Written by: Emily Haan, Marketing & Public Relations Intern, Ames Chamber of Commerce
Judi Eyles has worked with young entrepreneurs for over 25 years, and as the Director of the Iowa State University Pappajohn Center for Entrepreneurship (ISUPJCE), it is her job to foster innovation and inspire the boldness that is necessary to becoming a successful entrepreneur. For Eyles and the rest of the PJCE, there is no better place to spark new ideas than at the Iowa State University Research Park (ISURP).
Iowa State and the Pappajohn Center connect young, student entrepreneurs with resources and opportunities to practice and learn about true entrepreneurial endeavors. These students immerse themselves in real-business operations, something students cannot always receive in the classroom.
The Pappajohn Center has been endorsing entrepreneurial innovation since the organization's inception, however, it is only recently that they have identified that entrepreneurship is actually defined by innovation. According to Eyles, you cannot be an entrepreneur without being innovative.
“Innovation was something people couldn’t explain, and now it's an accepted part of our language, philosophy, and what we do,” Eyles said about the evolution of innovation. “At the Research Park, innovation threads through everything we do.”
When Eyles started 25 years ago, the archetype entrepreneur was born, not made. Innate abilities trumped work ethic and training. Today, however, at the Pappajohn Center innovation is explored, inspired and learned, molding versatile entrepreneurs.
The Space to Grow
Prior to their arrival at the ISU Research Park, the PJCE had all the energy to inspire student entrepreneurs, but without the proper facility. Their old space was small, lackluster, and did not allow for student collaboration-a key aspect of entrepreneurship.
“You can have a space to work, but it’s what you do to interact with others that is valuable to entrepreneurs,” Elyes said.
Now equipped with conference rooms, training rooms, and a student work space, the Research Park has made it accessible for students to have these important interactions. The ISURP has made it easier for students to collaborate, engage, and feel like a part of the Pappajohn team. The core facility itself has created an energy that inspires innovation.
“We love the space, we love the community that can and should happen here,” said Eyles of the Pappajohn workspace. “The Research Park provides support to our space, it is very functional and it offers us innovative networking opportunities.”
The Research Park has grown exponentially over the past 25 years, and this growth can partially be attributed to what they do to provide for their companies. From efficient upkeep, providing support to the space, and showcasing their businesses, Eyles applauds what she calls the Iowa’s greatest landlords. Eyles and her team appreciate how the Park is constantly asking what they can do to better provide more for their innovators.
Their dedication to their tenants has inspired similar parks around the nation. It is not uncommon for other associates to visit and learn how they can implement a similar mission at their locations. Eyles said that she hopes The Park will only continue to grow, as she has witnessed first-hand for years.
“We keep growing, with a forward vision,” said Eyles.
Starting with the Students
The most prominent work done with the Pappajohn Center for Entrepreneurship is their work with students. Through numerous programs, their students are able to work with businesses (many of whom are in the ISU Research Park), on case studies, internships, and ultimately learn about business practices with an entrepreneurial lens.
“We are able to give our students the time, resources, connections, networks, and space, all of those things at the Research Park,” said Eyles.
The Pappajohn Center works with all the colleges at Iowa State with the goal of sprinkling entrepreneurship and innovation directly into classes. Much of the time this includes guest speakers coming into the classroom, like their Reiman Entrepreneurial Speaker Series, and providing on-campus programs such as entrepreneurs club. However, most of the work the PJCE does is outside of the classroom, with their primary activities centered in the Research Park. This allows students to get hands-on, real-world experience, and allows businesses the access to the insightful talent coming right out of Iowa State.
“All of our programs are meant to help people develop the tools and the resources to do what they’re doing, but a large part of that is connecting with resources at the Park, resources in the community, and resources around campus,” Eyles said.
This space at the Research Park provides an unparalleled advantage for students, as they have a direct path to companies right next door. Eyles said that many clients of the PJCE are right in the Research Park, giving students that critical networking opportunity. When these young entrepreneurs are ready to start their own business, they are well-equipped and well-rounded innovators as a result of their experiences at the PJCE.
Flourishing in Ames
Elyes’ goal, along with the rest of the Pappajohn Center for Entrepreneurship, is simple: to inspire innovation that can flourish in the City of Ames.
“At the end of the day, our goal is to create businesses, especially ones that stay here in Ames,” said Eyles.
The biggest advantage, according to Eyles, is the fact the Research Park offers potential businesses a perfect starting point. Entrepreneurs are provided flexible opportunities to set-up camp and start their venture, but also the chance to grow into a bigger business. These small start-ups are able to look like real businesses before they are one. Eyles said there are examples of this all over the park.
“We have a Research Park that has flexible space, an opportunity for people to grow, and also access to all those resources and programs that are available,” said Eyles. “It is helping us serve our mission which is to create companies that can thrive in Ames.”
It is just the beginning for the Pappajohn Center for Entrepreneurship, and with the support of Iowa State and the Research Park, students are fortunate to gain incomparable experience and knowledge right here in Ames.
I can’t help but reflect back on the year we’ve had. It’s safe to say that 2020 was an unexpected whirlwind of events that kept us all on our toes. Now a vaccine is on the horizon and we may, at some point in the first half of 2021, slowly be returning to the normal that once was. Yet, when I reflect back, I can’t help but feel immense gratitude for this place I call home. Through thick and thin, we have stuck together.
This was truly a year to be #StoryCountyStrong. The Ames Chamber of Commerce team initiated this social media campaign back at the height of restrictions in March to help keep the community rallied together. What we didn’t expect, was how easy it was to get the word out about the campaign. Almost immediately, we saw businesses posting signs in their windows with #StoryCountyStrong, or children creating #StoryCountyStrong chalk designs. I found it difficult to travel anywhere throughout town without seeing the hashtag prominently displayed.
As the year progressed, we worked together to safely keep businesses open with hospitality promises delivered to every restaurant and bar in Story County and reopening guides delivered to businesses getting ready to open their doors again, or others donated handmade face coverings to ensure employees could safely return to work. When the Iowa State University students were returning to Ames, we welcomed them back with open arms and helped them navigate the new regulations in the community. They had been gone for six months, experiencing the pandemic elsewhere, and we helped them learn how to live in their new hometown while they were at school.
When the derecho hit, we removed debris from our neighbor’s yards, and opened our homes to strangers in need of a warm meal and a phone recharge. Our community worked together, without being asked, to ensure others were safe and without need.
Although there were points in time when the changes felt never ending and at times it was easy to get frustrated with the state of things, I am proud to say our community hung in there and helped one another as we collectively endured. From the start of the pandemic, to derecho clean up and sharing electricity, we stuck through it all, together. I wouldn’t have wanted to live anywhere else then right here in Story County. Thank you for always staying #StoryCountyStrong and all the best for a terrific 2021.