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Swaelu founder Dickel takes her chances


  Kathryn Dickel, founder and director of operations for Swaelu Media, is a self-proclaimed Renaissance woman. She graduated from Cornell College, located in Mount Vernon, in 1995 with a degree in religion and political science. She then moved to Northern Ireland where she became a bartender and an advocate for victims of domestic abuse. Eventually the advocacy became a full-time job.

“It was just too stressful,” Dickel said. “It’s really psychologically draining.”

The experience led Dickel to consider her options and return to the United States in 1997. She spent the next two years as a trim carpenter and furniture builder.

“I was a subcontractor,” Dickel said. “I learned a lot about being a free-lancer. I learned a lot about business.”

Her next turn was as a temporary worker for Prostaff. Dickel had a one-month stint at Meredith Corp. and found she liked the place and the people. She inquired about staying permanently. The human resources department said an online production and editorial position was available. Dickel learned on the job and helped FamilyMoney.com, the site for Family Money magazine, become its own entity with its own content. Then, in the summer of 2000, Meredith decided to relocate all of its interactive Web services to New York.

“At that point, I didn’t want to move to New York,” Dickel said. “I thought about moving to Minneapolis or San Francisco, but I decided I wanted to stay in Des Moines. And then I met Heather. It was a perfect match.”

Heather Hansen is Dickel’s business partner. The two met, Dickel was already operating Swaelu Creative Services as a free-lance operation, but she wanted to make it a full-blown company. According to Dickel, she felt she needed a creative partner. When Dickel met Hansen in 2000, she knew she’d found the right one and created Swaelu Web Design Cooperative in July 2001. Starting a new business in Des Moines was challenging.

“People do business by reputation in this town,” Dickel said. “When we first started, I was at a networking event and I gave a man my business card. He said, ‘I’ll take it, but I won’t look at it until you’ve been around for a year.’ It’s hard to break in. You have to take any chance you can get and run with it.”

Swaelu survived that first year and has now expanded from Web sites to producing trade-show materials, commercials, radio ads and more. To reflect the change, the name is now Swaelu Media.

“We’re a one-stop shop,” Dickel said.  

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