Jay Wickham spent more than two decades learning how to make it in the world of small business.
Now, he will use that knowledge to help other entrepreneurs in the Dubuque area.
Wickham, 48, recently became the new executive director of the regional Iowa Small Business Development Center in Dubuque. He takes the reins at a particularly exciting time.
"We are in a start-up boom right now, whether that's because of the recession or just because there are new technologies and new opportunities available," Wickham said. "Hopefully, we can be a valuable resource for those new small businesses."
Wickham will guide the local SBDC, hosted by Northeast Iowa Community College, through a new chapter in a history that dates back to 1985.
The center will move into its new location at Schmid Innovation Center, 900 Jackson St., in February. The move is part of a broader effort to promote a "one-stop-shop" for existing businesses and small business start-ups in the area.
Wendy Mihm-Herold, NICC vice president of business and community solutions, said Wickham's personal experience made him the right person for the job.
"The fact that he worked in small businesses, specifically at start-ups that eventually grew, it shows he has an experience from the grass-roots level," she said.
Wickham began his professional career at Eagle Point Software, where he was just the seventh employee at the company. The business ballooned to employ more than 150 workers by the time Wickham departed in 1994.
After leaving Eagle Point, Wickham helped launch Cartegraph, a company that specializes in developing software for the public works market. Wickham said the company began as "four guys in a basement" before evolving into a profitable business.
His experience at Eagle Point and Cartegraph helped shape an appreciation for the setbacks that small businesses can face.
"There was a time that Cartegraph was a struggling company trying to become a profitable, successful company," Wickham recalled. "We were able to do that, but you learn and you have empathy for those who are trying to get to that point."
Wickham sold his ownership in Cartegraph in 2010 and took a job with Texas-based Shermco Industries. He served as the company's Dubuque-area rep for three years before accepting his current position at SBDC.
Wickham's new job -- which combines elements of small business and education -- provided a unique opportunity for him to follow in the footsteps of his family members.
When he was a child, Wickham's grandfather owned and operated Sager's Shoe Repair in downtown Dubuque. The Main Street business famously stationed a live monkey in its front window to attract customers.
Years later, Wickham helped his father sell and package products for a small business that sold reading and math games to teachers.
His parents' primary occupation was always in the field of education, however. His mother was a primary school teacher and his father served as an administrator in the Western Dubuque County Community School District.
"I spent a lot of years in business and really enjoyed that, but I always had a longing for education and helping others," Wickham said. "I saw this job as a way to use my skills to accomplish that."