Pappajohn family contributes $10 million to entrepreneurial centers

The five centers across the state of Iowa, including at the UI, will use the money to help fund startups and conduct collaborative competitions.


Cecilia Shearon

The John Pappajohn Business Building on a sunny afternoon on Sept. 1, 2021.

Ryan Hansen, News Reporter

John and Mary Pappajohn will contribute $10 million to five university entrepreneurial centers in their names across the state of Iowa with the goal of make Iowa one of the most entrepreneurial states in the country.

The contribution, which was announced at a 25th anniversary event for the centers on Sep. 23, will go to the John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Centers located at the University of Iowa, the University of Northern Iowa, Iowa State University, Drake University, and North Iowa Area Community College.

UI John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center Executive Director David Hensley said the money from the donation will help the center to thoroughly develop its programs outside of academics.

He said he was unclear on how the money would be distributed between the five centers.

“By receiving that $10 million gift, that’s going to allow us to continue to launch new programs, build our existing programs, to transform our campuses and the state of Iowa,” Hensley said. “And, hopefully, make Iowa the most entrepreneurial state in the country.”

Hensley said the five centers operate independently from one another, and things done at the UI are more comprehensive in some ways than what is done at the other four centers. He said the UI center uniquely attempts to engage with younger students.

“We will place student consulting teams with Iowa companies to help them identify growth opportunities, both international and local growth opportunities,” Hensley said. “We will [also] sponsor University of Iowa students to be interns at Iowa small-to-medium size enterprises.”

Hensley said the UI program includes involvement in K-12 education, which helps encourage teachers to incorporate education from the UI entrepreneurship center as well as science, technology, engineering, and math in their curriculum.

Hensley said the UI’s center works with the broader community by placing student consulting teams with Iowa companies in order to identify opportunities for growth both locally and internationally.

“Students receive academic credit and have an amazing, real-world experience and help Iowa businesses grow,” Hensley said.

The five centers also work together on certain programs in a supportive role for small businesses and aspiring entrepreneurs as they look to grow their businesses, Hensley said. The centers also partner for business competitions throughout the year.

One in particular, the Pappajohn Student Entrepreneurial Venture Competition, is conducted every spring and is open to anyone in the state of Iowa, Hensley said. The competition provides funding for the top startups pitched to the entrepreneurial centers and often, he said, the businesses funded through the competition are successful.

“Seventy-seven percent of the companies that were funded through that statewide competition are still in operation today,” Hensley said. “That’s really a great success.”

Hensley said the competitions were very successful in identifying businesses that can succeed, and 77 percent of those funded by the state-wide entrepreneurship centers are still in business today.

UI John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center Director Lynn Allendorf, who is also an adjunct lecturer, said the center helps entrepreneurs that come in many forms, including students, faculty, staff, and anyone from around the state of Iowa who may need guidance.

The contribution, Allendorf said, will also help fund and develop the competitions facilitated by the five state-wide entrepreneurial centers.

“We have a large academic program, and that’s funded with tuition,” Allendorf said. “But extracurricular things like helping someone start a business or having a seed-funding competition to inspire startups, those kinds of things would not be possible without John and Mary’s gift.”

Over the past 25 years, Allendorf said Iowa’s centers have been at the forefront of entrepreneurial service as the presence of entrepreneurial centers has exploded throughout the country.

“We weren’t the first people in the country to be doing, but we were leading-edge,” Allendorf said. “We were extremely early in helping student entrepreneurs.”

Laurie Watje, associate director for the University of Northern Iowa’s center, said the donation will help sustain the vision that John Pappajohn set out to achieve 25 years ago — to make Iowa the most entrepreneurial state in the country.

Watje said her center at UNI will use the money to, among other things, retain the staffing that provides programming for student entrepreneurs.

She said her program’s student business incubator provides one-on-one student counseling for young entrepreneurs and will be supplemented by this donation.

“We’re very appreciative of the continuous support of John and Mary Pappajohn,” Watje said. “And we’re appreciative of the continued support to the students that make a lasting impact in the state of Iowa and beyond.”