Their Taxes Reduced, Iowa Insurers Keep Their Venture Fund Promise

A 5-year, $25 million economic effort spearheaded by Iowa’s largest venture capitalist and the state’s largest insurance companies bodes well for an expansion of the Iowa State University research park, said Steve Carter, the park’s chief executive officer.

"It will positively impact our growth," Carter said.

Rebecca A Peterson
Ames Tribune

ISU’s research park provides incubator, office and high-tech laboratory space for small, start-up technology companies, many of which were born of research and technology developed at ISU. Since its inception in 1987, the park has been home to more than 100 businesses and has grown to four fully occupied buildings.

"We are very proud of this research park and what it has contributed to Iowa since it was developed 15 years ago," said ISU President Greg Geoffroy. "This program is a significant boost."

Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield will spend $25 million over the next five years on economic development opportunities. Of that, $5 million is earmarked for the state’s four university Pappajohn business centers, founded by Iowa entrepreneur John Pappajohn.

The Pappajohn Center for Entrepreneurship at ISU works in conjunction with ISU’s Small Business Development Center and the research park to create businesses in the area. Since Wellmark’s donations are earmarked for starting new businesses, Carter hopes the businesses funded by ISU’s center will move into the research park.

The Iowa State University Research Park is a 230-acre development with more than 270,000 square feet of building space and is located south of the Iowa State University campus. It employs more than 800 people.

Pappajohn said Monday it was his "fantasy" to propel Iowa’s status as an entrepreneurial hub. That fantasy became more real Monday, he said.

"For the first time in the history of the state of Iowa, there will be dollars to fund early stage high-tech companies," Pappajohn said.

Pappajohn has been funding Iowa companies for years through his company Equity Dynamics Inc.

Pappajohn expects each university can fund 25 businesses over the next five years with the Wellmark money. Additional companies will provide funding for start-up businesses, including $10 million from Principal Insurance Co. and $8 million from Iowa Farm Bureau.

There are Pappajohn business centers at the universities of Iowa and Northern Iowa and North Iowa Community College.

Monday’s announcement indicated a "win-win situation" for the research park, according to R. Wayne Moore, the research park’s founder. In 1982, Moore was vice president of business and finance for ISU when he proposed developing the park. Moore talked Monday about the difficulty for Iowa companies to raise money and praised Pappajohn’s generosity. Given recent state budget and economic uncertainties, Moore said it was imperative someone come forward with funding.

"It certainly will result in progress," he said.

Wellmark is funding the initiative through savings resulting from a reduction in insurance premium taxes, approved last year by the Iowa Legislature. Monday’s event was well intended by politicians. Making appearances were Gov. Tom Vilsack, State Rep. Barbara Finch of Huxley, Senate Majority Leader Stew Iverson, House Majority Leader Christopher Rants and State Sen. Jerry Behn of Boone.

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