like this gift to help provide the means for other entrepreneurs to visit Iowa and share their successes, failures, and dreams. Iowa students are hardworking and full of integrity, and I can’t think of anything our country needs more,” says Elizabeth, who received a Distinguished Young Alumni Award from her alma mater in 1985.

As a third-generation Iowa graduate—she lived at the University as a baby while her parents were students—Elizabeth knows about Iowa quality firsthand.

“The University of Iowa is the place to seek life’s big ideas. I loved exploring geopolitical affairs, delving into American literature, and learning multivariable regression analysis on a beautiful campus with incredible faculty,” says Elizabeth, who earned her CFA designation after graduation. She worked for Piper Jaffray in Minneapolis until deciding to help her husband manage the financial side of his work as a health care entrepreneur.

Manny Villafana, who grew up in New York City, did not attend college, but he has been honored as a Living Legend in Medicine Award recipient, as the National Medical Entrepreneur of the Year in 1990, and a grand prize recipient of the Mediterranean Institute of Cardiology for his exceptional health care inventions, which include the St. Jude heart valve and the first open-pivot heart valve.

In 1972, he founded Guidant Corporation, which designed and manufactured cardiovascular health care products, and left there to establish St. Jude Medical in 1976. Since then, he has started several other companies that develop and manufacture health care products, including GV Medical, ATS Medical, and CABG Medical. He currently is the founder and CEO of Kips Bay Medical, Inc., a company involved in the development and commercialization of eMesh, a new technology for cardiovascular surgery.

“Manny has always had a strong ‘give-back’ philosophy, which is why he shares his entrepreneurial experiences with UI business graduates,” Elizabeth says. “We made this gift in honor of my 50th birthday—and it was so much better than having a party!”

Through this far-reaching investment, Iowa business students can learn about the value of hard work, perseverance, and bold ideas from savvy mentors like Manny Villafana.

“Manny always says that he has never met an unsuccessful Iowa graduate,” Elizabeth says.

Thanks to this couple’s vision, that can remain true for generations of UI entrepreneurs to come.