Episode 72 — David Spalding of the Iowa State University College of Business

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Geoff Wood:    Welcome to the Welch Avenue Show, episode number 72. Our guest today is David Spalding, Dean of the College of Business at Iowa State. I met David about a year ago when I gave a talk at a conference in Ames. He reached out afterwards to learn more about the startup community here in Iowa, something I'm always happy to talk about. Before we check in with David, a quick reminder that now is the perfect time to go to bit.ly/WelchAvenueitunes to leave a rating for our show. Even if you don't use iTunes to listen to the show, I'm using Overcast now, by the way, Chris.

Chris New:    Very good.

Geoff Wood:    iTunes is still the best place for new people to discover great shows and your ratings help us help them to do that. Thanks in advance. Now on to episode 72 with David Spalding.

David, thanks for joining us today.This podcast, we really just talk to members of the state's entrepreneurial community about what they're working on. I think there's probably a lot of people that are aware of entrepreneurial programs and how they work at universities, but probably not the details of it. I want to talk with you a little bit about that today, but also then just maybe start with who you are and what your background is that got to this point that you're here at Iowa State.

David Spalding:    I was the nontraditional candidate for Dean of the College of Business at Iowa State. I have a business background. I don't have a PhD. I did my undergraduate work at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire and then went to work in finance and banking in New York City for 29 years. For about the first 12 years of that career, I was in commercial banking, traditional senior lending, but ultimately moved into private equity and was one of the co-leaders, co-managers of a one billion dollar buyout fund that Lehman Brothers had from 1989 to 1994. 

Then my partners and I split off from Lehman Brothers, had our entrepreneurial opportunity, started our own business, hung out in office space. It would have been nice to have had a place like Gravitate to hang out in. I found a place to hang out with a law firm and raised a fund. It took us about 18 months without a paycheck, so the real entrepreneurial experience in that regard as well. Got our fund raised, raised over a billion dollars from institutional investors. That firm was called the Cypress Group and we had that. It was there for about 11 years. 

At that point, I decided to step back and make a change in career direction, retire from the streets. I went back initially to my Alma Mater, Dartmouth College, worked as a senior administrator there for eight years, but I really missed my involvement with business. I missed being directly involved with students and so the opportunity to be the Dean of the College of Business at Iowa State was very attractive to me to combine my passion for higher education with my passion for business. 

Geoff Wood:    How long have you been here in Iowa?

David Spalding:    I've been here 20 months, so coming up on the end of my second academic year here.

Geoff Wood:    You said you're nontraditional and that's because you haven't been in the academic world your whole career?

David Spalding:    Right. Don't have the PhD. Didn't build my career in the classroom and so that made me a nontraditional candidate for this position. We're not the only college of business in the country with a businessperson serving as dean. I think that can provide a good influence, a good mix for a school to have somebody with business background who has been active in business serving as dean. 

Geoff Wood:    It fits with the practical mission of Iowa State, I would think, to have somebody with the experience from the Design College in my undergraduate degree from Iowa State, but it seemed like we were always more on the practical side than the other schools. Our fields were more theoretical based. I guess I assume that's true of all the way across Iowa State, maybe not every college. 

David Spalding:    You know what? I think you're right. We still believe very firmly in the Land Grant Mission at Iowa State. It's something that Steve Leath talks about a lot. I think it's one of the reasons why he was interested in having, at least seeing if there was a businessperson who could serve as the Dean of the College of Business, is because if you think of the pillars of the Land Grant Mission, it's an affordable accessible education is number one. A practical education is number two. Research that's shared broadly with the community, with the state, is a third pillar. That piece of a practical education is something that we really emphasize across the board at Iowa State and very much in the College of Business as well. 

Geoff Wood:    Why did you want to come to Iowa? That's a big change from New England, East Coast area I would think.

David Spalding:    It is. We had a family connection. My wife's family is from the Quad Cities. Now it's the Illinois side, but still the Quad Cities, so it's only a few hours away from here. It did give us a chance to get back closer to family. Really the geography was an important element, but really the key to me was having the chance to get to know the people here, understand the mission here. I was very impressed. As part of my research, I watched Steve Leath's inaugural address. 

