Wednesday, December 1, 2021

It was 1996 and Iowa needed to regain its entrepreneurial edge.

Once a state of small businesses, many did not survive the farm crisis and the economy was struggling as a result. John Pappajohn (BSC52) wanted to change that. An inveterate entrepreneur and venture capitalist, he knew the importance of small businesses to an economy. So, in 1996, he donated $1.5 million to establish the John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center at the University of Iowa to help revive the startup spirit, along with funding to create centers at four other universities and colleges in Iowa. 

“I want to make Iowa the most entrepreneurial state in America,” he said at the time. It was a visionary investment. Few universities had entrepreneurial centers then and none were part of a statewide network. 

Pappajohn’s vision paid off. In the 25 years since, the University of Iowa John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center (Iowa JPEC) has been recognized as a leader in supporting student, faculty, and community entrepreneurs. On Sept. 23, the 25th anniversary of the statewide JPEC network  was celebrated with a gala in Des Moines, Iowa. On hand to celebrate John Pappajohn were former governor and U.S. ambassador to China Terry Branstad, Gov. Kim Reynolds, University of Iowa President Barbara Wilson, and Tippie Dean Amy Kristof-Brown, along with hundreds of entrepreneurs who  got their start with help from a John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center. At the event, Pappajohn announced an additional $2.5 million gift to Iowa JPEC.

Over the past 25 years, alumni, students, and other Iowans have used Iowa JPEC resources to start thousands of businesses and create thousands of jobs in Iowa and around the country. Many of them have financed their businesses using money from two competitions that Pappajohn created to support Iowa entrepreneurs—the Pappajohn Student Entrepreneurial Venture Competition and the Pappajohn Iowa Entrepreneurial Venture Competition—or from the Wellmark Venture Capital Fund he helped launch. Iowa JPEC alumni have made breakthroughs in health science, education technology, agricultural technology, and green manufacturing, as well as selling clothes, consulting services, coffee, and ice cream. 

25 points of impact in the last 25 years

1) Okoboji, the famed resort area in northwest Iowa, is where Iowans go to recreate and relax, and for one week every August, it’s where Iowa JPEC students learn from the best. Started in 2006 by Iowa JPEC benefactor and long-time Okoboji resident Tom Bedell, the Okoboji Entrepreneurial Institute brings 32 students to stay with Iowa entrepreneurs in their lakeside summer homes to learn about startups and build relationships that will last for years. Since its inception, Pappajohn has supported the annual event and provided cash awards to two top OEI student entrepreneurs.

2) The Princeton Review ranks Iowa JPEC #28 as one of the nation’s top undergraduate entrepreneurial programs. 

Monster mash ice cream

3) Monster Mash is still among the top-selling menu items at Heyn’s Ice Cream in Iowa City after it was invented in 2007 by elementary school students attending the annual summer entrepreneur camp sponsored by Iowa JPEC’s Jacobson Institute for Youth Entrepreneurship.

4) In the last 10 years, Iowa JPEC has awarded more than $2.75 Million in seed funding to Iowa startups.

5) 1,500 have started businesses through the Startup Incubator (formerly known as the Founders Club) in the Bedell Entrepreneurship Learning Laboratory (BELL), a former fraternity-house-turned-coworking space that supports the launch of student ventures. Many of those businesses, such as Bio::Neos, FanFood, and Premiere Dance Project, remain active businesses years after leaving the BELL.

6) Since 1997, 5,488 undergraduate students have earned an entrepreneurship-focused degree or certificate. 

7) Iowa JPEC received the National Model Undergraduate Program Award from the United States Association for Small Business and Entrepreneurship in 2004.

Mandela Washington Fellowship

8) 100+ entrepreneurs from African countries have built businesses since 2016 ranging from honey production to electronic money exchange after participating in the Young African Leadership Initiative (YALI) Mandela Washington Fellowship Program hosted at Iowa by the Institute for International Business. The fellowship, a U.S. State Department program, brings 25 young business leaders from African countries to Iowa City. Participants in the program learn how to build and develop a business and take those skills back to help build their homeland’s economy. Each year the Mandela Fellows say the highlight of the program is the presentation and Q&A with Pappajohn himself.



The Wave

9) When “The Wave” began to brighten the days of young patients in the Stead Family Children’s Hospital on football Saturdays in 2017, alumni Meighan Phillips (MBA08), Brooke Mickelson (MBA03), Lance “Cy” Phillips (BA06), and John Mickelson (BBA03/JD07/MBA07), along with friends Jason and Lori Willis, started a nonprofit organization selling apparel branded with the heartwarming Kinnick Stadium tradition. All profits are donated to the hospital, and it raised $440,000 in its first year.

10) 250,000+ elementary and high school students have taken a class using the BizInnovator Startup or STEMInnovator curricula or participated in KidInnovator camps and the Innovator Competition curriculum developed by the Jacobson Institute for Youth Entrepreneurship. In FY21 alone, 644 teachers from 43 states and the District of Columbia used the BizInnovator Startup and STEMInnovator curriculum.

11) 100-Million online shoppers have outfits recommended to them every month by Stylitics, a New York City-based retail technology company founded by Zach Davis (BBA03). The firm’s clients include Nike, Kohl’s, Old Navy, Crate & Barrel, West Elm, and Macy’s.

12) Ben Anderson (BA03), Karsten Temme (BSE02/MS04) and their entrepreneurship classmates founded X-Wires, Iowa City’s first wireless internet company, in the early 2000s. “I remember them setting up a hot spot in the Ped Mall, broadcasting wifi. At the time I thought...why would anyone want wifi outside?” recalled Andy Stoll (BBA03).

