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Northern Iowan

The student news site of the University of Northern Iowa

Northern Iowan

The student news site of the University of Northern Iowa

Northern Iowan

The JPEC: Inviting innovation

John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center welcomes new director
Patrick Luensmann, UNI 2012 graduate, was recently appointed as director of the John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center and is hoping to make business dreams a reality for students and Cedar Valley entrepreneurs alike.

The University of Northern Iowa John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center (JPEC) has a new face among its ranks with the appointment of 2012 UNI graduate Patrick Luensmann as the Center’s new director.

“It’s a lot of fun to be able to work with students,” Luensmann said of his position. “We get to work with students as they pursue their passions learning about entrepreneurship, business and a lot of life.”

After previous director of 12 years, Laurie Watje, retired from the position, JPEC saw an opportunity in Luensmann to take over. A 2012 graduate of UNI’s economics and finance programs, he has worked with many entrepreneurs in the last 14 years, starting as a student with small business consulting in Waterloo at the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) to working with a new program,, to connect business owners with quality resources.

“I’ve been in the JPEC for three years now and came in as the associate director starting in 2022,” he said. “Starting a business is really risky … A lot of it is helping people with the steps and we’re able to walk them through it and walk alongside them.”

Luensmann did not stop with when deciding to help Iowa businesses successfully kickstart. Upgrading the platform, Luensmann, JPEC and the Iowa Economic Development Authority partnered to create IASourceLink. The website provides online resources to Iowans looking to start their own business or maintain one. More than ten years later, as of April 2023, IASourceLink has guided over 16,000 Iowan entrepreneurs in the right direction when figuring out the ins and outs of business management and incubation.

“Recently in December, I started my own business downtown and it really gave me a new appreciation for the types of things that business owners and their families go through on a day-to-day business from all the hurdles you have to jump through,” Luensmann added. “It’s ultimately incredibly fulfilling, freeing and exciting to put value out in the world and have other people pay for it.”

Despite the struggles that many businesses face, Luensmann said that having a business is “the ultimate validation,” because owners are able to create something of value that people want and enjoy, something that gives the struggles a purpose.

Here at the JPEC, it feels like a family, despite the competition of everyone having their own small business.

— Haley Hamm, JPEC Student Marketing Assistant

The future of the center is bright, as Luensmann wants to foster a stronger connection across campus and the Cedar Valley.

“We really want to continue to engage and spread our reach across campus,” he said. “We have a good presence in the (Wilson) College of Business … We want to do that across all colleges because entrepreneurship can be for anyone.”

He is also earning his Master of Business Administration to gain the skills needed to provide quality assistance.

Luensmann believes that entrepreneurship is best partnered with a skill, and by partnering with other UNI departments, he said that entrepreneurship can then be just as much fun as bringing your talents to people.

“We’re excited to continue to share the fun stuff we’re doing at the JPEC with students on campus and excited to see where we go in the next forever,” Luensmann said.

About the JPEC and its Reach

With the goal of aiding entrepreneurs of the Cedar Valley, UNI students and alumni and Iowans, the JPEC provides a vast range of resources for those seeking to start their own business, all down to funding, brainstorming, marketing and hiring.

UNI is one of five Iowa university locations that house the program – Drake University, Iowa State University, North Iowa Area Community College, The University of Iowa – created by John Pappajohn, an Iowa business owner who has created and funded the spaces that have had a hand in crafting thousands of businesses across Iowa and beyond.    

UNI junior and JPEC Student Marketing Assistant Haley Hamm is one of many who have utilized JPEC to facilitate the incubation of a small business she wishes to pursue called Timeless Events, a wedding event service.

She said that her favorite aspect of working at JPEC is the ability to help people fulfill their business goals.

“It’s just awesome,” she said. “Not only learning how to do entrepreneurship and being able to work with like minded students, and having the help from both Patrick and Bart (Schmitz), everyone is so supportive and willing to share their ideas. Here at the JPEC, it feels like a family, despite the competition of everyone having their own small business.”

Hamm said that if someone is having an issue with their business, “another small business has had the same struggle,” and that JPEC is a place to work together.

Through the JPEC, the SBDC has served those in Black Hawk, Bremer, Buchanan, Butler, Chickasaw, Fayette, Grundy, Howard and Tama counties for no cost since 1982. This includes Cedar Valley businesses Red Lab Technologies, The Savvy Bean and The Ragged Edge Art Bar and Gallery as well as other businesses like Anna Grace Ceramics and Iowa Chill.

Funding comes from private investors, but the state of Iowa has also invested money into the endeavors of small businesses.

Like most of the center, the R. J. McElroy Student Business Incubator, a program of JPEC that focuses on helping those interested in beginning businesses explore the idea with assistance from the JPEC and other professionals, is funded through the generosity of the R. J. McElroy Trust. This space is open 24/7, seven days a week for students who want to get away from the noise and hone in on business ideas or work on homework in a quiet space.

“It’s an opportunity to get out of your dorm room or apartment and have some place else on campus, not only to think about and work on your own business, but also be a part of the community,” Luensmann said. “It’s fun being in the space and hearing different ideas and different things going on, and we get to provide that to students in some ways that other places can’t.”

“Anyone that has ever thought about or had the itch to just ask and talk about entrepreneurship should come see us, come see me in the (Wilson) College of Business. We want to be able to let you know what we have to offer,” Luensmann said. “Our ultimate goal is that nobody graduates from UNI that doesn’t know about the John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center.”

JPEC will be holding a future event on Wednesday, March 20, that will highlight student-created businesses in the Wilson College of Business and more to come in the Fall semester. For more information on the JPEC or how to get involved—or start your own business—visit

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