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Iowa Commerce
is the official publication of the
Iowa Association of Business and Industry.
Planting the Seeds of Success

Ed Moldt helps people achieve their dreams. Business developer, corporate head, and director of the University of Iowa’s John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center, Moldt has been instrumental in developing a unique educational partnership between the Tippie College of Business Administration, other colleges on campus, and schools around the state. In the process, his remarkable ability to fulfill his own entrepreneurial dreams has inspired legions of business start-up hopefuls.

Moldt came to the Iowa City campus in 1994, "on loan" from the Wharton School of Finance. After launching the entrepreneurial program, he returned to Wharton, but found he missed the excitement of tending the unique Iowa effort to mesh students and faculty in engineering, business, and medical sciences. So Moldt returned in 1996 and has been at the helm ever since.

"He is the number-one person in this field," says John Buchanan, visiting adjunct professor of finance and retired CEO of employee benefits provider Seabury & Smith. "When he first visited campus, talked with the deans, and saw all we have to offer, he got really excited."

Modlt’s expertise comes from experience. He has made and lost and made again several fortunes. In the early 1970s, Moldt achieved what he believed to be the pinnacle of his career when he bought the luxury cruise ship, the Queen Elizabeth. Within weeks of closing the deal on the Cunard Line’s incomparable dowager, world oil prices soared. Moldt eventually lost the ship and virtually everything else he owned.

"I had a really great wife and five children," he says, "so I really didn’t have a choice but to find a solution to our problem."

So, at the age of 43, Moldt decided that "solution" was to begin selling shirts at Sears.

After more years of hard work, smart risk-taking, and a string of successful start-up companies, Moldt was a financial winner once again. In the process, he acquired something of a mythological status as an entrepreneur.

Moldt notes that during the last two decades, the changing nature of technology, international business, and world economics has redefined opportunities for savvy entrepreneurs. He adds that while few Fortune 1000 companies are creating new jobs today, a flurry of young, smaller, and highly competitive companies now are succeeding in new niches.

"In the past, companies were product oriented and required a lot of start-up capital," he says. "Employees performed narrow jobs, often with ‘workbench tools’ that were provided by the employer. But today’s companies are fast on their feet and oriented toward service and technology," Moldt says. "Workers are becoming knowledge brokers who work in smaller production units. And at virtually every level, those who succeed are those who understand both the production process and the market."

That rule of thumb surely applies to students who have been inspired to launch their own business after taking courses through Iowa’s entrepreneurial program. Moldt describes one former student, Tara Cronbaugh (pictured with Moldt at left), as "the poster child for entrepreneurial training." After learning how to write a business plan, formulate a prospectus, and develop advertising in one of her entrepreneurship courses, Cronbaugh opened a popular Iowa City coffee shop–the first of three.

Iowa’s program is the first of its kind to award entrepreneurial certificates to students who complete 18 semester hours–an additional semester–of course work. In addition, the University of Iowa program has become one model for others–also endowed by Iowa businessman John Pappajohn–at Iowa State University, the University of Northern Iowa, Drake University, and Northern Iowa Community College.

Moldt thinks of the entrepreneurial certificate program as "time in the sandbox" for prospective entrepreneurs.

"These courses give students time to practice," he says. "To successfully grow your own business, you have to know a lot about a lot of things. That includes understanding the potential problems involved in starting and keeping a business, as well as how to solve those problems inexpensively. We want to create generalists–people who are smart, creative, and flexible. This program provides students with the opportunity to test their ideas for failure without actually failing."

Of course, not even all graduates of the program will become successful entrepreneurs with their first–or their fourteenth–attempts. But Moldt believes that Iowa-trained business-starters will be better able to learn from their mistakes.

"And maybe in the rubble," says this gifted entrepreneurial phoenix, "they will discover something that will work the next time."

–Jean Florman is a writer from Iowa City.

For more information:

Iowa Small Business Development Centers, 800/373-7232

The Iowa Business Network

U.S. Small Business Adminstration

Iowa Department of Economic Development, Marketing and Business Development Division

Iowa Department of Economic Development Small Business Resource Office, 800/532-1216

Angel Capital Electronic Network, which brings entrepreneurs and investors together

Iowa Software Association

Iowa Association of Business and Industry site

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There are more than 80,000 business establishments in Iowa.
(Source: U.S. Census Bureau)