Source: The Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU)

By David Spalding, Raisbeck Endowed Dean, Ivy College of Business
Interim Vice President for Economic Development and Industry Engagement at Iowa State University

As the state’s land-grant university, Iowa State University is helping to respond to Iowans’ needs with our core strengths — innovation, science-based extension and outreach, and education. Economic engagement and improving quality of life have been central to Iowa State’s mission since our 1858 founding. We have continually increased our economic engagement efforts to benefit Iowans in all 99 counties.

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, units within ISU’s Office of Economic Development and Industry Relations (EDIR) have adapted their normal business operations to better help Iowa businesses navigate through the crisis and plan for the recovery ahead. The units continue to remain very engaged across the entire state, providing outreach and assistance in support of Iowa businesses.

For example, America’s Small Business Development Center Iowa (SBDC) has provided counseling and client help with Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and disaster loan applications to more than 53,000 Iowa businesses to help them survive until business conditions return to normal. This represented a substantial increase in activity from their fiscal year ending 9/30/19 when they worked with 4,200 businesses to create 2,236 new jobs and increase sales by $170 million.

The Center for Industrial Research and Service (CIRAS) case study illustrates how this EDIR unit has pivoted to better meet Iowans’ needs. Much of CIRAS’ work this year has focused on helping our state’s industries make necessary decisions about their businesses and manage the recovery to come.

The work of the ISU Pappajohn Center for Entrepreneurship and ISU Startup Factory continues with online programming to support Iowa businesses and entrepreneurs during the pandemic. ISU Startup Factory launched in June 2016 as a means of strengthening Iowa State’s entrepreneurial ecosystem and supporting our technology commercialization efforts. Since 2016, the Startup Factory has accepted 123 startups into the program and companies have attracted nearly $33 million in external funding, and the momentum remains strong.

The ISU Research Park (ISURP) continues to expand its presence, providing innovators a place to flourish. ISURP is currently home to 96 companies and occupies approximately 800,000 square feet of commercial real estate on 400 acres.

As the new picture of our world continues to come into focus, Iowans can count on Iowa State to serve as a trusted resource, using our core strengths as the state’s land-grant university.

Case Studies
Our three case studies illustrate how Iowa State is cultivating the next generation of innovators while responding to the needs of our communities and state, especially during the unprecedented challenges wrought by the COVID-19 outbreak.

ISU Pappajohn Center for Entrepreneurship
By embedding innovation and entrepreneurship more deeply into its culture and curriculum, Iowa State is creating a unique pathway for its students to change the world.

Programming includes CYstarters, an 11-week summer accelerator program for students and recent graduates, where students get paid to spend the summer in a hands-on mentoring environment to launch and grow their companies.

The CyBIZ Lab interdisciplinary student consulting program offers business solutions to companies of all sizes as well as supports faculty commercialization efforts. The improved performance resulting from these interactions allow businesses to retain and often expand their workforce.

The Center also works collaboratively with the other four Iowa-based John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center (JPEC) programs to host statewide student and Iowa entrepreneur competitions, a weeklong entrepreneur summer boot camp, and a fellowship with Entrepreneurs Organization Iowa.

In 2019, the Center and partners hosted several competitive and educational events including a number of college-focused pitch competitions, a campus and community Innovation Prize weekend, the first ever Ivy MBA live case competition and an inaugural pitch competition at the Iowa State Fair.

Office of Economic Development and Industry Relations – The ETALYC case
Sharing science-based knowledge is part of our mission and is especially important now.
Iowa State-affiliated startup ETALYC evolved from a novel traffic incident management system researchers developed at ISU’s Institute for Transportation (InTrans). ETALYC co-founder and CEO Dr. Anuj Sharma leveraged Iowa State’s comprehensive entrepreneurial support ecosystem, including enrolling in Iowa State’s NSF-funded Innovation Corps (I-Corps) Site program and completing the ISU Startup Factory, to gain valuable lessons on how to move his company’s NSF-supported research toward commercialization.

ISU’s Center for Industrial Research and Service responds to Iowa manufacturers’ innovation needs
Iowa State University’s Center for Industrial Research and Service (CIRAS) was founded in 1963 as an outreach program to improve life in Iowa’s communities by strengthening their businesses.

With the onset of COVID-19, CIRAS quickly responded to Iowa manufacturers’ needs by helping them innovate to meet new demands.

Faced with severe Iowa needs for medical personal protection equipment to be used in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, CIRAS identified two companies with complementary capabilities and encouraged them to collaborate. Together, the companies produced more than 500,000 face shields. In addition, the collaboration allowed 75 employees to keep jobs that may have otherwise been lost.

CIRAS is well-positioned as a resource to help our state’s industries manage the recovery to come—CIRAS is providing educational guides and direct support for its clients to help them plan, prepare, protect, and recover their operations.


This article is included as part of APLU’s Innovation and Economic Prosperity Universities Designation and Awards Perspectives Blog. Read other articles around strategies, programs, and impact of APLU’s IEP designees at Earn APLU’s IEP designation. Learn more at