John Pappajohn

A Conversation With Daryl Erdman

Director of the John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center

Business At Iowa

Daryl Erdman, a leading educator of entrepreneurship, was named director of the John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center in February. Erdman joins the University of Iowa faculty after serving as professor and chair of Small Business and Entrepreneurship at the University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis since 1984. While at St. Thomas, Erdman founded and directed the Center for Entrepreneurship, which gained national prominence as the only center in the country to offer an entrepreneurial studies program at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.

Erdman is a member of many professional associations and the recipient of several awards, including distinction as one of the top 10 Entrepreneurship Educators of the Year by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation and Ernst and Young. Over the last 30 years, he has created 12 companies in such industries as retailing, food service, property development, broadcasting and medical device manufacturing. In addition, Erdman has been involved in may start up ventures, among them a weekly newspaper, a trading stamp company and a temporary employment agency. He earned a double major in math/business administration from Luther College in 1961 and an MBA from Michigan State University in 1962.

Erdman, who will officially begin his duties June 1, recently spoke with Business at Iowa to discuss the future of the John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center and how students, faculty and the business community will influence its success.

Business At Iowa (BAI):As director, what is your short-term vision for the John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center?

Erdman: I think the most important thing is to pull a team of dedicated professionals together— people who appreciate the value of entrepreneurial education and who can work cooperatively in helping us build the program. I also think it is important for an entrepreneurial program to be recognized nationally not only for being innovative and creative but for its quality of education.

Sometimes one can outweigh the other so we need to keep that balance. I have a problem with programs that put on 90-minute seminars and turn participants out as entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurship takes some depth of education to ensure people of long-term success.

Once the team is together it will be important to visit with stakeholders, particularly those of the University of Iowa, to get their input and suggestions to shape the program's ultimate vision. Even though I have strong opinions about entrepreneurship because of my experience, I recognize that if the John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center is going to work I have to be open to suggestions. That way we can create a win/win situation. Once the center's team has input we will develop a plan with specific goals and objectives. Personally I'd like to see the UI entrepreneurship program achieve national recognition within three years. I think national recognition enhances a program immensely especially in attracting top quality students. It also helps to attract international students which broadens everyone's horizons.

BAI: Your long-term vision?

Erdman: First what has already occurred with entrepreneurial studies at Iowa is amazing given the amount of resources that were available before John Pappajohn stepped in to provide support. I'm hopeful that with some focused attention and the additional resources we can package many of the things that currently exist to develop a total program. I look at this a little differently than just courses here and there. A total program means a progression of courses that lead to new venture creation. We will have to examine the series of course offerings and prerequisites, all those things that make for a logical progression of events that help students launch a business. Basically in the long run I'd like to see the center as a major resource in Iowa for people to turn to for advice about starting, developing, and growing successful businesses. We want to become a leader in business and job creation We need to develop both credit and non-credit programs to allow that to happen.

BAI: What are the components of a successful entrepreneurial center?

Erdman: Generally speaking there are three major components At the top is quality teaching both at the degree and non degree levels. This is accomplished partly by educators who as we say "have been there and done that." I really feel this is a particular discipline that is like swimming. It's not hard to teach people how to swim but it is hard for you to teach them if you don't get wet yourself. Naturally entrepreneurs get accused of only sharing war stories in the classroom, but I don't know how else you teach entrepreneurs to avoid land mines except through others' experiences. Of course we can't do it alone. There are some subjects that require vast academic learning and expertise and others that require only street knowledge.

Another important element of a successful program is publication and research. Some talk about these two separately but I think they are one and the same. If you do research then it has to be published and used. In entrepreneurship research needs to focus on the applied side. It should offer things people can put to use such as case studies, transitional management issues innovative means to, strategic advantages all the things that help businesses achieve greater success.

The third component is having complete programs in credit and non-credit areas. These programs should be designed to help people differentiate between opportunities and ideas, learn how to find and access proper resources, and find the means for implementing or exploiting their plans. With these components in place the measurable results will be business development and growth.

BAI: The John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center is a unique collaboration among the College of Business, the College of Engineering and the units of the Health Sciences. How can these entities individually contribute to the success of the center?

Erdman: I sense a tremendous amount of cooperation already among the three participants. Initially we need to establish an open and continuous dialogue in identifying opportunities for program development in each area. Their needs are many and varied and without that kind of discussion I'd only be speculating. Most of the successful ventures created at St. Thomas were the result of students meeting in classes and working on projects together.

