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John Pappajohn on What Makes an Entrepreneur

posted on October 5, 2007 at 3:08 PM


His office attests to his love of art. John Pappajohn's reputation as a philanthropist is the equal of his stature as an art collector. Both passions are fueled by another, his love of growing new ventures. With a personal fortune estimated at a half a billion dollars, he is giving away both art and cash. Perhaps most notably, Pappajohn is sharing his vision by financing five entrepreneurial education centers in the state.

Since their inception a decade ago, the centers have produced nearly three thousand business startups, for more than sixty thousand students who have gone through the entrepreneurial cirriculum.

Mundt: You've spent million of dollars educating entrepreneurs in Iowa, educating young students. How do you educate an entrepreneur?

Pappajohn: It's hard to create an entrepreneur. You expose them to the opportunities that are available to them. By teaching entrepreneur classes, assisting them, putting a business plan together, talking about opportunities in different fields… If they have a spark, if they create a passion. But if they don't… lots of people get motivated for a day or two, but that motivation has to last, or they're really not entrepreneurs.

If they fail at first, they can turn around and start again. If they're a true entrepreneur, they will find another project and get started again.

Mundt: Of ten students who would come and sit down in the room and take one of your entrepreneurial programs, how many of them have the spark?

Assuming that you have ten motivated students, one or two will venture out and start a business. What's happening today is that many of the students now are starting businesses when they're in college. For instance, University of Iowa has an incubator, and they have over fifteen start-up businesses in that incubator. Iowa State has been doing this for years.

So when you have an incubator and you can get students started early, then you can assist them to do the business plan, assist them with marketing. Then the probability of success becomes much higher.

Mundt: Do you wish that you had a class like that when you were at that age?

Pappajohn: Absolutely, absolutely. I had no help. It's kind of interesting. When I look back, I'm not sure why I made it, but I spent a lot of time and I was not willing to fail. I kept plugging away at it, and then I did get lucky.

Mundt: How would you describe the entrepreneurial culture of Iowa? Compare it to other parts of the country. Are we a conservative culture? Are we willing to get out and try new things?

Pappajohn: We're both. I think that as I go back thirty-eight years, we were quite entrepreneurial. And then we had a farm crisis that created a very serious recession. And then there were several start up companies in Iowa, and many of them went public. When that happens, more people hear about it, and they say: "Well, if he can do it, I can do it." I think that today, Iowa has become very entrepreneurial. I think the centers have helped.

Mundt: More than sixty thousand students have gone through your education programs. Is that correct? Sixty-two thousand?

Pappajohn: Over sixty, yes.

Mundt: Where do you want to go next with the educational program?

Pappajohn: Good question. I guess I want to expand it. I think that the challenge in Iowa is great enough for me.

Mundt: I see fewer headlines now of states trying to attract companies to bring factories in from the outside.

Pappajohn: Economically, it's probably better to create your own industry, because when you're bringing in industry, it usually costs a lot of money. Although one of the things about being from Iowa, when I go to New York and I'm in Wall street -- I'm in New York ten to twelve days every month. When I tell them I'm from Iowa, they love it. Iowa has a wonderful reputation, a good work ethic reputation. It just resonates, and so it is a real plus. It is a real plus.

Mundt: What do you consider to be your greatest legacy?

Pappajohn: I think philanthropy, and probably the entrepreneurial centers. Somebody called me recently "Johnny Moneyseed," in other words, Johnny Appleseed. You look for a return. There's not a financial return for us, but what good did it do? How many people did it help? Has it saved lives? Has it created jobs? In other words, there aren't many negatives to philanthropy. And so it becomes a matter of where the best return is for your money.

 

Tags: business economy education Iowa

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