Friday, October 6, 2023

John Mickelson feels like he was born with an entrepreneurial gene, and the University of Iowa John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center (Iowa JPEC) fine-tuned his unique gift.

“I have been entrepreneurial my whole life,” said Mickelson, who will receive the Alumni Entrepreneurial Leadership Award at the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Honors event Oct. 20. “Every day when I walked into the Pappajohn Business Building, I strived to emulate John Pappajohn and learn from his lessons. Anything associated with him that I can be a part of is special.”

A native of West Des Moines, Iowa, Mickelson earned a BBA degree from the University of Iowa in finance, accounting, and entrepreneurship in 2003. He remained at the UI and added MBA and JD degrees in 2007.

Mickelson is co-founder and Managing Partner of Midwest Growth Partners, an Iowa private equity fund business that takes capital from predominantly institutional investors and buys part or all of established businesses.

“We focus on food and agriculture and manufacturing and distribution around the industrial Midwest,” Mickelson said.

There are nearly 3,500 employees across the Midwest Growth Partners platform and most of those employees are in rural areas.

“Being able to do what we do by choice in Iowa is cool,” Mickelson said. “A vast majority of our colleagues are in Chicago, New York, or San Francisco. Being able to build something in Iowa feels really good.”

Mickelson was poised for success after college in part because of his stint with Iowa JPEC. It was then and there that he witnessed the challenges and successes of other students who were building businesses.

“It gives you comfort when you can bounce ideas off other people,” he said.

He also learned the importance of scaling a business and founding something with growth potential.

“The program was great,” Mickelson said. “I learned a lot and I met a lot of good people. I owe a great deal of gratitude to the organization and to the people that are there and have been there.”

Midwest Growth Partners raised its first fund in the fall of 2013, meaning the company is celebrating its 10-year anniversary. It has now raised three funds and invested in 29 companies with about $325 million in private capital.

The success of Midwest Growth Partners comes as no surprise since Mickelson has dabbled in entrepreneurship since junior high school. In sixth grade, he started a lawn/landscape business. In graduate school — where he had an office in the Bedell Entrepreneurship Learning Laboratory — Mickelson operated a reverse mortgage wholesale business. After moving to Omaha, he started a small manufacturing company.

Mickelson saw an unfulfilled need in his home state, moved back to West Des Moines in 2010 and worked as a lender for a bank for three years before starting Midwest Growth Partners. It was one more step in his successful entrepreneurial journey.

“I have always had that gene,” Mickelson said.

2023 John Mickelson Midwest Growth Partners
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