Second in a series of stories on this year’s 20 Under 40 winners.
CEDAR FALLS — Brent Dahlstrom was born with an entrepreneurial spirit.
From an 8-year-old trying to make a buck to a college student selling tickets from his dorm room, the 34-year-old Dahlstrom has grown into one of the Cedar Valley’s largest real estate developers.
“It was just always who I was,” Dahlstrom said. “I always found it strange when I was younger when other people didn’t want to start … a business.
“I’m on year 16 of this,” he added. “I love every day being an entrepreneur and starting new things.”
University of Northern Iowa President Mark Nook, who nominated Dahlstrom for the Courier’s 20 Under 40 Award, noted the Cedar Falls High School and UNI graduate won the 2017 Emerging Philanthropist Award for his support of the university.
“He has a great interest in making long-lasting relationships as well as making a long-lasting impact on the Cedar Valley,” Nook said.
Dahlstrom competed on the UNI track team while earning degrees in real estate and finance. But he’d already started his first company before stepping onto campus.
“I started the ticket company with a $2,000 loan from my dad, who was skeptical at the time to give it to me, and I had a couple thousand dollars saved up from being a janitor and a lifeguard,” he said. “I put all the money into that company that still operates today.”
Dahlstrom started several other businesses, including Dolly’s Taxi and Dolly’s Party Bus, before getting into real estate development 10 years ago.
“That’s always been my passion: development and buildings,” he said. “I bought one house to start.”
Panther Builders now erects nearly 100 homes each year, while Dahlstrom’s other real estate ventures include apartment complexes, commercial buildings, warehouses and large mixed-use buildings on College Hill and the Waterloo and Cedar Falls downtown areas.
“I’m very passionate about the centers of the town, whether it’s Waterloo or Cedar Falls,” he said. “Strengthening the core, whether it’s the downtowns or College Hill. Just places where people can walk, bike, drive to and experience those areas in a variety of ways.”
Dahlstrom is particularly proud of Grand Crossing, a roughly $20 million housing and commercial development near the Cedar Valley TechWorks in downtown Waterloo, which won a national community development award last year.
“It took the city working and us working with the city and the state,” he said. “It was just a real collaborative project.”
He broke ground in August on another downtown Waterloo mixed-use development, the six-story Art Block building adjacent to the RiverLoop Amphitheater.
Dahlstrom is now helping the next generation of entrepreneurs learn the ropes, sometimes partnering with them on projects.
“I’ve always found it more enjoyable doing (projects) with someone than just doing them all alone,” he said. “I’ve been doing it awhile. Now, watching the young people that are going to be the next entrepreneurs, it’s fun walking beside them.”
‘I’m very passionate about the centers of the town, whether it’s Waterloo or Cedar Falls. Strengthening the core, whether it’s the downtowns or College Hill.’