The John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center is not only one of the fastest growing programs in the Tippie College of Business, but also at the University of Iowa as a whole, with classes and programs at capacity.
“When I got here in 1999, enrollments were at about 200,” said David Hensley, executive director of the center and who also serves as a clinical professor of business and interim associate vice president for economic development. “Today our enrollment is at more than 4,000 and we are a campuswide program.”
The growth in the program can be attributed to several economic, environmental and cultural factors, Hensley and other leaders said.
“When you look at the new job creation going on in this country over the last 10 years, you see that big companies aren’t hiring more people. They are contracting,” said Sarah Fisher Gardial, new dean of the Henry B. Tippie College of Business. “Job creation is with mid- and small-sized businesses. It’s smart for students to recognize those opportunities.”
“Students realize they may have to create their opportunities,” Hensley added. “Through this program they are prepared to work effectively in those organizations — (at) small and mid-sized companies where job creation is happening.”
The digital revolution also has played a role, Fisher Gardial said.
“The opportunity to start your own business has exploded,” she said. “The barriers to entry to starting a business are extremely low.
“You used to have a lot of capital or sweat equity into it but today entrepreneurs are being encouraged in a way they never have been before in our economy.”
“This generation has grown up seeing people their age become successful. Traditional career paths have changed drastically,” Hensley added.
It’s what Fisher Gardial called the Zuckerberg factor, after Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg, who was born in 1984.
The Pappajohn Center was created in 1996 — through a gift from John and Mary Pappajohn of Des Moines — putting the University of Iowa ahead of the curve on developing the next generation of entrepreneurs.
“Mr. Pappajohn is a wonderful alum of the college who is an incredible entrepreneur in his own right. He is a true business, startup and finance guru,” Fisher Gardial said.
Pappajohn, who immigrated from Greece when only nine months old and grew up in Mason City, started an insurance agency after graduation and over time organized and became chairman of Guardsman Insurance Investors, a holding company for Guardsman Life.
He started Equity Dynamics, a financial consulting entity, and Pappajohn Capital Resources, a venture-capital business, in 1969 in Des Moines. Pappajohn has been involved in more than 100 start-ups, 50 IPOs and been a director in more than 40 public companies.
“We have a responsibility to help with economic development across the state,” Fisher Gardial said.
“Mr. Pappajohn said, Go spread the gospel. Touch as many people as you can and educate as many students and give them a basic understanding of the entrepreneurial mindset,” added Hensley.
That idea remains at the heart of the program to this day, Hensley said.
“People often think of entrepreneurship as just starting a business. At (the center), we talk about how you lead an organization and take that entrepreneurial spirit and apply it to a startup, a nonprofit, a small business or a corporation.
“Companies want employees that can recognize, evaluate and see opportunities, take some risks, and look for partnership opportunities. So, that entrepreneurial mindset is weaved through the program.”
The program is actually a partnership between the Henry B. Tippie College of Business, College of Engineering, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and University of Iowa health sciences. The center’s academic programs got their start with the undergraduate Certificate of Entrepreneurial Management — 18 to 20 hours worth of courses that focus on the core curriculum ideas of innovation, identifying opportunities and business strategy and offer room for a plethora of electives.
It was launched campuswide in 2001.
The program also offers a bachelor of business administration in management with an entrepreneurial management track. Advanced entrepreneurship courses also are offered to MBA students on campus and at several locations across the state.
Hensley said another approach of the center is lifelong learning.
“It’s important to us to get young people started early, for them to get a taste of entrepreneurship,” he noted.
With that in mind, the Jacobson Institute for Youth Entrepreneurship offers entrepreneurship programs for students in kindergarten-through-grade-12 and works with high school teachers across the state.
Another element of the program is the Bedell Entrepreneurship Learning Laboratory. The student-focused incubator — which features 17 private offices in a 10,000-square-foot renovated fraternity house — is open to any student on campus, undergraduate or graduate, seeking to start his or her business while still in school.
More important than providing physical work space, the eight-year-old program offers mentoring and support, said Acting Director Lynn Allendorf.