Where Startups Grow Like Weeds

Where Startups Grow Like Weeds
iGoStartup Team
by iGoStartup Team

Hub of all the excitement is clearly the University of Iowa, which has erected (no, not silos and barns) an impressively near-complete entrepreneurial ecosystem albeit sadly without a serious VC in sight. At the hub of this fast-growing network is the U of Iowa in Iowa City, the onetime state capitol that is overrun by the University and its huge sister hospital. One disease they surely haven’t cured: entrepreneurship, which is reaching near-epidemic proportions in Iowa.

More important than any startup in particular was the energy and enthusiasm of the 60-plus educators I met with from all levels—all eager to forget the business plan and teach Steve Blank’s “get out of the building” approach and all the key life skills it teaches along the way. Teachers using Customer Development are reporting great results, including a foursome of interlopers from Kansas City who perhaps should be teaching other educators themselves since they’re so darn good.

Entrepreneurship starts and branches out from U of I’s Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center, which has attracted an impressive range of teachers, coaches, and advisors including quite a few impressive cast members with real startup chops. Many have been recruited into adjunct roles, while others balance classroom teaching with coaching, incubator, and economic development roles, all headed by Dave Hensley, an Iowa born’n’bred who has moved from farm to startup to his clear favorite role as “startup fertilizer” (the more appropriate word might be “catalyst” in this state where fertilizer has a perhaps more pungent meaning).

Despite what you may think, John Pappajohn achieved great entrepreneurial success in the insurance industry, without a single slice of pepperoni. His generosity to Iowa’s entrepreneurs has truly been catalytic and I’m sad I didn’t get to meet him.

The program’s annual report reads like that of a hot company, citing achievements, year-over-increases, “customers” and more ( A special Jacobson Institute focuses on youth entrepreneurship achievement, and on teaching entrepreneurship when they’re young — all about mitigating the “brain drain” and giving native young Iowans more incentives to start and grow their businesses at home. (Can’t finish this post without kudos to the trainer/coach leadership team driven relenetlessly by total “type a” Jennifer Ott , Dawn Bolus and colleagues, sorry!)

Nearly 4,000 students (roughly 5 percent grad students) are involved in entrepreneurship at U of I. And that doesn’t count at least as many secondary and even elementary students who are taught entrepreneurship as “life lessons” such as STEM subjects, looking people in the eye, life skills and more. In the last year alone, more than 175 startups received over 9,000 hours of one-on-one consulting and hundreds of thousands in seed funding—not much by Silicon Valley standards perhaps, but a number that’s increasing dramatically. Hundreds of students do hands-on entrepreneurship projects with established companies in town, and the flow of ideas and students from corporations to healthcare to academia is well-lubricated by programming and advisors from each of the three areas.

As read on the DorfOnStartups blog.