Innovation doesn’t happen by accident! The NIACC John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center

Innovation doesn’t happen by accident! The NIACC John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center Main Photo

18 Jul 2022


Innovation makes the world go round and societies evolve. Children are born with creative DNA. They associate things, have millions of questions, observe people and the environment to learn, try new things and experiments, and network with their friends through play. Cultivating children’s creativity today is to build innovative leaders tomorrow. 

North Iowa Area Community College (NIACC) is a nationally ranked, two-year institution located in North Central Iowa that serves students of all ages and abilities. Starting in 1918 as Mason City Junior College, NIACC has the distinct privilege of being the oldest Iowa community college. In 2018, the college celebrated its 100-year anniversary of providing high-quality, community-responsive education to its students. Since 2012, the college has received numerous national rankings, including being in the top 10 percent of all community colleges in the nation by the Aspen Institute.

A program that nurtures innovation: The Youth Entrepreneurial Academy

NIACC also has a program called Youth Entrepreneurial Academy. It is a week-long summer program where local students learn how to form and run a business from the ground up. By the end of the week, they pitch their business idea and plan. Some of them wait to use this experience later in life, but usually, a good number of them start their business right away as teenagers. It is true, that entrepreneurs are dreamers and inventors, and you are never too young or too old to innovate.

An incubator for young entrepreneurs: The John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center

The NIACC John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center is an expert in rural business innovation and success. Together with North Iowa’s Small Business Development Center, they provide tools, support, and resources to Iowa’s entrepreneurs. The Center counsels both new and existing local businesses, from Main Street to industry leaders. The Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center is growing Iowa’s entrepreneurial culture through grade school initiatives, college and community programs, and business training and development. 

The Center conducted the Youth Entrepreneurial Academy on June 13-17, 2022, sponsored by the John K. and Luise V. Hanson Foundation. The academy is offered annually and free to all high school students interested in entrepreneurship. Participants receive a $500 NIACC scholarship sponsored by John Pappajohn. This year’s academy included five high school students. The aspiring entrepreneurs completed the academy, which is held as a day camp, from 8:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. 

Throughout the entire week, the young entrepreneurs worked diligently to progress a business model canvas. Students had the opportunity to network with local entrepreneurs, develop leadership skills and gain fundamental skills required to start a business. On Tuesday, June 22, the students pitched their business ideas by submitting an executive summary that included a company description, financial plans, and business model key measures, including startup costs and sales projections. Additionally, five students received a $500 seed money award for the businesses they developed during the week.

The students presented their businesses to a panel of three judges: Hunter Callanan, North Iowa Corridor Economic Development Corporation; Jeff Potts, 20/20 Creative; and Beth Bilyeu, Forest City Economic Development Corporation. The judges chose three businesses to win an additional $500 seed money award and two honorable mention prizes of $250

The YEA Camp: Allowing students to explore their passions

The Academy’s director and mentor was Kelley O’Rourke, School Partnership Entrepreneurial Coordinator at the Pappajohn Center. Kelly said, “Embracing an entrepreneurial mindset is essential when creating innovative solutions for today's challenges in all types of organizations, communities, and groups. The YEA camp allows students to explore their passions, learn from established entrepreneurs, and teaches business acumen. We are the primary source for early entrepreneurship education (starting in fifth grade) across the spectrum to sophisticated deal-structuring for both entrepreneurs and established businesses. We are committed to helping every entrepreneur, no matter their level of expertise, to start and grow something great.”

“The contributions that the Hanson Foundation has made to make the Academy free for all participants is remarkable. In addition, the ongoing support from the communities has been commendable,” Kelly stated.
Would you like to know more about the Youth Entrepreneurial Academy? Contact the NIACC Pappajohn Center at 641-422-4111 or drop an email at

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