Skip to Content
background texture image

The John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center Leads the Startup Charge

May 4, 2023 | Business Support, Membership

David Hensely
David Hensley
Executive Director and Clinical Professor, John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center

When John and Mary Pappajohn created the John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center at the University of Iowa (Iowa JPEC) in 1996, John urged the team to educate and train as many students and community members as possible. When David Hensley, Executive Director and Clinical Professor, first joined the program nearly 25 years ago, he was excited to fulfill that mission. It’s in his DNA.

“I grew up in a family business and owned my own consulting business in Kansas City. When the John Pappajohn Centers were created, I wanted to move my family back to Iowa to see if I could help others pursue their dreams of launching an entrepreneurial venture.”

Hensley graduated from the University of Iowa with a Bachelors in Economics and Political Science. He earned his MBA in Finance from the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Since joining Iowa JPEC, he has seen it grow into a multifaceted resource for entrepreneurs on campus, across the state and globally. Iowa JPEC has developed a life-long learning program that also includes youth programs delivered through the Jacobson Institute to training aspiring entrepreneurs in Africa in partnership with the Institute for International Business.

“We have students from 90 different majors that take entrepreneurship classes. We have a cadre of outstanding staff, faculty and mentors to help students, faculty, staff and community entrepreneurs. We strive to offer assistance to all 99 counties in Iowa with new business development. We’ve established programs to empower people from any background, any level of experience, who want to learn about being an entrepreneur.”

The Venture School entrepreneurial training program is offered in multiple locations. This program works for startups, small businesses, non-profits and corporate innovation teams. Participants can test their business hypothesis by getting out into the community to talk to customers, partners, and competitors, rather than relying on static case studies and secondhand market research.

The center remains connected with other entrepreneurial organizations in the Corridor. “We regularly partner with the EDC, NewBoCo, Iowa City Area Development Group (ICAD), the Small Business Development Centers and community colleges. We try to focus on our area of expertise so we’re not duplicating efforts. If an entrepreneur comes to us and we’re not a good fit, we have a great number of resources we can point them to in the region.”

Hensley adds that community based partnerships help get the word out about how The Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center can help – and the Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance is key. “Our membership with the Economic Alliance gives us a really good connection to the Cedar Rapids community. There’s a large business contingent and being a member of an organization that is very well respected in the community helps give us credibility when we’re out talking about programs and services. We’ve received a lot of great benefits from being members over the years.”

One of the most important benefits Hensley points to is access to business leaders in the community, making it easier to open doors and build innovative partnerships. “We value the connectivity and the collaboration – the ability to share information about our programs throughout the region and get the information about our programs to the people who really need it. Our participation also helps to connect us to other members to serve as guest speakers and mentors in our entrepreneurial academic and outreach programs.”

The Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center focuses on helping existing businesses grow, and developing the next generation of entrepreneurial leaders. “Many new graduates are going to go work for someone else before they start their own business. It’s good to have a thriving business community in order to help students transition from college to a company, hopefully here in Iowa. Having a vibrant partner like the Economic Alliance makes our job easier, especially when it comes to connecting students to businesses in the region for internships and full-time employment.”

John Pappajohn’s vision to create the Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Centers transformed entrepreneurship and innovation education across the five campuses and served as a catalyst for building a vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem throughout Iowa. He will be remembered for his unmatched commitment to Iowa entrepreneurs, unparalleled positive mental attitude, unique ability to recognize and seize opportunities, and genuine kindness shown to all that knew him.

To find out more about how becoming a Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance member can benefit your organization, contact Anne Laugen,