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Pappajohn to young African entrepreneurs: Do something, but enjoy it

John Pappajohn

As a farmer from a small country in Africa, Oluwafemi Kochini wanted to become a better entrepreneur so he applied and was accepted to the Mandela Fellowship Program for young African leaders.

His application was one of 1,000 accepted and cohorts of 25 were disbursed to colleges and universities across the country. Each participant chooses one of three tracks: business and entrepreneurship, civic leadership or public management.

Kochini was placed at Venture School—at the University of Iowa’s John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center—and says the lectures, mentors and teachers in the program have taught him a lot about the practical side of business.

But hearing real world experiences from successful entrepreneur and philanthropist John Pappajohn was just…different.


“It’s always very nice to have someone who has gone through the hardships of entrepreneurship and like, speaking to you as a testimony,” Kochoni says. “Because where you are on your journey of self, you always face difficulty. It’s always good to have someone who has been through the journey. Not everybody has that experience.”

Pappajohn—from Mason City, Iowa—spoke for nearly 20 minutes Friday morning and answered questions for another 30 minutes from a group of Young African Leaders.

Despite being 89 years old and part of 100 different companies throughout his career, he said work has felt more like a hobby.

“If I can do it, you can do it,” Pappajohn would say. “Opportunities are in every country. They’re unlimited, if you are willing to pay the price.”

The lecture hall inside the John and Mary Pappajohn Education Center in downtown Des Moines was filled with business leaders who are staying at the University of Iowa and Drake University until the end of the month.

Kochoni—who is from Benin—said he related to Pappajohn because they both had a similar, tough upbringing.

“The condition in which you were born does not determine your future,” he says. “But the way you equip yourself with the necessary tools to get where you want to be. Be consistent of with what you do.”

Members of the Mandela Washington Fellowship were able to ask John Pappajohn questions for over 30 minutes Friday. Photo by Jami Milne


Daniel Adugna said he will need to refocus some of his energy on a different career when he returns home to Ethiopia.

Adugna says he’s a business consultant full-time but he’s going to look into pursuing a career in the poultry industry.

“He (Pappajohn) mentioned that if the work you are doing does not make you happy and feel like a hobby, it’s not worth doing,” Adugna said. “That’s something I have been battling with, because I’ve been doing jobs to pay the bills not because I like them.”

Inside the John and Mary Pappajohn Education Center in downtown Des Moines. Photo by Jami Milne

The fellows will travel to Washington D.C in August for a two-day summit with a 1,000 fellows before returning home to Africa on August 2.

Pappajohn to young African entrepreneurs: Do something, but enjoy it | Clay & Milk
A central Iowa ag-tech accelerator has secured more backers and finally has a name. The Greater Des Moines Partnership first announced the accelerator last year, naming four initial investors. On Monday, the Partnership said the program will be called the "Iowa AgriTech Accelerator" and named three new investors. The new investors include Grinnell Mutual, Kent Corp. and Sukup Manufacturing, all Iowa companies. They join investors Deere & Co., Peoples Co., Farmers Mutual Hail Insurance Co. and DuPont Pioneer. Each investor has agreed to put up $100,000 for the first year of the accelerator. Startups entering the program will receive $40,000 in seed funding in exchange for 6 percent equity. Tej Dhawan, an angel investor and local startup mentor, is serving as interim director until the AgriTech Accelerator names a permanent leader. Dhawan held a similar role with the GIA before Brian Hemesath was named as managing director. As interim director, Dhawan said his main job includes hiring the accelerator's executive director, establishing a business structure and initial recruiting for the first cohort. The accelerator will place few filters, such as location and product, on the applicant pool, Dhawan said. "When you’re seeking innovation, innovation can come from every corner of the world so why restrict ourselves," he said. One area the the AgriTech Accelerator won't recruit from is biotech. For its first cohort, the AgriTech Accelerator will work out of the GIA's space in Des Moines' East Village, Dhawan said. A future, permanent home is still to be decided. The accelerator's program will host startups from mid-July through mid-October, ending with an event connected to the annual World Food Prize. The GIA, which the AgriTech Accelerator is based on, also ends with presentations at an industry event. The accelerator has also started lining up a mentor pool. The Iowa Corn Growers Association, Iowa Soybean Association and the Iowa Pork Producers Association have agreed to provide mentors, as has Iowa State University. While the AgriTech Accelerator is loosely based off of the GIA, it will differ in its business structure, Dhawan said. The GIA runs through a for-profit model for both operations and its investment fund. The AgriTech Accelerator will have a nonprofit model for its operations and a for-profit setup for its fund. Dhawan said the nonprofit model is being used so the accelerator can better work with other nonprofit partners, such as trade associations. "These are all organizations that are nonprofits and can be amazing stakeholders without ever having to be investors in the accelerator," he said. "It becomes easier to work with trade associations in their nonprofit role when we are also a nonprofit." When it's up and running, the AgriTech Accelerator would be one of a handful of ag-focused startup development programs in Iowa. Others include the Ag Startup Engine out of Iowa State University and the Rural Ventures Alliance from Iowa MicroLoan. Matthew Patane is the managing editor and co-founder of Clay & Milk. Send him an email at
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