Tuesday, September 6, 2022

The thrill of the chase and excitement for the unknown is what enticed John Hatfield into fishing. He found joy sitting on the bank at his grandfather’s farm pond, wondering what species he snagged and how big the fish was on his hook.

As he aged, the relaxation segment of the sport became most enjoyable. Then, as a frequent tournament participant, Hatfield caught the competitive fishing bug.

Now, as a senior who will graduate in May 2023 with a degree in enterprise leadership, Hatfield is reeling in the business side of fishing. In two years, he has pitched ChordaWorm Lures® at various competitions and netted nearly $30,000 in awards.

The only proverbial bait currently in his tackle box is a reinforced plastic worm — called ChordaStick — that lasts up to 30 fish catches, or between 10 and 15 times longer than his competitors.

“It’s clear to the judges I have an understanding of fishing and the concept I have with the reinforced fishing lure, even though it is for one design,” Hatfield said. “I can apply that design to hundreds of baits.”

In 2022, ChordaWorm Lures® — and sales of ChordaStick — doubled its profits from the previous year to approximately $14,000. A second product design could be unveiled as early as the fall.  

Hatfield graduated from West Branch (Iowa) High School in 2019 before enrolling at Iowa State University to major in entrepreneurship. After two years, he switched things up, moved closer to home (West Branch is less than 20 minutes from the Bedell Entrepreneurship Learning Laboratory), and attended the University of Iowa. He made a quick splash at the University of Iowa John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center (Iowa JPEC).

Hatfield enjoyed his entrepreneurship classes and entered the Fall Innovation Challenge, hosted by Iowa JPEC. He won first place and $5,000 with his initial cast into competitions at his new school. Hatfield participated in the student incubator program and continued to excel in competitions. He won first place and $8,500 at the Spring Innovation Challenge and first place and $3,000 at the Startup Incubator Summer Track Undergraduate Final Pitches on July 29.

Hatfield is more than an adept pitch person. In the early stages of ChordaWorm Lures®, he worked on product design and negotiating with manufacturers. He has assumed additional duties like managing social media accounts, communicating with retailers, shipping online orders, and managing an Amazon account. Not only is Hatfield appreciative of the resources he has received from Iowa JPEC, he is also thankful for the connections he has made by being in the program. In the first week of the summer accelerator program, Hatfield met a guest speaker who operates a plastics manufacturing business. ChordaWorm Lures® now works with that manufacturer.

Hatfield’s idea came in high school when he and business partner Ben Thompson were working to solve a problem in their STEM Innovator class. Both loved to fish, but hated when baits would rip off the hook. Not only does that become a financial issue for bass fishers, but when thousands of plastic lures end up in lakes and rivers, it becomes an environmental issue.

The target market for ChordaWorm Lures® are bass fishers who enjoy a finesse presentation or bass fishers on a budget. If ChordaStick doesn’t break, there is no need to buy new.

“It has been a positive response,” Hatfield said. “I have gotten feedback from people catching fish on my baits and sending pictures of fish they are catching. It has been a good response overall.”

The biggest supplier of ChordaWorm Lures® is Scheels, which typically orders 50-60 bags at a time. As for individual reorders from random fishers:

“They don’t reorder super frequently because (the lures) last,” Hatfield said. “Our advantage over the competition is that our baits last longer.”

A member of the University of Iowa Fishing Club, Hatfield and his friend Kaden Darby placed 10th at a tournament in the Ozarks and advanced to the national championship at Fort Gibson Lake in Oklahoma. They placed 78th out of 176 at nationals.

You can guess the bait of choice Hatfield had on his hook.

“It’s a good product, I use it personally in tournaments,” Hatfield said. “I have confidence with it that it will catch fish when I need it to perform when I’m fishing for money.”


Hatfield has received the 2022 Student Startup of the Year Award in the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Honors. The University of Iowa John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center will recognize him Sept. 9 at Old Capitol Museum.