An entrepreneur's shot at Miss America crown

Miss Iowa put her twirling talent to use running her own training studio.

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2007 Miss America Lauren Nelson (left) with Miss Iowa Diana Reed.
Reed's twirling carried her to victory in the pageant's preliminary talent competition.

(FORTUNE Small Business) -- Fortune Small Business first met Diana Reed when she was a senior at the University of Iowa, double-majoring in business and dance, starring at football games as one of the Big Ten's top baton twirlers, and running her own for-profit twirling studio on the side. This week, the rest of the world got a look at Reed's talents, as the reigning Miss Iowa twirled her way down the red carpet at the Miss America pageant in Las Vegas.

While the 23-year-old Reed missed out on the Miss America crown, awarded Saturday to Miss Michigan Kirsten Haglund, she made a mark in the competition. Reed won the pageant's preliminary talent award for her twirling routine and made it to the show's top 10.

Reed's spirit seemed undimmed by missing out on the big title.

"Next week I'm going to really start building classes back up and planning for the future," she said in an interview after the pageant's end.

Reed's recent past has been a busy one. Last year, she won first place in a statewide business plan competition and was awarded $5,000 to put toward her studio, Diana's Golden Twirlers. In May, Reed graduated from the University of Iowa as the valedictorian of her undergraduate business program. Three weeks later, she brought home another title: Miss Iowa. After three years of competing in pageants, Reed found herself preparing to compete for the national Miss America title.

After her Miss Iowa win, Reed realized that her appearance schedule would make it difficult for her to run the studio: "Representing Miss Iowa is a full time job," said Reed.

She sought the help of another University of Iowa twirler, who took over half of the classes. When on the road, Reed kept her Samsung SCH-u740 phone and Toshiba laptop with her at all times so that she was only an e-mail away from her studio and students. In 2007, the school trained 40 students and brought in about $8,000.

Reed's entrepreneurial drive may be an asset in pageant competitions.

"This whole pageant world is a business," said Linette Johnston, executive director of the Miss Iowa Scholarship Pageant program. Johnston believes that Reed's experience with running her own company has helped her handle the responsibilities and ties of being Miss Iowa.

"You have to plan, schedule and book appearances, and collect money for it," Johnston said. "She definitely has a wonderful business sense about it."

Lynn Jahn, assistant director of the University of Iowa's John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center, said that Reed approached the competition with the same focus she showed when starting her business.

"The idea of failure never crossed her mind," Jahn said. "That's very critical to entrepreneurial success."

In the next year or so, Reed expects to move to New York to pursue a career on Broadway. However, she plans to keep her local studio alive and growing. She's not sure exactly how splitting her time between Iowa/New York time will work, but she's confident she can find a way.

"I'm always thinking outside the box," she said. "I think that's a great thing to do not only as an entrepreneur, but as an individual."  To top of page

Did you catch Diana Reed's star turn? Join the discussion.

From the archives:
Can entrepreneurship be taught?: A look at Reed and other collegiate aspiring entrepreneurs
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