Success Stories

Dumont Insurance Agent Wins Statewide Woman Entrepreneur Award

Shelly Zimmerman, now owner and principal agent at Harrison-Thornburgh Insurance of Dumont in Butler County is the 2015 Iowa Small Business Development Centers’ Deb Dalziel Woman Entrepreneur Achievement Award winner. This statewide award recognizes women who have significantly improved or changed their own personal situation, thus having an impact on others around them. Zimmerman will be honored at a State Capitol breakfast reception with state legislators and leaders on March 5.

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Shelly ZimmermanZimmerman completed the purchase of the independent insurance agency from her long-time employer in 2014. This business succession keeps a main street professional office in Dumont, sustaining client access and continuing a local tradition of professional service. She successfully expanded her clientele and hired additional staff.

Zimmerman, a long-time resident, is active in Dumont civic life. She had a great opportunity to buy the agency from her retiring employer.

Zimmerman’s bank, First Security of Dumont, referred her to the NIACC John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center and its North Iowa Small Business Development Center (SBDC) to work through the buyout business plan and make sure the numbers would cash flow or work.

Zimmerman relates, “The North Iowa SBDC provided me with important business projections and solid financial data to reinforce my purchase decision.  The assistance I received from Daniel Winegarden was invaluable in drafting the focused business plan needed to obtain the financing to purchase Harrison-Thornburgh Insurance.  I’m grateful to have had a resource with such a high level of knowledge and expertise to use as a sounding board when making tough business decisions.”

Right up front in planning Zimmerman identified her desire to help the community, “It’s important to Dumont to keep professional services local and main street offices thriving.” Shelly was committed to sustaining her business in her community and not just letting the business fade away or move away. She understands the importance to the local economy of sustaining key professional services.

Daniel Winegarden, NIACC Pappajohn Center’s Director of Business Acceleration and an SBDC business coach shares, “Shelly is a joy to work with. Her experience as an insurance agent perfectly prepared her for the buyout plan. She crafted a win-win for the prior owner’s retirement, her own advancement and the success of her community. She already knew the agency’s clients and their needs. We worked to assemble a detailed month-by-month financial forecast based on the history of the agency. From that Shelly knew exactly what new business was necessary every year to make the purchase price and purchase loan work. It’s rewarding to see a client’s success and it means Dumont keeps a community leader as a new business owner.”

State elected officials representing Dumont and Shelly Zimmerman note Zimmerman’s award.

State Senator Amanda Ragan said, “I am very proud of Shelly Zimmerman for being selected to receive the Deb Dalziel Woman Entrepreneur Achievement Award.  Her achievement as a businesswoman in rural Iowa is very significant and a tribute to her efforts to improve her community and the lives of its citizens.”

Rep. Linda Upmeyer remarked, “Shelly is a perfect example of successful entrepreneurs in small, rural Iowa communities.  She demonstrates why we need to ensure these business leaders have access to many opportunities.  I look forward to following her continued success.”

The NIACC John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center and its North Iowa Small Business Development Center offer business counseling services to current and prospective business owners. Services help area residents create new business start-ups, grow or reinvigorate existing business, and transfer or acquire businesses with planned successions. Shelly Zimmerman is a perfect example of a successful business succession.

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:

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  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.

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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.

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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

Northside Auto Repair, Inc.

Adam Roberts, President

Northside Auto Repair, Inc. is an S-Corporation formed in December of 2009 and recently completed its first quarter of business ending March 31st, 2010.

Northside is a full service auto and truck repair business operated and managed by Adam Roberts, a certified auto mechanic with many years of experience as the high volume technical mechanic for a multi-location auto dealer in North Iowa.  Mr. Roberts also has a pheasant raising business for game farms and initially entered FastTrac® training at our Center to develop his business model to full time from a hobby.  During his involvement with FastTrac®, he decided the time was right to consider opening his own auto repair business and began the process of creating a plan for that to happen.  Adam and his wife Dawn (CFO of Stellar Industries in Garner, Iowa) then focused on working with myself and the FastTrac curriculum in creating Northside Auto Repair, Inc.

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Adam Pam Roberts

Business was initiated and the business has performed very well, exceeding forecasts in revenue and profitability and was capitalized by Adam personally.  He had sufficient tools and some equipment to open and immediately purchased two lifts to modify the location in Garner to meet his needs.  Currently he is renting the location with an option to purchase and likely his wife Dawn will form a LLC to purchase the building and property and lease to Northside. Volume growth has created the need for occasional independent contractor labor within the first quarter of 2010 and Adam and our SBDC Center are initiating a process of determining the impact of adding a full-time employee at this time.  We are meeting on a constant basis, reviewing financial progress, comparing current activity to forecasts and looking for opportunities to grow the business.

“Ted Bair and the resources of the Small Business Development Center at NIACC have been very helpful in the forming and validating of my business venture”- Adam Roberts, President of Northside Auto Repair, Inc.

Owens Family Concessions LLC.

Owen’s Family Concessions LLC is a certified and licensed business founded in February of 2012 by its owner Mike Owens of Leland, Iowa.  OFC LLC provides concession services/products for special events (Civic and Private) as well as Fairs and Fundraisers in North Central Iowa Region.
Mike and his family are located in Winnebago County at 40862 160th Avenue, Leland, Iowa and can be reached at 641-590-0207 or by email at

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OwenIn December of 2011 Mike Owens contacted the SBDC of North Central Iowa at NIACC requesting help in forming a business entity to provide concession services.  Mr. Owens had some limited previous experience providing concessions to special events in his role as Scoutmaster for his local Boy Scout Troop.  Having been recently laid-off from his job, Mr. Owens saw a potential opportunity to develop a business around providing concessions, but lacked business experience and sought help from our Center to help with starting this venture.

Several sessions took place with the client as he refined his concept, began forming operational guidelines and identified start-up-costs. In February of 2012 Mr. Owens formed his Limited Liability Company (Owens Family Concessions LLC) and we began the search for funding his company in preparation for launch.  Preparing financial forecasts based upon research data, food cost analysis, overhead projections, we were able to outline goals and objectives financially and presented to his bank for funding his start-up-costs.  Bank agreed to the request for trailer funding and along with funds provided by NIACC Nano-loan fund for additional equipment and working capital, Mr. Owens was ready for business.
Mike also started our 10 week boot camp for new businesses ( FastTrac ) in April of 2012 and graduated with a completed business plan and much more confidence and validation his project would be successful.  While Mike attended these sessions he was securing events for Spring/Summer/Fall events.

Mike and his family completed their first calendar year in business providing concession services for  events  with sales exceeding .  Mike has been an excellent example of a entrepreneur with passion and knowledge of what he wants his business to look like.  Mr. Owens represents opportunity through adversity ( job loss ) by creating a service business benefiting others while creating value and wealth for his family.

North Central Mechanical Services Company, Mason City

Nathan Bartels began his career as an apprentice heating and air conditioning specialist the summer before completing college at North Iowa Area Community College. During the next 12 years he completed his heating and air conditioning certification while working first for Comfort Inc. and then for Mechanical Air Systems.

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Nathan and 2 employeesWhile he was gaining experience working for others, Nathan’s level of confidence in managing and operating his own company increased and he decided he’d like to start his own business. Good customer relations and providing excellent outcomes for clients validated his feeling that he would be successful implementing his personal vision and work ethic within his own company.

Barriers for Nathan to move forward with forming his own company included amassing adequate capital necessary to provide the type of service that customers in North Iowa demand. Nathan began to formulate his business plan and accumulate the necessary tools and cash to launch his own company.

Knowing that he needed additional help, Nathan contacted Ted Bair, Regional Director of the North Iowa Area Small Business Development Center (SBDC), to evaluate his business plan, help determine cash flow needs, and discover options for financing of additional capital needs such as a larger service vehicle and starting inventory. While meeting with Ted, Nathan secured the services of an attorney and formed an “S” Corporation, to provide the legal structure of his business. He also initiated discussions with U.S. Bank for financing.

North Central Mechanical Services Company opened for business on August 18, 2010 with the help of an SBA-guaranteed loan and a guaranteed credit card, both through U.S. Bank in Mason City. Nathan also obtained a truck loan from a dealer offering internal financing, plus he personally invested tools and cash into the business. The company provides commercial and residential heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration parts and services within 50 miles of Mason City.

Ted and Nathan at business

Praising the business advice and assistance he received from the SBDC, Nathan says, “Ted Bair and the SBDC have been very helpful in validating my concept and pulling all of this together, and I look forward to our continued relationship on a monthly basis to assess progress and also fulfill the SBA Community Express Action Plan.”

Nathan’s great reputation and good customer relations skills helped his company to grow quickly and in 2011, with additional advice from the SBDC, he was able to move his business from his home to a building the company purchased with additional financing from U.S. Bank. He has also purchased additional equipment, more service trucks, and added five full-time positions, all to better serve his customers.

In 2011 the company had a 250 percent increase in sales over its 2010 figures and it is projected to do even better in 2012. And as Nathan grows his business further, he knows he can go back to the SBDC for more great advice.