Success Stories

Iowa PowderCraft, LLC

John and Colleen Thompson, Owners
306 14th Ave. South
Clear Lake, IA 50428
641.357.4445 /

12 Steps for Aspiring Entrepreneurs or How to Create a Million $ Company Overnight

John and Colleen Thompson are doing it right at Iowa PowderCraft, a new business in Clear Lake, Iowa. Iowa PowderCraft provides metal finishing services, including media blasting (surface preparation) and powder coating — a form of dry paint that is electrostatically bonded to and baked onto metal for greater durability and longer lasting finishes than wet spray paint. The Thompsons opened in December 2013 after completing the NIACC John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center’s Launch & Grow program. In seven months they’ve grown from three employees to fourteen. They’re cash flow positive. Learn from their example:

  1. Ask for help earlier rather than later. Start at the NIACC Small Business Development Center (SBDC) in the John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center. Develop a plan to plan. The biggest source of risk is entrepreneurs don’t know what they don’t know. Learn from others who have “been there and done that.”
  2. Research before opening the doors. Interview and visit similar businesses that will not be direct competitors. Learn from others what to do and what not to do.
  3. Launch & Grow — write the business plan. Launch & Grow works. This ten week program yields a business plan incorporating the research in the format banks and investors expect to see. The business plan is essential to get financing and as an ongoing management tool.
  4. Build a strong banking relationship. Banks want to get repaid. Your forward looking financial projections (the numbers) should be based on real world experience of peers. Give the bank or investors confidence you can make the numbers come true.
  5. Clear, consistent, professional branding. Send a unified message with your brand. Carry your branding across all paper, web, buildings and vehicles and especially activities.
  6. Professional, fulfilling facilities and operations. What you do in practice must be consistent with the image conveyed by the branding. Caring for your team and the facility in which the work is done is vital. A great business plan is of little value without a great team working in a quality environment to bring the plan to life.
  7. Sales don’t happen by magic. Making quality stuff is hard. Selling is harder still. Customers don’t all show up day-one. Sales require pre-loading the marketing funnel and constant work. Prospective customers don’t all say, “Yes,” on the first approach. Plan for the resulting ramp-up and invest in marketing that leads to sales.
  8. Be Persistent. Owners need the fortitude to hear, “No,” and keep going, and even come back to hear, “No,” multiple times before getting to, “Yes.” Being an entrepreneur is hard work and emotionally challenging. Be prepared. Customers are harder bosses than most employers.
  9. Compete on more than price. Successful companies sell something more than low prices. Define your unique value proposition in terms customers will value. Don’t be a commodity.
  10. Remember owners get paid last. In that ramp-up period before cash-flow positive and break-even, employees get paid before owners.
  11. Know what you’re good at — and what you’re not. Owners should be able to do almost any aspect of the work. But focus your personal time and efforts on those things that make the biggest impact on long-term success. An entrepreneur must learn new tricks, but be careful assigning to yourself things you hate to do or for which expertise is essential. Hire, contract or partner for essential expertise you don’t like or can’t do. Hire experts smarter or more experienced than you to cover what you don’t do well.
  12. Work for things beyond the bottom line. Give back to the community and world. Be involved in the community. Join the Chamber of Commerce and contribute time, not just money to improving the community and connecting with customers.

Owning a small business is hard work. John and Colleen know that there has to be a reason beyond the “bottom line” to keep them pushing ahead. For them it’s their desire to be an asset to the community and lift the lives of the people who work for them. Business isn’t done in a vacuum. It’s not just for profit. Business owners have a unique opportunity to add value to the community through the support of local businesses, community efforts, and by investing in the lives of their team. When things get tough, and they will in business ownership, keep your eye on the bigger goal (purpose).

Iowa PowderCraft’s owners are an overnight success because they worked for more than two years in advance of opening to develop a workable plan. In the last seven months they’ve worked the plan to deliver on the promise. The results? Ahead of plan. Rapidly growing revenues and operations. Cash flow positive. Adding jobs. It doesn’t happen by magic. Success is a result of planning, hard work and working smart.