Hearing the way he talked about that Land Grant Mission brought that to today, brought that to very much alive in 2013 when he delivered that address. That really was a mission and a vision that attracted me. The opportunity to be part of a Land Grant Institution, part of a growing institution was a real attraction for me as well. 

Geoff Wood:    What would you say your first impression, since you've been here 20 months, but have your first impressions been of this community as you've got to know it since you've been here in Iowa?

David Spalding:    There's a very good focus I think here in the state on economic growth and a focus on Iowa State being very much a part of that. That's something that struck me from the time I was interviewing. The interview process involved not only talking to people on campus, but also gave me a chance to talk to alumni who are business leaders here in the community. Hearing their views on how Iowa State could get more engaged in helping businesses and helping business grow in the state was something that really attracted me and is something that's very much played out since I came on board. 

Geoff Wood:    I guess that's a good lead in to the next question, which is how does Iowa State work with the community? How specifically with the entrepreneurial community has the Business College started that process? Maybe how has that happened in the past? Then we can talk a bit more about where you want to go with it throughout your tenure. 

David Spalding:    Another important piece of the Land Grant Mission is the idea of extension, the idea of extending out from the campus and broadly into the communities. 

Geoff Wood:    Is that like an agricultural extension? Is that where that comes from?

David Spalding:    It does, but you can then extend that model. I think Steve wants to extend that model really across the university. That provides a basis and a real opportunity for the College of Business to get engaged working with businesses. We've had a very good tradition at Iowa State of being involved with entrepreneurship, being involved with entrepreneurial activities. Some of this has come out of people who've done research in that area on campus from the early days when it was really considered to be the study of small businesses and then became the much more sexy study of entrepreneurship. We've had faculty who've been engaged in that. 

John Pappajohn, who has been an enormously successful entrepreneur here in Iowa and a strong supporter of entrepreneurship and of education here in the state, established the Pappajohn Centers 20 years ago with one at each one of the Regents Institutions plus two others, so a total of five of those across the state. The Pappajohn Centers were really designed to help take ideas that were coming out of the laboratories in those schools, coming out of the research in those schools, and find ways to commercialize them and turn them into businesses here in Iowa and help create jobs here in Iowa. There was very much with the Pappajohn Center, very much a practical aspect of what we were doing historically at Iowa State as well in helping to support and work with entrepreneurs. 

Geoff Wood:    Would that be the same as tech transfer or is that a different animal?

David Spalding:    Tech transfer can be taken in a number of different directions. You can take the approach, when an idea comes out of a little bit, let's find a big company that's willing to license this technology. They may license that technology and create jobs in California or create jobs on the other side of the world. I think the idea with Pappajohn really was to try to take some of those ideas and find ways to nurture them into businesses, businesses that could be located here in Iowa, businesses that could create jobs here in Iowa. It really was a concept that came up during one of the agricultural depressions here in the state. It was really designed to try to help job growth in the state. 

When you think of it in the United States, a small business really is the job engine of job growth engine in this country. Always has been. Finding ways to help support small businesses in the state is really a way to help support the economic vitality of the state.

Geoff Wood:    That's a good point. I think a lot of us don't think about small business and maybe the definition that would be used in that because that's under 500 employees, right, is what they're talking about small business. It's probably all but very few businesses in Iowa that you're talking about?

David Spalding:    Yeah, no, that's right. Definitely an important role there. 

Geoff Wood:    Where do you think that under your leadership, what direction are the entrepreneurial programs at Iowa State headed?

David Spalding:    We're definitely looking to build on the strengths that we've had in the past and expand the program. I've added faculty in the area. As a result of adding faculty, we've been able to broaden our course offerings for students. We really want to try to build on an entrepreneurship minor that we already have, which is interdisciplinary across campus. We want to have a broader range of course offerings for students so they can build better skills to operate in a small business environment. It may be that they start a business on their own or maybe they become employee ten, 20, or 30 of a growing business, but have skills coming in that are able to help that company in a wide variety of ways. 

In the classroom is one part of what we're doing. We're also really emphasizing getting more engaged on a practical standpoint with smaller businesses. We created in my first term on campus, we launched a new practical experiential learning opportunity for students called CyBIZ Lab where we have teams of students who do consulting projects for companies. We've done consulting projects for some very large businesses, but we're also really focused on finding smaller businesses, startup ventures, to do projects with. That really brings a team of students typically led by an MBA, undergraduates on the team. 

