The Des Moines Register from Des Moines, Iowa on July 18, 1994 · Page 44
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The Des Moines Register from Des Moines, Iowa · Page 44

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Des Moines, Iowa
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Monday, July 18, 1994
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Page 44
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The Df.s Moines RwiisTKifl M way, .Ii i.v IS. 1W4 3-B Another software firm born on prairie 'Hidden entrepreneurs' start Prairie Group with CE Software products By DALE KASLER REdlSTKR BUSINESS W'RITKR West Des Moines, la. The Prairie Group certainly doesn't look like a significant addition to the Iowa economy, what with under $1 million in sales and a work force of 10 people and a cat. But this fledgling software company is an example of one of the more fruitful sources of high-tech development: the hidden entrepreneurs who quit or get fired from an established business. They go into business for themselves, spawn one company after another and spark an entire industry. Enter the Prairie Group, born because of a slump at one of Iowa's most successful software companies, CE Software Inc. of West Des Moines. Last summer CE Software laid off eight of its 100 employees, including Gil Beecher and Paul Miller. A few weeks later Beecher and Miller decided to start a company of their own. Unwanted Products Armed with about $250,000 from an investor, the duo offered to buy some of CE Software's unwanted product lines. Included on their wish list was DiskTop, a program Beecher himself had written. "I was kind of attached to it," Beecher said. CE Software agreed to the offer, and Beecher and Miller dubbed their company PrairieSoft They accepted on a Friday, and on Monday we opened for business," Miller recalled. "Gil and myself and a secretary." The company is still fairly humble. Its meager staff is housed in a cav ernous warehouse it rents from John Kirk, the investor who bankrolled the company. There are no offices, only partitions. The top people often come in on weekends to fill orders. The newsletter mailed to customers is named for the office cat, Sage. Running Start Still, this wasn't the typical startup. By purchasing products and mailing lists from CE Software, and adding additional CE Software veterans, the new company got off to a running start. "It was kind of nice walking into a start-up company where the people knew the products and had six or seven years in the industry," said Miller, chief operating officer. "It's like a mini-company already sitting there," Kirk said. "It's not as scary as one might think." Kirk was one of the pioneers at CE Software and remains treasurer of that firm's holding company. Last month he and another CE Software veteran, Richard Kirsner, put up $400,000 to buy most of the product lines of Advanced Software Inc., a small California outfit that's getting out of the software business. Advanced Software and PrairieSoft became operating subsidiaries of a new umbrella company called the Prairie Group. The group should generate $1 million in sales over the next 12 months, said Kirk, who is the group's managing director. The two subsidiaries make software for Macintosh computers. Their products, sold through catalogs and computer stores, help Mac users schedule their lives in some way or another. You know how small companies use a bulletin board with magnets to show who's in the office and who's out? PrairieSoft sells a program called InOut that puts that on computer. Many of the Prairie Group's products sound a lot like CE Software's offerings: software to help people keep themselves organized and on schedule. But the Prairie Group people said they don't compete with CE Software because there are significant differences between the two companies. That's why Kirk is able to work for both organizations, he said. CE Software's products are tailored for large organizations, w hile PrairieSoft and Advanced Software make programs for individuals and small companies. The product lines CE Software sold to Beecher and Miller amounted to less than 1 percent of CE's sales. "It was a distraction to them," Kirk said. Still, there are unmistakable ties between the old company and the new one. For example: The founders came up with the names PrairieSoft and Prairie Group to underscore their belief in Iowa as the "Silicon Prairie." It was an idea they borrowed from CE Software, which even planted a patch of prairie grass next to its office. a" dir. Q:tijk v - T - ! if i ii j . - . x A JEFKREYZ. CARNKVTllE RK USTER PrairieSoft officers, clockwise from top left, John Miller work in a warehouse. The company plans Kirk, Gil Beecher, Richard Kirsner and Paul to build offices at the front of the building. Software makers band together By DALE KASLER Reuistfr Business Writer An association of Iowa computer software programmers held its first-ever meeting recently. And no, the group didn't meet in a phone booth. Representatives of 15 Iowa companies showed up at the charter meeting of the Iowa Software Developers Interest Group. And the group's founder, Sean Stokely, said there are more companies coming out of the woodwork. "I found two yesterday," he said last week. "I think there are quite a few people out there we're missing." Stokely is founder of Infinite Information Systems, a three-year-old Des Moines company that makes business-management software. He founded the software association because he felt that his company and other fledgling software makers The Iowa Software Developers Interest Group holds its second meeting from 5 to 7 p.m. July 26 at the Embassy Club in the 801 Grand Building, downtown Des Moines. For information, call Sean Stokely at (515) 244 1512. in Iowa could benefit by networking with each other. Example: At the first meeting, held June 21 in Des Moines, someone was complaining that his company couldn't find an Iowa lawyer who spoke Japanese. Sandra Denham of Uxsys, a small Des Moines software company, piped up and said her company has found such a person. Problem solved. Stokely said he also thinks the association could help Iowa software companies deal with one of their biggest problems: personnel. He argues that while graduates of ', Iowa's colleges and universities excel at the nuts and bolts of software engineering, they bring "very little experience at writing programs that real people will use." So companies in Iowa must often recruit from out of state. But it's tough selling high-tech types on the idea of leaving the coasts and moving to Iowa, he said. That's especially true at a risky start-up company like his. One solution might be developing promotional literature that would educate out-of-towners about the range of high-tech opportunities in Iowa, he said. The idea is that an engineer from California might be more willing to join a company like Stokely's if he or she knew there were other software opportunities in Iowa should Stokely's company go under. In addition, having an association would create greater awareness in Iowa's business community that a software industry does exist. That 'could help Iowa's software entrepre- T Companies represented in the Iowa Software Developers Interest Group: Arete Software Co., Ames. Associated Computer Systems Ltd. , West Des Moines".' IV r ;-! ' . t n i, BreakThrough Inc.', Oakdale. ": ' CADSI, Coralville. CE Software Inc., West Des Moines. CSI Service Corp., Des Moines. Cadalyst Resources, Urbandale. Cimtechnologies Corp., Ames. Computer Information Services Co., West Des Moines. DevinMicroage, Des Moines. Engineering Animation Inc., Ames. Health Care Expert Systems Inc., West Des Moines. McGladrey APullen, Des Moines. Medical Technology Inc., Cedar Falls. neurs make headway with lenders and investors, many of whom are unfamiliar with software and are reluctant to pour money into it, Stokely said. Micro Answers, Des Moines. Micro Frontier, Des Moines. MicrQware Systems Corp., Clive. Midwest Computer Center Co., Johnston. Optimage Interactive Services, West Des Moines. PrairieSoft Inc., West Des Moines. Prisma Software Corp., Cedar Falls. Profiles Corp. , Iowa City. Software Innovations, Ames. Software Marketing Group, Des Moines. Uxsys, Des Moines. VayTek Inc., Fairfield. Visionary Systems Ltd., Des Moines. companies so far have agreed to join the association. Most have 10 or 15 employees (Stokely's company employs eight ). But a handful have 100 or more work He said representatives of 27 Iowa ers. I.

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