Successful entrepreneurship is one of teamwork and shared values. By combining the skills and expertise of the three units participating in entrepreneurial studies at Iowa we'll have a dynamic complementary environment. This synergy will be a tremendous catalyst for opportunities. If we do nothing else, I hope that we can bring together students who have wonderful ideas but limited knowledge of how to create a business with students who have business sense but who lack ideas to create some unique companies.

BAI: What role will business leaders play in the educational progress and service activities of the center?

Erdman: We will call on those in the business community to fill a variety of roles such as teaching full courses, serving on advisory boards, appearing as guest lecturers, and participating in outreach programs, professional associations, and program development. Some of this is already occurring. At St. Thomas we averaged 60 business contacts from the community each semester. I checked with my faculty and they never had anyone say no. Entrepreneurs love helping other entrepreneurs and giving back.

BAI: How can the John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center be an active partner with industry in facilitating economic development in the state of Iowa?

Erdman: One of the things we will begin doing is building a critical mass of entrepreneurs through the educational programs that we provide. The center also will be a catalyst in helping to identify opportunities. I believe the best businesses and the best jobs are home grown; they are not stolen from another state. We need to create outreach activities that will help train and develop leaders in existing small businesses in Iowa to grow their companies. In addition we need to work with economic development officials in developing those programs to meet whatever specific needs are out there. I'd like to take some programs such as the entrepreneurship camp for young people one step further. If we can train teachers to spread the message in schools we'll have a more sustained impact.

BAI: Is the primary role of the center to teach students to be successful entrepreneurs?

Erdman: I think it's a key role but it's not the only one. Another role is helping people make the choice of deciding whether they want to pursue entrepreneurship as a career. I tell people we teach entrepreneurs not entrepreneurship. It's not much different from someone who's assessing whether or not to be a chemist. How does someone determine this? A person takes a chemistry class and decides whether he or she has an affinity for the profession. Of all those people who take a beginning course in chemistry some will never take a class again. While I was at St. Thomas the success rate was over 90 percent for new business creation. The reason is that we taught students the specific skills that helped them make the correct assessment so they could walk into their venture with their eyes wide open and with the proper planning in place. If we don't give students relevant information that they can apply immediately they'll leave the program.

BAI: You've developed 12 businesses in the last 30 years. What' are your entrepreneurial strengths and weaknesses?

Erdman: I'm a good teacher and I enjoy teaching. I'm fairly creative and I also like ambiguity—a characteristic that really separates real entrepreneurs from the "wannabes. " Some people are blown out of the water when they can't impose structure or total control over a situation. In addition I'm reasonably good at bringing a team together and allowing members to do what they do best. My greatest weakness is following up on details; I have a tendency to get bored with the mundane everyday things. I need someone to manage the "back office" and make sure I don't let things fall through the cracks. One of the things that we do in an entrepreneurial program is assist students in identifying their strengths and weaknesses. Once they can do this they are better able to build executive teams. The best entrepreneurial events are created by teams not by individuals.

 

John and Mary Pappajohn Donate $1.5 Million for Entrepreneurial Studies

Venture capitalist John Pappajohn (52BSC) president of Equity Dynamics Inc. and his wife Mary contributed$1.5 million through the University of Iowa Foundation to expand the institute for Entrepreneurial Management which has focused on teaching and cultivating entrepreneurship since 1979. In recognition of this gift the institute has been renamed the John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center and it is housed in the Pappajohn Business Administration Building.

The center was recently directed by Edward Moldt one of the country's leading authorities on entrepreneurship who helped bring national attention to the program. During Moldt's tenure as acting director the program's Y.E.S.S. (Youth Empowerment and Self Sufficiency) camp was featured on NBC's "Today Show" and the program was recognized by Success magazine as one of the top 25 programs to watch. Last year nearly 600 students and private citizens enrolled in entrepreneurship courses and seminars through the center.

The John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center is a joint enterprise among the College of Business Administration, College of Engineering, and the units of the Health Sciences. Pappajohn's gift will help broaden the center's teaching efforts fund the development of programs to promote business development and entrepreneurship in the state promote technology transfer and new business ventures both inside and outside the university and link entrepreneurs with venture capitalists.

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