13) 1,068 students have graduated from the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences with a major in Enterprise Leadership, a cooperative of Iowa JPEC, College of Liberal Arts & Sciences, and the Tippie College of Business since the major’s creation in 2016.

14) 29 full-time & part-time faculty teach approximately 120 sections of entrepreneurship courses each year to students across the entire UI campus—both in-person and online. 89% of Iowa JPEC faculty have started their own businesses in fields such as medical technology, business consulting, software development, real estate and hospitality.

15) 300+ Iowa faculty and graduate students have received technology commercialization training through Iowa JPEC’s I-Corps training program offered in conjunction with the National Science Foundation.

16) If you like to fish, there’s a good chance Jim Coble (BBA04) is a part of your leisure activities. Coble is the founder of 13 Fishing, a manufacturer of rods, reels, and bait. They have nearly 100 U.S. trademarks and 15 patents. Through an investment relationship with fishing equipment giant Rapala, 13 Fishing is part of the largest fishing company in the world.

17) In the last 10 years, Iowa JPEC students have completed 722 business consulting projects for alumni-owned and Iowa-based companies. That’s more than 93,000 hours dedicated to one-on-one consulting by students.

18) 840+ Iowans have received entrepreneurial training through Venture School, the state’s premier entrepreneurial training program.

Michele Williams

19) Michele Williams was hired as the first Iowa JPEC faculty fellow in 2017. An assistant professor of management and entrepreneurship and the John L. Miclot Fellow in Entrepreneurship, Williams studies teamwork, trust, and the value of long-term relationships between founding entrepreneurial partners and mentors, as well as between founders. She also studies the role that stereotypes play in small-business survival as well as women in leadership, and she works with her students to apply research findings to practice. A second faculty fellow, Miranda Welbourne Eleazar, joined this fall as assistant professor of management and entrepreneurship.



Tara Cronbaugh

20) Tara Cronbaugh (BA98) is a University of Iowa entrepreneurship pioneer. She developed her idea for the Java House coffee shop for a Tippie entrepreneurship class taught by adjunct faculty  member John Buchanan (BSC56). She opened her first Java House on the second floor of the legendary Prairie Lights bookstore in 1994 and has since expanded to six locations around the Iowa City area, four of them with Heirloom salad shops, another company she started. The Java House Roastery also provides wholesale coffee to locations around Iowa. An early supporter of Iowa JPEC, she continues to mentor students and has served on the Iowa JPEC advisory board since 2018.

Patricia Miller

21) Patricia Miller (BBA04) left a successful career in pharmaceutical marketing to turn her family’s struggling manufacturing firm into a thriving fullstack company that works with clients from the design stage to the factory floor. The Woodstock, Ill.-based M4 doesn’t just make widgets, it works with clients to determine what exactly the widget should do and then helps design them. Since she took over in 2014, the company has been named one of Inc. magazine’s 5,000 fastest growing companies five years in a row and she made Crain’s Chicago Business’ 40 Under 40 list.

Zac Voss
22) Few in Iowa had heard of Red Bull energy drink as it entered the U.S. market in 1997, but Zac Voss (BBA00) had a feeling it would fly once people tried it. He was still a student at the Tippie College of Business, studying finance and entrepreneurship, when he became the state’s first Red Bull distributor in 1999. His home office was his student apartment and he delivered  shipments to stores between classes. After graduating, he returned home to Des Moines and expanded Voss Distributing, which now provides Red Bull to grocery stores and other retail establishments throughout the state and into Illinois and Missouri.
Duane Wilson
23) After starting several businesses and nonprofit organizations in his native Chicago, as an Iowa JPEC student Duane Wilson (BA08) turned his attention to helping solve social challenges on a global scale. He’s now the vice president of strategic development for The Gratitude Network, a Pleasanton, Calif.-based nonprofit organization that enlists entrepreneurs to help solve social challenges facing people in 60 countries around the world. Wilson is also an arts entrepreneur. He is the author of Jackie and the Dreamstalk, a book used in youth entrepreneurial classes for children ages 9 to 14. And he’s a prolific voiceover artist, running his own agency that provides narration on commercials for companies like McDonald’s, ESPN, and Porsche.
Jon Lensing
24) Forbes magazine named Jon Lensing (MD20) to its Next 1,000 list of up-and-coming entrepreneurs for 2021 Lensing started OpenLoop as a member of Founder’s Club (now known as Startup Incubator) and with seed money from business competitions. OpenLoop matches health care providers with short-staffed hospitals around the country. It grew 800 percent in just a few weeks at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, when overwhelmed hospitals desperately short of doctors and nurses turned to his app for assistance.
Nico Aguilar
25) A case of the nerves isn’t unusual when students give class presentations. Nico Aguilar (BS11/MHA14/ MPH14) did that one better, having a full-on anxiety attack in front of his rhetoric class as an Iowa undergraduate. “My palms were sweaty, my breath stopped. My mind just went blank, and I totally botched my presentation,” he said. But from that disaster came the inspiration for a new tool that uses artificial intelligence to measure and improve a person’s speaking skills and helps them give more confident public presentations. Aguilar and his cofounder, Anthony Pham (BS11/MD16/MPH19) began their startup quest with an office in the BELL and by winning Iowa JPEC’s Rose Francis Elevator Pitch Competition. That eventually led to a spot in Techstars, the prestigious global technology business incubator. They also met Tippie alumna Nicole Cook Gunderson (BBA04), an important early advisor who continues to provide counsel. Speeko has since built relationships with organizations like Toastmasters and expanded its product line to include a course that helps people deliver wedding toasts and a desktop widget that works with virtual meetings and online presentations.
This article first appeared in the Winter 2022 edition of Tippie MagazineAlumni are invited to update their contact information with the college to be placed on the mailing list for future print editions.