August 31, 2016
BJ Towe

The days of working for just one company are long gone. Today’s workplace leaders – in their own company or inside another – need to be nimble, equipped with the knowledge that enables them to transfer skills seamlessly from one workplace role to another. The University of Iowa’s John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center provides that education, from elementary school through adulthood.

“We are a comprehensive, lifelong learning program. We look at it as trying to engage every citizen with the entrepreneurial mindset,” says David Hensley, executive director of the University of Iowa John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center.

Helping Iowa Students Pursue Their Dreams

Hensley notes that the University of Iowa has “one of the nation’s most comprehensive, campus-wide entrepreneurship undergraduate programs.  We strive to help students identify what they are passionate about and then put them on a path to pursue their dreams,” he says.

Compared to its early years, when enrollment in entrepreneurship classes was approximately 200, today class enrollments are approaching 4,000 with over 90 sections of entrepreneurship courses offered annually.

Students are exposed to entrepreneurial principles and education at nearly every turn – through a rigorous academic program that incorporates experiential learning in virtually every course, extracurricular clubs and student organizations, and a wide range of competitions, workshops, presentations by guest speakers, and more.

In addition to in-depth and real-life academic experiences, students have opportunities to partner with faculty members or community entrepreneurs to execute advanced projects in entrepreneurship.

Entrepreneurial students may compete for cash awards in business plan competitions sponsored by John Pappajohn as well as other Iowa alums. They may participate in intensive events such as the Okoboji Entrepreneurial Institute, which involves several Iowa universities and colleges. And they can pursue global opportunities for business expansion and social entrepreneurship through the Center’s Institute for International Business.

These types of experiences give students a close look at the issues effective business leaders must address. “They learn how all the pieces fit together, how to build and lead a successful organization, how to make decisions, how to think strategically and forward-focused,” Hensley says.

“And they get to meet and learn from some unbelievably successful business leaders and entrepreneurs,” he says.

Support for High-Tech Medical and Biomedical Companies

The University of Iowa is nationally known for medical and biomedical research. University of Iowa’s Pappajohn Center works collaboratively with the Office for the Vice President for Research and Economic Development as well as several additional UI colleges to support the commercialization of research in three ways:


  • Iowa Medical Innovation Group is an interdisciplinary program that introduces students to all phases of medical device/technology development. Over two semesters, students collaborate to identify a medical need, create a solution and move it through development and commercialization.
  • National Science Foundation I-Corps Program at the University of Iowa is a federally funded program that provides training to help faculty investigators commercialize their research. The Pappajohn Center provides the training required to obtain this federal status, and also supports faculty startups by connecting them with student interns.
  • Wellmark Venture Capital Fund/Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Venture Competitions provide much needed early stage capital to technology and high-growth startups.

The Collective Impact

“Our outreach and impact goes river to river, border to border.  That’s what makes our Center unique,” Hensley adds.

One of the most recent examples of the UI Pappajohn Center’s innovation has been its unique collaboration with three Iowa community colleges.  The University of Iowa recently placed faculty on the campuses of Des Moines Area Community College, Iowa Western Community College and Western Iowa Tech Community College.  These partnerships will allow for expanded entrepreneurial education and programming to both students and community members.

Hensley adds that a tremendous amount of work has been done with Iowa’s state and government officials to advocate for entrepreneurship. Collaboration with public and private entities has intensified their utilization while bringing on even more resources for entrepreneurs.

“John (Pappajohn) has been an unbelievable champion, helping to stimulate the creation of (state- and privately funded) financial programs to support entrepreneurs in this new era of economic development,” Hensley says.

The result is a changed entrepreneurial dynamic across the state.

Hensley adds: “Let’s put it this way: Before our center was established 20 years ago, the entrepreneurial ecosystem was limited. Today, successful startups are being launched across the state at an impressive rate. The availability of state and private funding to support entrepreneurs continues to grow, and the number of local, regional and statewide entrepreneurial assistance programs is very impressive. John and Mary Pappajohn’s vision to create the Pappajohn Centers has played a critical role in changing Iowa’s entrepreneurial landscape.”

“The Pappajohn Centers are still innovating and launching programs annually. We are laser focused, with our foot on the accelerator to ensure that everyone interested in entrepreneurship has access to education and support.”

– David Hensley, Executive Director, University of Iowa John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center