Duggan Tax Service

Mary Duggan, CPA and Owner
20 Ninth Street, NE
Mason City, IA 50401 (Cerro Gordo County)
641.423.4431 or 641.424.6197

Description of the Business

Most people don’t enjoy spending their valuable free time preparing their income tax returns or doing the bookkeeping for their small business. Mary Duggan, owner of Duggan Tax Service, offers the solutions for these problems plus two additional precious commodities – time and peace of mind. In January 2007, Duggan acquired the existing client base of Jess Harris Tax Service (a very reputable business in North Iowa) after Harris retired from a 30 year career with the Internal Revenue Service and 17 years in private tax practice. Prior to opening Duggan Tax Service, Mary worked for several other local accounting firms.

SBDC Approach

Duggan was referred to the North Iowa Area SBDC by her banker after her business start-up loan was declined due to her poor credit. The North Iowa Area SBDC was able to help Duggan develop a business plan and also look for alternative sources of funding.

Duggan was informed of the NIACC John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center (JPEC) Revolving Loan Fund opportunity. The NIACC JPEC was awarded a Rural Enterprise Grant from the United States Department of Agriculture Rural Development to create the revolving loan fund. The program is designed to assist with new business development or the expansion of existing businesses. In March 2007, Duggan Tax Service received $10,000 in funding from NIACC JPEC Revolving Loan Fund.

Results of SBDC Assistance

Since Duggan’s first visit to the North Iowa Area SBDC, she has completed a very thorough business plan and received funding to advance her business. With the acquisition of Jess Harris Tax Service, another much needed accounting business will thrive in North Iowa. Mary has also graciously offered to mentor other aspiring entrepreneurs and several referrals have been made by the North Iowa Area SBDC to Duggan Tax Service as start-up entrepreneurs are searching for an accountant to assist them in developing their bookkeeping system. Ultimately, the North Iowa Area SBDC provided Duggan an opportunity to reinstate her CPA designation that had lapsed due to personal issues and fulfill her dream of opening her own business.

Quote from Client

The guidance and support I have received from the NIACC JPEC and SBDC has been invaluable throughout the acquisition process. The loan allows me to start my business with a strong financial foundation.” – Mary Duggan

Latham Hi-Tech Hybrids LLC

Description of the Business:

Corn is big business in Iowa, but high technology corn is becoming an even bigger business. Third generation seedman John, along with wife Shannon and brother Chris Latham seized an opportunity to begin supplying corn seed with multiple traits to farmers across the upper Midwest and formed Latham Hi-Tech Hybrids in 2004. With a motto of “brings world-class technology home,” they have become one of Iowa’s fastest growing family-owned seed companies. In April 2006, the Lathams turned to the SBDC of North Iowa for help accelerating and preparing financially for rapid growth.

SBDC Approach:

In Mason City, the SBDC is housed inside the John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center on the North Iowa Community College Campus. This setting offers huge opportunities for collaboration with other JPEC members, including the North Iowa Business Accelerator, Iowa Workforce Development, North Iowa Venture Capital Fund and Wellmark Community Venture Fund. By utilizing all the assets at its disposal, Ted Bair, the SBDC Director was able to help John, Shannon and Chris Latham refine all aspects of their business plan- marketing, financial and operations. He also critiqued and helped them prepare their presentation for the Venture Network of Iowa and submission of their business plan to the statewide Pappajohn Business Plan Competition contest.

Results from SBDC Assistance:

    • Successfully penetrating a five state region
    • Met sales plan for 2006; exceeding plan in 2007 (years run Sept to Sept) with continuing triple digit percentage increases.
    • Presented to the Venture Network of Iowa, drawing the interest of Venture Capitalists and Angel Investors
    • Placed 3rd out of 87 entrants statewide in the Pappajohn Business Plan Competition, winning a $10,000 prize
    • Awarded $100,000 in funding from the Wellmark Community Venture Fund
    • Accelerated hiring plan. On track to add at least 1 new sales pro-rep employee every other month in 2007 with ultimate goal of 45 employees by 2010 earning in excess of $75,000 annually.

Quote from Client:

We faced the same problems every new company faces. Although, we had the background, the connections and the education to be successful, we needed to supplement it with the skill and experience of the North Iowa SBDC in the Pappajohn Center at NIACC. We were given access to capital sources and to a network of specialists that shaved years off the execution of our business plan. No one did the work for us, but because of the NIACC-JPEC SBDC, the work we did was much more effective.” John Latham, President, Latham Hi-Tech Hybrids LLC, Sheffield, Franklin County, Iowa