We've done over 30 projects so far. Very positive reactions from the companies that our students have worked with. I think that's a way for us to help our students get better practical experience and also help small businesses. A final thing that we've done is the state small business development centers actually are part of Iowa State. The director of that reports jointly to me and to Mike Crum who is our Vice President for Economic Development. The Small Business Development Center has long been involved in helping entrepreneurial ventures in Iowa. 

We're looking for new ways to reach out with that effort including the fact that Christina Moffitt who is the SBDC director here in Des Moines is actually spending some of her time at Gravitate working with some of the startup businesses who take advantage of what's offered here at Gravitate to get their businesses started. Really on three levels. We've got the academic level of getting our students more practically engaged and getting the SBDC more actively engaged in business development here as well. 

Geoff Wood:    That's been great with Christina. We've just done that a couple of times. I think twice a month she spends half a day here and tries to schedule a lot of her Des Moines appointments for here when she has that. I think the startup community, more so than maybe the small business entrepreneurial community, hasn't really known what the SBDC is or how to take advantage of it. It feels like it is a big federal government program, maybe confused with the SBA some. I think we've just ignored resources they had to offer. I know Christina and a couple of other folks in that chain that I've talked to are really interested in becoming more part of the startup community in making sure that they're able to offer their services to startups and startups know about it. We're just getting that started, but I'm hopeful for where that goes. 

David Spalding:    I think it's advice on a very practical level that Christina can offer. Some element of the people who are operating in the tech startup area have great idea, but they've never been involved in running business before. The thing that Christina can provide advice for is helping to provide the structure around how do you get the business started? How do you start a bank relationship? How do you start your accounting relationship? How do you begin to really track receipts, track expenses, track revenues in ways that somebody who is an inventor may not be thinking of. I think there's a role for them to play as well. 

Geoff Wood:    Yeah, definitely. You talked a little bit about an interdisciplinary minor I think in entrepreneurship. How has entrepreneurship, how is it looked at all across the campus? Is that something? I feel like compared to when I graduated 15 years ago from Iowa State, that there has to be a much bigger focus in all colleges. The men and women that are going back to their farms and run those operations, that's a big business endeavor. Even though their education might have been in agriculture, they run huge operations now. Even coming out of the Design College, if they're artists or whatever, they're probably independent, sole proprietors of a business that they're running. Is entrepreneurship something that every college is taking advantage of?

David Spalding:    It is. All seven colleges, including Vet Med, which is veterinary medicine. 

Geoff Wood:    Oh yeah, they're all going to have a practice, right?

David Spalding:    Exactly. They're very much, 80% of their graduates are going to end up running a small business, running a practice. All seven of the colleges actually are engaged in this entrepreneurship minor. Each one of them have a faculty member who is offering courses there. The way the minor is structured is students take two courses that are required in the College of Business, but then they go back to their home college and there are courses that they take in their home college that make up the rest of the minor. We're really looking to enhance those collaborations as well. 

I think one of the beauties of Iowa State is the fact that we do work well across campus. We are able to bring things together in ways that you may not be able to on other campuses. One exciting thing that's coming up for us is we're working on designing a new building, an innovation center that will beautiful joint venture of industrial engineering out of our Engineering College and industrial design out of the College of Design. We'll have some of our entrepreneurship programs from the College of Business in there. This is going to be a great way to get together, get students together in spaces that will have really good work space for them to bang on things and build things. 

Geoff Wood:    Is that going to be on campus?

David Spalding:    It is going to be on campus. There's another interdisciplinary with three of the colleges coming together to help create a form for very practical educational opportunities for our students. 

Geoff Wood:    I saw President Leath speak on a Business Record panel not too long ago, maybe a month ago, talking about the cultivation corridor initiative and how important that is, not only to central Iowa, but specifically to Iowa State. Does the Business College have a role in that? I know that there's an agricultural entrepreneurship play in there too.

