Researchers at Iowa State University are trying to determine what factors drive people to start their own businesses and what they need to succeed. Economics professor Robert Jolly says developing entrepreneurs to create new jobs, goods and services will help fuel Iowa’s economic recovery. Jolly and others have been reviewing surveys completed in 2008 by nearly 5,500 I.S.U. grads.

The surveys could shape the direction of entrepreneurial programs at Iowa State. Jolly says the information may help instructors identify programs or experiences that encourage students to become an entrepreneur. “It’s essential information and we really didn’t have much in this area at all,” Jolly said of the surveys.

Nearly 16% of the respondents reported starting at least one business. About 72% of those businesses were started in Iowa. “On average, the students who graduated started their first business about 10 years after graduation,” Jolly said. “When we asked them why they started the business where they did, the answer was almost always ‘that’s where I lived.'”

Jolly says the fact that most entrepreneurs are choosing to start businesses near their home should spur policy makers to do all they can to keep college graduates in Iowa from leaving the state. “If Iowa wants to enjoy the advantages of this entrepreneurial activity, we have to pay particular attention…to figure out ways to get graduates to take their first job here (in Iowa),” Jolly said.

The survey involved ISU students who graduated between 1982 and 2006 and found nearly 20,000 businesses were created, along with 223,000 jobs. Most of the businesses were tied to agriculture, followed by retail and information technology. In 2008, when the survey was compiled, about 79% of the businesses were still in operation.

See more on the survey here: