“I hope my gift can inspire students to start businesses and pursue a career in management consulting, but I also deeply hope that it inspires other alumni to give back to the University of Iowa. If current and future students are passionate about entrepreneurship or business consulting, they should be able to pursue that passion despite the overwhelming challenges that they might face.”
Starting a business is tough. According to Bloomberg, eight out of 10 entrepreneurs who do so fail within the first 18 months. Keith Chiavetta (1999 B.A.)—who has been an entrepreneur for nearly 20 years—understands the trials and tribulations associated with starting a business.
While attending the University of Iowa, Keith worked with a group called Second Look Computing, which evaluated new technologies for the university. “At the time, CD-ROM was an emerging technology,” Keith said. “I assisted different divisions who wanted to use the technology for data storage and multimedia production. We had members of the business community wanting the same thing, but we were limited to assisting faculty and staff, so we were turning away those in the business community.”
At the same time, Keith was enrolled in an entrepreneurship course taught by John Buchanan (1956 B.S.C.), and his final project was to develop a business plan and pitch the idea to five Iowa City business leaders. “I ended up marrying the unmet need in the marketplace with my work at Iowa to launch Digital Data Resources,” Keith said. “The company helped businesses and government entities transfer data from all formats to CD-ROM, and then build searchable databases.”
With funding from one Iowa City business leader and help from University of Iowa faculty and staff members—along with the Small Business Development Center—Keith gained admittance into the Technology Innovation Center, where he had an office and administrative assistance to help get Digital Data Resources off the ground. “As a 21-year-old, I lacked the experience in running a business,” Keith said. “The University of Iowa was right there helping me when I needed it most.”
Keith’s experience at Iowa launched a successful career in management consulting. After selling Digital Data Resources to his partners, Keith has worked with Apple Computer, Hewlett-Packard, Rockwell Collins, and Grant Thornton. Today, he owns Chiavetta Management Advisors, an Iowa City-based consulting firm. He works with the UI as entrepreneur in residence for the John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center, where he guides, supports, and mentors students who are starting, and running, their own businesses. Keith also teaches an online business consulting class at the UI where students work on real projects for Iowa companies.
“My students have taught me quite a bit, and I’ve learned they’re hungry for direction and support from people who have been there,” Keith said. “Business students at Iowa are receiving an education that prepares them for great careers. My students have a lot to do with why I love entrepreneurship, and they are a large reason why I chose to give back to Iowa.”
Through the University of Iowa Foundation, Keith created two named scholarships within the UI Henry B. Tippie College of Business that will provide annual awards for those who are starting and operating technology-based businesses or are pursuing a career in the management consulting field. “Keith is a perfect role model for our students,” said Sarah Fisher Gardial, dean of the UI Tippie College of Business. “Not only has he enjoyed professional success, but he’s giving back to help future students. He is an inspiration to alumni and students alike.”
Keith credits his own success to a university that has given him so much. “Mark Twain once said, ‘The two most important days of your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why,’” he said. “I really think I was meant to do this. I hope my gift can inspire students to start businesses and pursue a career in management consulting, but I also deeply hope that it inspires other alumni to give back to the University of Iowa. If current and future students are passionate about entrepreneurship or business consulting, they should be able to pursue that passion despite the overwhelming challenges that they might face.”