In Memorial of John Pappajohn


Through a generous gift from John and Mary Pappajohn, the John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center at the University of Northern Iowa was established in 1996. As a part of the Wilson College of Business, UNI JPEC has grown its influence in the entrepreneurial community and inspired thousands of entrepreneurs to start a business in Iowa. 

John Pappajohn immigrated from Greece at the age of nine months. He grew up in Mason City, Iowa. His father died when he was 16 years old…and it changed his world. He worked his way through college and alternated working and attending school with his brothers. It took him six years to get his degree. He attended Mason City Junior College (now North Iowa Area Community College) and then graduated with a BSC degree in business from the University of Iowa in 1952. He did not interview for a job. He wanted to own his own business. He established an insurance agency after graduation from college and subsequently organized and became Chairman of the Board of Guardsman Insurance Investors, a public insurance holding company that owned Guardsman Life. John Pappajohns journey, marked by determination, underscores his enduring impact on the business world. His legacy extends far beyond his lifetime, benefiting Iowa entrepreneurs. His story, from young immigrant to successful business icon, will continue to inspire young entrepreneurs at UNI.

John Pappajohn left his legacy by supporting entrepreneurs

Leaving a Legacy

‌Finding Success

In 1969, Mr. Pappajohn organized Equity Dynamics, Inc., a financial consulting entity and Pappajohn Capital Resources, a venture capital firm in Des Moines, Iowa. He was one of the early venture capitalists. Since this time, Mr. Pappajohn has been involved in more than 100 start-ups, more than 50 IPOs and has served as a Director in more than 40 public companies. Many of these firms remain in Mr. Pappajohn’s corporate portfolio. By establishing these firms, Mr. Pappajohn has contributed much to the development of biotechnology, artificial intelligence, and other innovations.

Establishing Centers

In the fall of 1996, Mr. Pappajohn established the John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Centers at five Iowa universities and colleges – Drake University, Iowa State University, North Iowa Area Community College, The University of Iowa, and the University of Northern Iowa. He has funded the various Centers for more than $30 million. These centers have helped create and launch 1000s of companies throughout the years. Although each entrepreneurial center has defined its own mission and serves the state in the manner consistent with its particular strengths, each Center has the same ultimate purpose: to enhance the effectiveness of Iowa’s entrepreneurs.


Mr. Pappajohn and his late wife, Mary, have gifted more than $100 million to various philanthropic causes including five entrepreneurial centers: the John Pappajohn Business Building at the University of Iowa Business School, the Pappajohn Pavilion at the University of Iowa Hospital and Clinics, the John and Mary Pappajohn Clinical Cancer Center and the Pappajohn Biomedical Institute Building at the University of Iowa. In 2001, he funded the NIACC Pappajohn Business Building in Mason City. He and Mary committed $4 million to help finance the John and Mary Pappajohn Higher Education Center, a collaborative of seven universities and colleges in Iowa. Recently, John and Mary gave an additional $10 million to the five JPEC centers.