Dynamics and Pappajohn & Capital
Resources, Des Moines, IA
As a child during the depression John Pappajohn scavenged for scrap metal and rags, earning 50 cents or a dollar a day. Those first entrepreneurial efforts taught him skills that lasted a lifetime. The little boy who spoke poor English became a wizard at combining innovation and investment.
Pappajohn’s father immigrated and settled in Mason City, where he started a neighborhood grocery store before returning to Greece to get married. John was born in St. Luke’s Greece in 1928 and came to Iowa with his father and Greek mother nine months later. He was fifteen when his father died and John took over running the family store. During the next few years, John and his two younger brothers took turns working and going to school. He earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Iowa where he received in 1962.
Returning to Mason City, he and his brother Tel started an insurance agency. In 1962 he moved to Des Moines and organized Guardsman Life Investors. He served as chairman of the insurance company until 1969 when he decided to devote his time to venture capital investing and formed both Equity Dynamics and Pappajohn Capital Resources. He carved out a niche in high tech, medical and healthcare projects. He learned the importance of being first in, investing in people and staying involved in the company after the start up stage. With more than 35 companies in his fund Pappajohn averaged more than a 68% return on investment for over 25 years.
Pappajohn has been a generous contributor to many causes but he is best known for his efforts to instill the entrepreneurial spirit in others. He has funded Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Centers at colleges across the state and established a scholarship fund for ethnic, disadvantaged and minority students. He has received many honors including the Horatio Alger Award in 1995.