Discovering entrepreneurship

Within an hour of learning about the existence of the University of Iowa John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center (Iowa JPEC), UI sophomore Brad Phillips enrolled himself in ‘Intro to Entrepreneurship’ with professor Joe Sulentic. Phillips (BBA Management, Certificate in Entrepreneurship 2006) had found his calling.

Outside of Iowa JPEC courses, Phillips was racing in national motocross series around the country. A local high school student took notice of Phillips’ talent and asked to film him for a class project. Phillips was impressed with the final result and decided to start his first business, Premis Industries, with the videographer.

At the time, the University of Iowa’s student business incubator, the Bedell Entrepreneurship Learning Laboratory (BELL), was just getting started. Phillips and his co-founder were the first people to enter the space, although Phillips soon decided to take on all of the business responsibilities himself. Under his guidance, the company secured deals with MTV, ESPN, and other major networks, and Phillips worked with guests like Vanilla Ice and Bam Margera.

Building on a strong foundation

Now, Phillips has a new business partner and a new venture, Phillips Stafford Insurance Group. While his typical day varies a lot, he is constantly identifying and solving problems. Sometimes that means maintaining company IT systems, others it involves communicating with clients. Phillips does it all. His Iowa JPEC education prepared him for the daily struggles and triumphs of running a self-started business, which he says are important to understand before jumping into entrepreneurship.

“They say an entrepreneur works 80 hours a week to avoid a 40 hour week. I'd say that's fairly accurate. The challenge is that I'm always working, but the advantage is that I can choose when to work. I think a lot of the time the advantages become challenges," Phillips says. "I get to decide what to do and what the business does, that's the advantage. But I also need to decide what to do and what the business should do, that's the challenge."

Giving back

If not for Iowa JPEC, Phillips does not know what direction his life would have taken. Early encouragement from mentors and peers taught him that the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Iowa is very favorable to entrepreneurs. He notes, “Iowans are nice. We genuinely want to help people succeed.”

Phillips is one of Iowa JPEC’s most involved alumni, serving as a founding member of the Iowa JPEC Alumni Advisory Council and returning to Iowa JPEC classes and events to share his entrepreneurial journey with students and community members alike. Staying involved is natural for Phillips, as he remembers the infectiousness of discovering entrepreneurship as a student. He explains, “I want other students to feel the same and have the same opportunities. I want students to have that “a ha!” moment and realize if someone else can do it, so can they. That’s why I stay involved and help out however I can.”

Finding time for fun

So, what does a busy entrepreneur like Phillips do with his free time, if and when he has any? Returning to his motocross days is always tempting. Phillips says, “I've tried to be a little more responsible lately, although I did just buy a dirt bike. I still enjoy snowboarding and snowmobiling in the mountains, riding my dirt bike around Iowa, and try to skydive when I can. I try to carve out time to take a break. Sometimes that break is a little vacation with the wife and sometimes it's my friends and I taking a trip to ride dirt bikes, snowmobiles, or snowboard. I work a lot of hours when I can so I can take time off when I want.”