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Pappajohn director says Wintersteen era at ISU sparked surge in entrepreneurship

The Innovate at Iowa State mindset has earned university multiple awards
Katlyn Campbell/Iowa State Daily
Newly installed President Wintersteen addresses the crowd at Stephens Auditorium on Sept. 21, 2018 during her presidential installation ceremony. “It’s so wonderful to see so many family members, friends and colleagues in the audience. Along with our students, our faculty and staff. I deeply appreciate your support, your prayers, and your good wishes,” Wintersteen said.

Iowa State was named the Entrepreneurial University of the Year in the Americas by the Accreditation Council for Entrepreneurial and Engaged Universities, but the road to the award started long ago, according to Judi Eyles, director of CyBiz Lab and Pappajohn Center for Entrepreneurship.

Iowa State has long been focused on cross-disciplinary innovation, and a recent branding campaign, Innovate at Iowa State, has played a major part in winning multiple awards for the university, according to Eyles. 

The award was up for grabs in a 33-country region, and Eyles said Iowa State won for its cross-disciplinary approach.

“I think that’s how we won this award, is that engagement across disciplines and within our community,” Eyles said. 

Iowa State contributes to its regional community and the world, Eyles said, and staying true to the land-grant mission has paid off in the form of a growing entrepreneurship program and recognition. This award is the third award Iowa State has received in the last three years. 

“I do think it is that diversity of how we teach and share entrepreneurship,” Eyles said. “Not to mention how at Iowa State, I think it ties very much back to our land grant mission. We’re learning and creating stuff here that goes out into the world and I think that’s probably why we stood apart from a lot.”

Eyles has been with the Pappajohn Center since 1996, when the center started. Eyles said the center has grown since then, and especially since President Wendy Wintersteen started as president in 2017. 

“Since President Winterstein became President, that is where things have taken off in a more visible way,” Eyles said.

Eyles recalled Wintersteen’s intention to cultivate entrepreneurship before she was president. Wintersteen engaged with the agriculture entrepreneurship program before taking office of the president, and promoted entrepreneurship at the next level, Eyles said.

“When the President stands up at her inauguration and says ‘I want Iowa State to be one of the most entrepreneurial and innovative universities,’ her staff, [and] her deans pay attention to that and support that,” Eyles said.

Wintersteen’s dedication to innovation has increased staff and student engagement in programs across campus.

“When you got somebody of that stature, with a megaphone on entrepreneurship, innovation and declaring that this is a strategic priorities university, it changes things,” Eyles said. 

Implementing a formal culture of innovation at Iowa State was easier, given the pieces of the puzzle have been around, Eyles said. “What made it easy for them and for everybody else, we already had so much going on.”

According to Eyles, everything has changed since Iowa State started the “Innovate at Iowa State” brand campaign in 2020.

“We’ve always had courses, we’ve always had experiences,” Eyles said. “But the branding, the Innovate at Iowa State and Start Something, branding the conversations, making it a more visible thing, I think has just changed everything. We’re as busy as ever. I’ve got 10 full-time people and we can’t keep up with all [that’s] going on.”

Triple E awards are meant to be a global recognition of efforts toward the quest for entrepreneurship and engagement in higher education, according to its website. The award rewards programs that engage communities and across disciplines.

Iowa State won the Americas region, one of four regions, and received the award at a reception in Barcelona, Spain. Europe, Africa and Asia-Pacific make up the other three regions.

The award, as well as the other awards Iowa State has brought back to Ames, provide validation to Iowa State’s image, Eyles said.

“[The award] is a great validation, and it is a tremendous recruitment opportunity for students,” Eyles said. “So instead of selling this idea that ‘hey, maybe whatever you’re studying, this might be interesting to you,’ I think they come here and see that the culture is really anybody can tap this if you have an interest and desire to explore entrepreneurship.”

Iowa State won the 2022 Nasdaq Center for Entrepreneurial Excellence Award and the 2021 United States Association for Small Business and Entrepreneurship Model Program Award.

Entrepreneurship at Iowa State at a glance

The Student Innovation Center is home to eight different Makerspaces, which students can use to practice innovating and fabricating their various ideas. (Jack McClellan)

Iowa State launched an entrepreneurship major in 2017 and offers a minor, master’s and doctoral degree in entrepreneurship.

The Pappajohn Center hosts pitch competitions, venture competitions and resources for entrepreneurs. 

CyStarters, a summer accelerator for ISU students and recent graduates gives funding and provides educational sessions for startups. 

Iowa State has made significant investments in entrepreneurship and innovation in recent years, including building the Student Innovation Center, an $84 million building, designed to engage majors from across the university. 

The Student Innovation Center hosts Innovate 1858, a student run retail store, a textiles studio, a digital media studio, a metal and wood shop and more. 

“People just rave about [the Student Innovation Center,]” Eyles said. “How cool is this? What a great building. It’s interdisciplinary.”

Accessibility to Interdisciplinary innovation is Iowa State’s style. “That’s what’s kind of appealing about entrepreneurship at Iowa State,” Eyles said. “It’s available to anybody in any way they personally want to access.”

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