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Innovation Profile: Iowa State University Pappajohn Center for Entrepreneurship

Judi Eyles

Center connects entrepreneurship, innovation resources for ISU students, faculty and alumni

“Change the culture and create more entrepreneurs in Iowa!”

John Pappajohn issued that challenge in 1996 when he and his wife, Mary, provided a financial gift to create John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Centers at five different universities and colleges in the state. As these centers, including the Iowa State University Pappajohn Center, prepare to mark their 25th year this September, director Judi Eyles reflects on the impact it has had in building the culture of entrepreneurship and innovation that continues to strengthen across the university.

“We’ve seen an incredible shift at all levels of the university to encourage entrepreneurship with students, faculty, and alumni, and to support their efforts with courses, programs, and resources,” said Eyles. “President Wintersteen and Ivy College of Business Dean David Spalding have been tremendous advocates for entrepreneurship and we’re seeing momentum and growth across campus, both culturally and physically.”

With two locations – headquarters in the ISU Research Park and a student workspace in the new Student Innovation Center – the ISU JPEC serves as a connection point for entrepreneurship resources across all colleges and programs. The center focuses on three areas: supporting entrepreneurship-related academic opportunities, creating experiential learning opportunities, and championing business development. The center also collaborates and works closely with America’s Small Business Development Center Iowa’s regional center at Iowa State University.

Students at all seven colleges at Iowa State have the opportunity to take entrepreneurship courses and earn undergraduate minors. Programs like ISU Startup Factory, CYstarters, CyBIZ Lab, as well as pitch competitions are all key parts of the center’s mission to provide mentoring and resources to students and faculty.

The ISU Startup Factory recently launched its 10th cohort of innovation teams that will spend two 26-week blocks developing and validating business ideas, then working with mentors, advisors, and investors to customize their business plans and next steps. CyBIZ Lab gives cross-functional teams of undergraduate and graduate students real-world experiences by providing services to businesses, startups, and nonprofits.

Support for innovation and entrepreneurship at all levels of the university is driving new ideas and opportunities.

“When I first started, we were mostly working with community members on business plans; faculty and researchers weren’t actively working to develop their ideas and build technology startups,” she said. “The culture has truly changed and we have a number of resources to help graduate students and faculty to develop their research projects.”

Agriculture and biosciences, as well as animal and human health, are seeing strong growth, with companies like VetMeasure, Farmland Finder, SmartAg, and more getting there through the center and its related programs. Eyles and the team at ISU JPEC partner with entrepreneurship programs at colleges, such as the Agricultural Entrepreneurship Initiative in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences or the Liberal Arts and Sciences Entrepreneurship and Innovation Academy.

“With all of the resources working together, we can help entrepreneurs with the support and expertise they need to get their business started and growing,” said Eyles.

The most notable physical changes at the campus can be seen in the new Student Innovation Center and the expansion of the ISU Research Park.

The Iowa State University Student Innovation Center opened in August 2020 with 140,000 square feet and five floors to serve as a resource for innovation of all types across the university.

“It is the physical space where all entrepreneurship activities can interconnect. In the past, it was challenging to make those connections across colleges and departments,” she said. “The new facility will provide the maker and lab spaces and equipment to create and test ideas, as well as meeting and workspaces for students to gather and work.”

The ISU Research Park features more than 400 acres and more than 800,000 square feet of developed building space housing more than 100 tenants. Tenants include startup companies, as well as major research and development facilities for industry leaders including John Deere, Sukup Manufacturing Co., Vermeer, Kent Corporation, and more.

“When the Center started, there was one completed building at the ISU Research Park and 10 tenants. Seeing the growth that started with incremental steps and now exponential growth has been incredible, and the number of intersections between startups and established companies benefits everyone,” she said.

In addition to access to world-class researchers, farmers, and industry leaders, Eyles said that Iowa’s business culture is an advantage to entrepreneurs.

“It is a very collaborative environment, everyone wants to help make connections. No one is hesitant to refer you to someone else, which I think is unique to the state of Iowa,” she said. “We’ve worked with people from other states where the environment is ultracompetitive and challenging to make connections.”