John Pappajohn Celebrating 50 Years as a Venture Capitalist

Mary and John Pappajohn. (Photo: pappajohn.com)

Greek-American venture capitalist John Pappajohn is celebrating 50 years in the business and continues to be a leader in his field as well as keeping up on technological advancements. A recent article in Innovation Iowa profiled Pappajohn and explored his longstanding interest in the cutting edge of technology.

“Some of his earliest deals involved the use of advanced technologies years before they became mainstream – among them artificial intelligence, advanced medical devices, and video-streaming technologies,” Innovation Iowa reported, adding that “some of the startups in which he was an early investor took off and then were acquired by major companies such as 3M Corp. and Caremark, while others anchor homegrown Iowa-based companies with national reach like Syncbak, a Marion-based company that pioneered a live-streaming technology for platforms like CBS All Access, Hulu, Amazon, and the National Football League.”

At 90 years old, Pappajohn shows no signs of slowing down, and though he does spend the winter in Florida like many snowbirds, he keeps busy in his home office.

He told Innovation Iowa that “his greatest legacy in the state of Iowa is the ecosystem of innovation and entrepreneurship that he helped build from the ground up by creating and funding his namesake John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Centers,” adding that, “he has personally contributed more than $23 million to launch and sustain the network of centers located at higher education campuses in Mason City, Des Moines, Ames, Iowa City and Cedar Falls, and he has committed to contribute $10 million more.”

“I’ve done over 50 IPOs [initial public offerings, taking a company public on the stock exchange]…Nobody in the country, I believe, has done as many as I have. I still work seven days a week. It’s not work to me – I enjoy what I do, and it’s kind of like relaxation to me. I’ve got a great network of people all over the country, and that really helps me,” Pappajohn told Innovation Iowa.

With his legendary reputation and vast experience, he receives, every month, an average of 10 startup investment pitches, Innovation Iowa reported.

“That’s an advantage, because it’s easier to finance if it’s a unique product that’s better than anything else in the marketplace. And that’s what I look for. And I don’t have to look hard, because they all find me…When we find something we’re interested in, we spend time on it, and I also share it with people who invest with me. They’re smart people. [It’s] pretty hard to find innovation that fits the definition – something that’s fairly unique, that the world needs, which is financeable,” Pappajohn told Innovation Iowa.

He added, “I tell kids if they want to be successful once they graduate, don’t go into businesses that have no future. Go into a business where there is a future, and look for opportunity. Everybody in their lifetime has opportunities, but many times they don’t recognize those opportunities, or they don’t have enough gumption to move ahead and take the risk. I’m a risk-taker, and I’ve done well because I take risks.”

In the article, Pappajohn recounted how he made his first million dollars by investing in a medical technology company. He had owned the heat-pack technology developed by Kay Laboratories for 16 years and then sold the company to Baxter International.

“Baxter said it was the best acquisition they ever made; that was about 45 years ago. I got stock in exchange and I couldn’t sell it for six months. In that time, the stock doubled and I made my first million,” Pappajohn told Innovation Iowa.

When asked if there were any opportunities he missed during his long career in venture capital, he said he had indeed passed on certain investments he now wishes he had made. “Sometimes something catches you when you’re too busy, absolutely…I wake up dreaming about some of these,” he told Innovation Iowa.

Pappajohn focuses on medical technology and health care-related companies, Innovation Iowa reported, adding that “reducing health care costs is the driving force behind many of the innovative companies he sees.”

“The first thing is that everybody is trying to come up with a new mouse trap that will help reduce costs – that’s very important,” he told Innovation Iowa. “So there are all kinds of new technology. I think telepsychiatry is a good example. My doctor here in Naples, who is an MD from Harvard, said he has two patients here who don’t have psychiatrists, so he just hired a lady psychiatrist in LA who’s treating his patients while driving up and down the freeway in LA. And she’s getting full reimbursement for it, which is very important in health care. Everybody’s looking for ways to reduce costs.”

A hands-on, active investor, Pappajohn is praised in the article by entrepreneurs who have worked with him, including Mike Vasquez, “a seasoned Iowa serial entrepreneur who has worked with Pappajohn for nearly the past three decades,” Innovation Iowa reported.

“Pappajohn’s support goes beyond funding to his expertise and network,” Vasquez said, Innovation Iowa reported, adding that “I think it’s critical because it gives you access to resources that you traditionally wouldn’t see in Des Moines. And he is always abreast of technology trends in the market.”

Lana Fox, co-owner of ClinicNote LLC in Des Moines which developed a cloud-based electronic medical record system for speech pathologists, spoke about Pappajohn and his passion for giving back, Innovation Iowa reported, “It’s really cool to hear the passion he has not only for young people but for giving back to the Iowa economy and trying to be forward-thinking about technology. And he doesn’t just talk about it – he’s a doer. It’s cool how he loves Iowa and how he loves the entrepreneurial aspects of business, so that people have the tools to make their ideas a reality.”

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