John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center faculty introduced a graduate and faculty incubator in 2021 to facilitate the growth and recognition of UI research.

Isabelle Cervantes

Kurt Heiar, associate professor of practice at the John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center which helps graduate and undergraduate students succeed by funding their projects, poses for a portrait in the John Pappjohn Business Building on Monday, April 4, 2022.


The John Pappajohn Entrepreneurship Center at the University of Iowa has developed an entrepreneurial incubator aimed at providing graduate students and faculty with the knowledge to push their ideas to the business market.

The new incubator seeks to accommodate the busy schedules of graduate students and research-focused faculty at UI, offering them the opportunity to learn how to get their ideas out of the research labs.

Gregg Barcus, an instructor at the Venture School at the John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center and a mentor for people at the incubator, said the incubator helps researchers transfer their intellectual property to the world.

“They’ve developed things in their lab or in their areas of research expertise and they’re looking to commercialize them,” Barcus said. “I think it’s part of the university’s purpose and mission to help them do that.”

Kurt Heiar, director of business acceleration for the John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center, said the program saw participants from across campus, including people from the Unemployment Insurance and College health care system. of Engineering.

He said the spring cohort, made up of 19 students and faculty, is the largest ever incubated and indicates the program is growing.

“We certainly see interest from across campus, and that’s exactly what we’re trying to do,” Heiar said. “We try to get people to learn from each other, interact with each other from different backgrounds and disciplines so that as a unit we can build the ecosystem further at the university.”

Barcus said the incubator is open to ideas from all corners of the research world and that the incubator helps facilitate entrepreneurial abilities in individuals by providing a “concierge-like” mentoring service.

“That’s all the person needs — the scientist, the doctor — to bring their project closer to commercialization,” Barcus said. “The language of entrepreneurship is different from the language of the research laboratory.”

The incubator method, Barcus said, is taught nationally and begins with a hypothesis about the business, which is then tested within the community to which a business is targeted. He said potential trade ideas might need to be tweaked based on the data provided.

The program has already produced success stories in a short time, with the founders of OpenLoop, a business idea focused on providing medical personnel nationwide, emerging from the incubator.

“They knew they didn’t know much about marketing and how to get something to market,” Barcus said. “The next thing you know, they had angel investors give them seed money and now they’re taking off. It happened in the space of two years, and it is one of our successes.

Melissa Bates, an associate professor of human physiology at UI specializing in respiratory and pediatric physiology, was also one of the incubator’s benefactors. She said she entered the first incubator program last year with an idea to advance the way patients monitor lung disease.

“Throughout my career, [looking at] our ability to monitor lung disease, we haven’t really created any new tools,” Bates said. “What I learned in the first cycle of the incubator program, doing client interviews, people always rely on the fact that they can’t breathe to know if they’re getting worse.”

Bates said it was “terrible” that individuals needed to rely on their ability to breathe to determine the health of their lungs and the progression of their lung disease. She said she believed some of the research she had done could potentially help individuals and decided to enter the entrepreneurial market.

“I never thought about starting a business,” Bates said. “I decided to participate [in the incubator] and see if we could, perhaps, miniaturize this research technology for use by patients.

Although she’s been in academia for 20 years now, she said she likes to think about things in a way she never had before.

“Even though I’m a tenured professor, I feel like a student again,” Bates said. “It’s really exciting because I’m learning so much. I had the opportunity to create this start-up, the medical productions of LSF and… it’s a lot of fun.

Heiar said the incubator aims to provide participants with the resources they need to succeed. He said it is also important to extend the reach of projects and research carried out at UI to a national level.

“We are exposed to a large network of support specialists,” Heiar said. “That includes people who do strategic marketing, public relations, investment advice. [These are] all kinds of things that people who want to market and build a business need to have a network to do.