Des Moines Register 08-12-07 Elbert: Pappajohn inspires, rewards start-up ventures


Des Moines Register


Elbert: Pappajohn inspires, rewards start-up ventures


Venture capitalist John Pappajohn has been trying to create an Iowa culture of entrepreneurship for as long as I've known him.

The Des Moines businessman is a big fan of entrepreneurs, in part, because he realizes that by increasing the number of smart business start-ups in the state, he'll increase the number of opportunities for venture capitalists, like himself.

At this point, though, his efforts in Iowa are far more philanthropic than selfserving. At 79 years of age, he's well past the point where he needs to make more money or find new business opportunities, although he continues to do both.

Although Pappajohn plays on a national stage when it comes to investing, he recognized years ago that entrepreneurship in Iowa was on the decline. Part of the problem, experts have since said, is that the risk-averse nature of Iowa's insurance industry choked off investment, which tended to discourage young people from starting businesses to the extent that they did in other parts of the country.

To overcome that disadvantage, Pappajohn put his money where his mouth was during the mid-1990s and established Pappajohn business and entrepreneur centers in Iowa City, Ames, Cedar Falls, Des Moines and Mason City at a personal cost of tens of millions of dollars.

More than a decade later, Iowans see the results of his seed money in the entrepreneurial clusters that have formed in and around the five Pappajohn centers.

His impact is obvious from the list of finalists for this year's annual John

Pappajohn Iowa Business Plan Competition.

More than 70 Iowa businesses entered the seven-month competition last March.

Cash prizes of $25,000, $15,000 and $10,000 will be awarded to the top three business winners following a final selection at the annual Iowa Venture Capital and Entrepreneur Conference in Des Moines on Oct. 10.

Now there are nine finalists, although three more are expected to be added in coming weeks, said Jamie Zanios, director of the Pappajohn center in

Pappajohn's hometown of Mason City.

The businesses in this year's competition are an interesting mix of start-ups and established companies trying something new, Zanios said.

Finalists range from sexy biotech ag, pharmaceutical and health care businesses to a plain-Jane transportation company. There's a software manufacturer created by academics in Ames and a design company in Newton put together by former

Maytag employees.

The finalists include:

- TMT Manufacturing is a Davenport company that provides robotic welding and other high-tech, turn-key manufacturing services to customers in the watercraft, oil rigging and heavy construction equipment industries. TMT's leaders have more than 120 years of combined experience in advanced manufacturing and are seeking intellectual property protection on proprietary products that have already driven sales during the first year to nearly $2 million. Sales are expected to jump to more than $6 million in 2008, according to TMT's president, Tim


- Renew Energy-Briq Systems is a business created last December in Osage to mass produce biomass fuel briquettes from waste products from grain milling and ethanol plants, as well as from cardboard, pallets and sawdust.

- Innovative Crop Solutions of Iowa Falls was created earlier this year to market a new type of fertilizer that is "engineered to provide a slow release of nutrients to the surrounding soil for the entire growth cycle of the plant."

- Aims Bio Inc. is a business created by scientists at Iowa State University to provide analytical equipment and services to plant breeders. The company's initial product "quickly and accurately measures the nutritional components of distillers grains from ethanol plants, cereal grains in plant breeding programs and cereal-based products in the food and feed industry," says founder Colin


- Express Auto Delivery is a five-year-old business in Des Moines and Cedar

Rapids that provides drivers to car dealers and others who need to transport individual automobiles.

- EndoMetric is a medical technology company founded by ISU scientists . The company says its software can be used "to capture videos during colonoscopy and upload the videos to a central server for further analysis." Related products provide automatic analysis of colonoscopy exams.

- KemPharm Inc. of Coralville was founded in 2006 by Travis and Christal Mickle, a husband-wife team of research scientists. The company is focused on the

discovery and development of new, safer therapies for the treatment of attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder and other illnesses with a patented technology called ligand activated therapy.

- Springboard Engineering of Newton is a collection of former Maytag engineers who have joined to create contract engineering and design services.

- Ensoft Enabling Software of Ames is a five-year-old business that sells software engineering tools. Customers include aerospace and avionics companies in

Europe and Japan, as well as the United States.

Business Editor David Elbert can be reached at (515) 284-8533 or