Malcolm Goodwin started Promise IT Solutions in his home after seeing a
need among companies for help filling IT positions and expansion needs. Photo by Duane Tinkey
Malcolm Goodwin started Promise IT Solutions in his home after seeing a need among companies for help filling IT positions and expansion needs. Photo by Duane Tinkey
Early in his career, Malcolm Goodwin set a deadline: If, on his 35th birthday, he didn't own a business already, he would quit whatever he was doing and start one. He beat that goal by a couple of years when he became co-owner of Benefits Communications Group LLC.

"I am one of those people that is very much driven to build an organization, build client relationships and build a solution from scratch," said the former linebacker and captain of the 1992 Iowa State University football team.

Now Goodwin is involved in a new venture, Promise IT Solutions, which he started in March 2007. In less than a year, the information technology consulting company has attained four clients and a half million dollars in annual revenues, and Goodwin believes the infrastructure is in place to grow even faster.

In November, he and his only employee, network recruiting manager Shari Hrdina, who has been with the company from the beginning, moved into the CEO Building on East Fifth Street near the East Village, and Goodwin expects to outgrow the one-room office within the year.

"We're excited about growth," Goodwin said, "and we know it won't take long with the model we've built to ramp up very quickly to meet the needs of any potential customer in the marketplace.

"I want to become one of the leading providers of information technology solutions here in Iowa. I don't have any specific revenue figure because, to be honest, revenues aren't really what we're going after. We're going after meeting all of our clients' needs, whether that's $10 million or $100 million."

The business plan

At the core of Goodwin's business model is a consultative approach to meeting corporate IT needs, which involves listening to clients' needs and then finding a customized solution. This may go beyond just finding people to fill IT positions to also working on issues such as infrastructure and efficiency. He also is particularly interested in increasing race and gender diversity in Iowa, and bringing people from outside the state to fill open positions.

"Obviously all the companies are struggling with the same thing - how to retain our viable candidates," Goodwin said, "But more importantly, how do we attract the right new candidates."

To achieve these goals, Goodwin has established a network of partnerships with staffing, IT solutions and similar companies across the nation, which he believes has allowed him to offer clients more services at a lower cost. He has worked with partners in states including Michigan (which he said has been an especially good place to find IT people due to the downturn in the automobile industry), Texas, North Carolina and Georgia.

"We think we have a better ability to identify IT candidates faster than other companies across the Des Moines and Central Iowa area," he said.

Finding companies to partner with has been easy, Goodwin said, because many out-of-state businesses want to enter the Des Moines market. Yet they have struggled to work with Central Iowa companies, which often prefer working with local companies. Promise IT provides that local face for those outside companies.

"We create that presence for them in terms of being able to get the kind of relationships in place that can help them do what they're good at, which is finding good candidates, and having us do what we're good at, which is maintaining and managing those relationships," he said.

"A lot of companies across the United States have identified Iowa as a hotbed for IT," Goodwin added, after a Battelle Memorial Institute study specified information solutions as one of three key industries the state should focus on for economic development.

The main challenge Goodwin faces is helping companies find IT workers amid a shortage. A study by the Technology Association of Iowa last year found that 86 percent of its member companies have trouble finding qualified employees and 69 percent have considered outsourcing or relocating their operations.

"Everyone is pressured to outsource, and information technology and manufacturing have been areas that have had at least the discussion of 'Do we outsource this to an overseas conglomerate?'" he said. He sees advantages in keeping IT jobs in Iowa, because of the state's lower wages compared with the rest of the nation, reasonable land prices and aggressive tax incentives for IT companies.

Three of Goodwin's four clients are local, and "all of them have the same challenges," he said. "They're fully capitalized - money is never the problem. The challenges they always face are speed, finding the right skilled labor and convincing them that Iowa is the place to grow."

Being a minority business owner has been especially helpful in attracting interest to his business, Goodwin said. "The greatest part about Iowa from a minority perspective is that there's not a lot of minorities, especially in the technology business, " he said, "so when we go out there and promote that an African-American owns a technology company that focuses on solutions to technology businesses, you get a little more play, because they're sitting there saying, 'That's a new thing I've never heard of before.'"

All of the money Goodwin has put into the business has been his own, without state aid or a bank loan.

Other ventures

In addition to Promise IT, Goodwin is partnering through his other company, MTG Holdings, with an Ames business to start Global Search, which will supply large companies with employment verification services. Through a Web-based program, corporations will be able to customize their background searches and look at factors including drug tests, criminal background checks and credit ratings. He believes this will attract interest quickly as companies are pressured to better verify potential employees' backgrounds in the wake of stronger government enforcement of immigration laws.

Goodwin's two ventures stem from his entrepreneurial spirit and background working for large companies in areas of new business development and client services. As an assistant vice president in client relations for Marsh & McLennan Cos. Inc., he had the chance to work with Bill Van Orsdel and Gary Kirke. They "were very innovative outside-the-box entrepreneurs in Central Iowa," he said, "so I got a very good look foundationally at what it means to be an entrepreneur."

Goodwin went on to co-own Benefits Communications Group, which in two years produced $1.5 million in revenues, before leaving to pursue other interests.

Goodwin, who is president of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Iowa, also believes some of his success stems from his social approach to running a business. According to the handbook he is in the process of finalizing, all full-time employees at Promise IT will be required to volunteer in the community one day a month on company time.

"We have a strong commitment to not only growing Iowa from an information technology perspective," Goodwin said, "but we also understand that we have a social responsibility to help change the economic and social status of Iowa."