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


Through innovative research, extension and outreach, and economic development programs, Iowa State University of Science and Technology is growing the state’s economy and improving the quality of life for Iowans. A renowned research university, Iowa State has a long-standing tradition of innovation that is engrained in the university culture.

Innovate at Iowa State is not just something we say, it’s a part of our DNA. Through collaborations on campus as well as with partners in the community and across the state, Iowa State is cultivating an entrepreneurial mindset, driving commercialization of research innovations, and supporting small businesses and manufacturers. And others are taking note:

  • Iowa State is 11th for undergraduate entrepreneurship programs as measured by The Princeton Review.
  • Iowa State won the 2021 U.S. Association for Small Business and Entrepreneurship Model Program Award, which recognizes ISU’s programs to train future entrepreneurs.
  • Iowa State is also on the list – tied for No. 65 – of Top 100 Worldwide Universities Granted U.S. Patents in 2020.

The impact Iowa State has on the communities and people of Iowa’s 99 counties is vast and varied. From pioneering efforts to modernize 19th century agriculture to 21st century cybersecurity solutions to keep identities and information safe, Iowa State has a long legacy of cutting-edge advancements that benefit the public good. In 1906, Iowa State launched the first statewide Extension Service. Today, more than one million Iowans each year benefit from ISU Extension and Outreach programs that focus on agriculture and natural resources, community and economic development, human sciences and 4-H youth development.

Drawing on its rich tradition of outreach, and the skills of faculty, staff and students, Iowa State is a leader in helping communities and businesses build their workforce, generate income and investment, enhance the quality of life in their region, and seize opportunities presented by the latest technology and best practices. Being an economically-engaged and innovative university during the COVID-19 era has been crucial to all areas of the state.

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.

Case 1. America’s SBDC Iowa: Bringing Commercialization Opportunities to Rural Iowa Innovators

This focus on helping communities address needs specific to its population and economic base is seen in America’s SBDC Iowa (SBDC), located in Iowa State University’s Research Park and part of the university’s Office of Economic Development and Industry Relations. Established in 1981, SBDC provides no-cost, confidential, customized, professional business advice in all 99 Iowa counties to entrepreneurs and existing small businesses.

The SBDC and other business development programs in Iowa have developed a great reputation for supporting entrepreneurs across the state. However, there is an undeniable gap of resources specifically for rural innovation and technology entrepreneurs. To address this problem, the SBDC took an existing model from Iowa State University’s Startup Factory and turned it inside out to create Rural Business Innovators (RBI), a creative, scalable business planning and development solution for commercializing new ideas for Iowa entrepreneurs who live in rural places. RBI uniquely addresses rural access constraints in two ways; first by utilizing a web-based platform that brings the programming to their doorstep. Secondly, RBI puts a strong emphasis on one-on-one counseling built around the participant’s schedule and availability.

Case 2. America’s SBDC Iowa: Bringing Digital to Rural and Underserved Markets

By leveraging its resources and partnerships, Iowa State is helping minority and rural businesses compete in today’s digital world. Iowa has 99 counties and most are considered rural, which makes outreach difficult at times. By pulling both internal and external resources together, a larger impact has been recognized and more rural and minority owned businesses are able to compete on a larger scale. The SBDC delivered a portable photo studio to all 942 communities in Iowa, which allowed businesses to shift to online sales during the pandemic. They have developed marketing guides and conducted in-person and virtual training for digital marketing and e-commerce.

Case 3. Community and Economic Development Extension and Outreach: Improving Housing for Rural Communities

ISU Extension and Outreach Community and Economic Development (CED) fosters thriving, resilient communities and economies. CED’s Leading Communities is a place-based leadership program designed to promote community engagement and increase capacity among community members to mobilize for community action. Safe and sufficient housing is important for any community, but especially for rural communities that struggle to retain and attract population. CED’s Rural Housing Readiness Assessment (RHRA) program helps communities create their own roadmap for providing safe, affordable housing for all residents.


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