In Memoriam: John Pappajohn

John Pappajohn | July 31, 1928 – April 22, 2023

Entrepreneur. Immigrant. Business Leader. Venture Capitalist. Philanthropist.

It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of John Pappajohn, the founder, and namesake of the John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Centers. He died April 22, 2023 at the age of 94. John Pappajohn was a man who believed in the power of hard work, the importance of giving back, and the value of helping others achieve their dreams.

Tim Putnam, former Director of the NIACC Pappajohn Center, said, “John always talked about having a Positive Mental Attitude (PMA) and this philosophy was a driving force behind how we carried out our daily work. John has created a legacy that will be passed on by the thousands of entrepreneurs assisted by the five entrepreneurial centers, something that cannot be replicated anywhere across the country. It was an honor to have been a part of the NIACC Pappajohn Center in John’s hometown.”

John Pappajohn was born in Greece in 1928, immigrating to the United States when he was nine months old. He grew up in the Greek community in Mason City, Iowa, with his parents, George and Maria, and brothers Socrates and Aristotle. He often said he learned the value of hard work and how to solve problems at an early age. When John was 16, his father died suddenly, leaving John, his mother Maria, and his brothers to run the family grocery store. John graduated from Mason City High School, then earned a Bachelor of Science (BSc) degree from the University of Iowa. It took six years to complete his degree because John and his brothers took turns: while two went to school, the other would work.

After graduating from the University of Iowa, Pappajohn returned to Mason City and went into the insurance business. He then started his own company, Guardsman Life Insurance, in 1962. After seven years, he sold the company and used the money to become a venture capitalist, founding his own financial consulting firm, Equity Dynamics, and establishing a venture capital fund, Pappajohn Capital Resources. His investments in medical technology and health care were particularly successful. Pappajohn took part in more than 100 startups and 50 IPOs and has served as a director for over 40 public companies. He built his reputation as a savvy investor with a nose for potential and a tireless champion who worked hands-on with the companies he backed.

John Pappajohn was a passionate advocate for entrepreneurship. In 1996, Pappajohn provided the seed funding to establish the five John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Centers across the state of Iowa. The centers are located at North Iowa Area Community College in his hometown of Mason City, and at the University of Iowa, Iowa State University, Drake University, and the University of Northern Iowa. Thousands of startups have launched through the five Pappajohn Centers, and countless entrepreneurs and students have benefitted from the knowledge and training the centers provide.

Candi Karsjens, Director of the NIACC Pappajohn Center, said, “John Pappajohn’s generosity knew no bounds, and his entrepreneurial spirit inspired us all. He may be gone, but his legacy will continue to live on through the countless lives he touched and the entrepreneurial ecosystem he catalyzed in Iowa.”

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