AMES, Iowa – Iowa State University received the top Innovation and Economic Prosperity University Award on Nov. 14 at the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities conference. The annual event honors institutions in North America that are “performing exemplary work to advance the economic wellbeing of their states, regions and the nation.”

The top-award recognizes overall excellence across three award categories – talent, place and innovation. Receiving it is a first for Iowa State and adds to the collection of category-specific APLU awards from 201720202021 and 2022.

“Winning the top award from APLU affirms Iowa State University is a national leader in research, innovation and entrepreneurship. ISU’s innovative programs create ongoing value for business and industry. This new award exemplifies our Innovate at Iowa State brand,” said President Wendy Wintersteen.

David Spalding, vice president for Economic Development and Industry Relations (EDIR) and Raisbeck Endowed Dean of the Debbie and Jerry Ivy College of Business, accepted the award on behalf of the university.

“Driving innovation and economic development across all 99 Iowa counties has always been part of Iowa State’s land-grant mission. This award recognizes how we continue to expand our impact and return value to our partners across a broad range of activities that impact Iowans,” said Spalding. 

The APLU award highlighted three examples of Iowa State’s innovation and entrepreneurial resources:

  • The Iowa State Venture Mentoring Service (VMS): Launched in 2022, the program matches individuals who have completed an incubator program through the Pappajohn Center for Entrepreneurship with a team of three to five mentors. In its first year, around 50 professionals volunteered as mentors, providing guidance on outside investments, growth and strategies to acquire customers.
  • Ivy Sales Forum: The forum provides a space where Iowa State students can practice making a sales pitch or closing a deal and receive feedback from industry leaders.
  • BioCentury Research Farm: The farm is the first-in-the-nation integrated research and demonstration facility dedicated to biomass production and processing. It is also home to Iowa State’s Digital Agriculture Innovation Lab (DAIL), which accounts for more than 50 percent of Iowa State’s industry research, including 73 unique tech transfer outcomes and more than 300 jobs.

#1 in Iowa

Iowa State ranked first in Iowa, fifth in the Midwest and 12th nationally in The Princeton Review’s 2024 annual survey of undergraduate schools for entrepreneurship studies. The rankings are based on surveys with over 300 schools and 40 data points, including the number of entrepreneurship courses and degree programs offered, percentage of students involved in entrepreneurial endeavors and number of companies started by alumni.

Judi Eyles, director of the Pappajohn Center for Entrepreneurship, says the rankings recognize Iowa State’s efforts to serve a growing number of students.

“Students at Iowa State have access to high-quality entrepreneurship courses and programs in every corner of our campus, and it is this collective variety of experiences that makes our university one of the best for young innovators,” said Eyles.

Along with a major and cross-disciplinary minor in entrepreneurship, all Iowa State students have access to Start Something. This initiative helps students bring their ideas to life by connecting them to resources and support, including the Pappajohn Center’s pitch competitions and CYstarters; the 11-week program offers guidance and accountability for students to develop and launch new business ventures. 

The Student Innovation Center, a state-of-the-art facility with makerspaces, provides all students with opportunities to collaborate, design, build and test ideas. The center also houses the Innovate 1858 retail store, which showcases student entrepreneur products, and Sparks Café, a student-run coffee shop.

National and global recognition for Iowa State

The latest APLU award and Princeton Review ranking add to growing recognition for Iowa State’s university-wide approach to innovation and entrepreneurism.

In June, Iowa State was named the Entrepreneurial University of the Year for the Americas in an international competition involving 33 countries. The award, presented by the Accreditation Council for Entrepreneurial and Engaged Universities, recognizes excellence in incorporating entrepreneurial initiatives throughout the university and prioritizing entrepreneurship and engagement in higher education.

Iowa State also:

  • Moved up 12 spots in U.S. News Rankings.
  • Jumped up 74 spots over two years in WSJ Rankings.
  • Ranked #54 in the Top 100 universities for U.S. patents.

In December 2022, FreOPP ranked Iowa’s public university system third in the U.S. for student return on investment. The group measured the financial return for individual degrees and said, “Iowa State University is far and away the most valuable player” in Iowa. FreOPP pointed to high-value, high-enrollment programs at Iowa State, like mechanical engineering, general business, agricultural business, finance, marketing, computer engineering and electrical engineering.

And last fall, the Pappajohn Center for Entrepreneurship received the 2022 Nasdaq Center for Entrepreneurial Excellence award, which recognizes the unique achievements and outstanding efforts of entrepreneurship centers across the world. The Pappajohn Center was “highly commended” by GCEC in the category of “Exceptional Activities in Entrepreneurship Across Discipline” in October 2023, as well.