David Spalding:    There is, but the cultivation corridor is really about this idea of creating more small businesses, creating more businesses and business opportunities in that corridor from Ames to Des Moines. There very much is a role for us to play there as well in providing some of the business skills again that help with that commercialization. If you're going to take that invention, turn that invention into a business, at various stages, it's going to be helpful to have people who have business skills and in particular the skills needed to operate in a smaller business environment. That's what we're trying to do with the expansion of our entrepreneurship educational opportunities and also our opportunities for students again to get hands on with small businesses. 

Geoff Wood:    Very cool. I'm excited to see where all of that goes. It's always a little struggle for me not being in an agricultural field to figure out how we help that, but I think I'm getting it. I've talked to enough people about it and I think we're getting there. Iowa State is doing something I think pretty unique so far in working with the University of Iowa and University of Northern Iowa, Entrefest, which is coming up this week. This may come out after Entrefest, but it leads that question. 

You said there's five Pappajohns entered. I'm sure every small private college in Iowa has some sort of entrepreneurial major or class at least. How do you guys work together and what is the overlap between the schools, at least since you've been here?

David Spalding:    I think that there certainly is an effort broadly to promote and support smaller businesses in the state. That's why I think it's great that you've got these Pappajohn Centers at multiple institutions across the state to help encourage all of us to be actively engaged in that process of helping nurture small businesses, whether it's by providing advice to those businesses or providing future employees to those businesses with what we do with our students. There's certainly, the Pappajohn Centers collaborate in some programming during the year. 

I think we're also looking at doing a celebration this year to celebrate the 20th anniversary, but those five centers stay in good close touch. There are business plan competitions that they're involved in, both business plan competition for students and a business plan competition for business people. That's probably a collaboration of the five centers. There are a variety of ways they work together. This is all meant to enable all of us to help the state, as opposed to all of us compete to see who can help businesses in the state the most. 

Geoff Wood:    How can our audience, if they want to get involved in the entrepreneurial programs or utilize the programs that you have on campus for their business, what's the best way to get started with that?

David Spalding:    The great thing for us is Judy Eyles who has been active in this field for a number of years with us at the Pappajohn Center is also serving as the director of CyBIZ Lab. She's got many contacts already with the entrepreneurial community. To the extent that you're a small business and you think you have a project that our students could work on with you, Judy is a great one to get in touch with, a great contact point for that. We're also interested in getting small business people back up on campus. The more our students can have a chance to talk to business people in live situations, hear about their businesses, get involved with their businesses, the better. 

We do bring a variety of guest speakers back on campus with the entrepreneurship classes that we offer. We do many planned pitch competitions on campus. We're looking for folks to be involved in those to help us out as judges and many people from your community have been helpful in that regard. We're very interested in getting people engaged. This is a great way for us. I thank you for this opportunity to speak on this podcast, be interviewed on this podcast, and have a chance to raise our profile a little bit and let people know that we definitely want them to get engaged with us. 

Geoff Wood:    Absolutely. You mentioned Judy and I've worked with Judy off and on for a couple of years and have really enjoyed that. Her pitch competition that she does, I think I've judged that the last three or four years, and always have such a good time with that. This year I really noticed they've really gotten better. I don't know if that's a reflection of the instruction or if there's just more people getting involved or what, but not only have the pitches gotten better, there are people that I know because they're students, but I've seen them as part of the entrepreneurial community prior to that. They're around Des Moines and they come to events that we do things like that. 

I'm excited to see where that goes in the future because I feel like that's really been improving. It's also been good to see Diana Wright since she joined the Pappajohn Center. She comes to 1 Million Cups and she's been active in the Des Moines community as well. I think that's part of that outreach probably of what you mentioned earlier of it's not just on campus, but how do you get involved with the community as part of the Land Grant Mission. I think that's been great. 

David Spalding:    That's why we get involved in things like sponsoring and helping to sponsor Gravitate and helping to sponsor Entrefest is some of our way of trying to help with that broader nurturing effort and also raise our visibility in the community.

Geoff Wood:    What's the best way for people to find out more about you personally? Is there a Twitter or how do you direct people to find you if they have follow up questions?

David Spalding:    E-mail is the way I operate best. I don't Tweet. It's something we've talking about, but I haven't started Tweeting yet. It's spalding@iastate.edu. We'd love to have a chance to hear from people and be a connection point for folks to get more engaged with us. 

Geoff Wood:    Very good. Thanks for coming in today. 

David Spalding:    Great. Thank you, Geoff.