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Online Kiosks founder Mike Strand uses contest to screen new business plan

From bar codes to video screens, Eau Claire-based entrepreneur Mike Strand has always kept his eye out for new business opportunities.

A former technology consultant for Delta Technology and Cray Research, Strand took a stride forward in 1988 when he founded StrandWare Inc., a company based out of his home dealing with barcode software. By the time he sold the company in 2001, it had expanded into a worldwide enterprise bringing in close to $20 million.

Strand's latest venture, the video messaging company Online Kiosks, has become one of 20 finalists in the Governor's Business Plan Contest produced by the Wisconsin Technology Council and the Wisconsin Innovation Network. Finalists will submit final business plans until May 4, with the winners to be announced in Milwaukee June 7.

Online Kiosks grew from Strand's experiences with StrandWare, when he saw a new avenue for communication in the captive audiences created by lobbies and waiting rooms. Excited by this vision, Strand decided to once again take a chance and found a company out of his home, using resources from StrandWare's video provider StrandVision.

Read more about Online Kiosks' business on WTN.
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The company provides service where customers – including banks, hotels and doctors' offices – can upload advertising and informational messages to existing video screens, cycling through information similar to a PowerPoint presentation. Each message can be customized for specific companies and audiences, ranging from time and temperature to recent news and business offers.

"It is the waiting area equivalent of a telephone on-hold marketing message used to inform, entertain, motivate and market to waiting customers and employees," Strand wrote in his business plan.

Online Kiosks is designed to be fully compatible with other systems that a company may control, storing all of the information online. Users have the ability to modify it whenever they have a need and can also duplicate the presentations on their company Web sites.

Strand said that when developing Online Kiosks a large advantage was 13 years' worth of connections from StrandWare, including 2,000 systems integrators and designers. With barcode technologies making smaller profits as time went on, Strand was able to provide these professionals with an "instant channel" to make a profit and assist customers.

These connections have been mutually beneficial for both Online Kiosks and his partners. "Having partnerships to help out with the weaknesses is really important," Strand said. "These customers need computer assistance and the knowledge of how to put it together."

Strand carried these connections and ambition for development into the Governor's Business Plan Contest, submitting a 250-word executive summary in January. After progressing to the semifinals he developed an eight-stage 1,250 word outline building on these ideas, going into customer definition and financial projections.

"I was really looking for ideas on how to expand the business further, and I felt this type of thing would gain exposure to the Web site," Strand said.

In the same way he runs Online Kiosks, Strand did all the research himself for the report, "sitting down, doing research and putting numbers together." Strand chose not to hire anyone else to put things together, looking to his wife and close friends for feedback.

Strand said that writing the contest's outline gave him a chance to revisit his original company plan, currently around 60 pages. In looking over his work he saw a lot of "superfluous things" that were less relevant in the current company, and he became motivated to clean the reports up.

One of the areas Strand focused on changing was the company's marketing tactics. When he reviewed his original plan he saw most of the focus was on the technical side of business, and as the company grew it was more important to discover markets the system could be used in. His research uncovered close to 1.5 million potential subscribers, including grocery stores, and fitness centers.

"The actual people planning was very beneficial ... it allowed me to motivate myself with something I hadn't seen before," Strand said.

If Online Kiosks wins the Governor's Business Plan Contest, Strand said it would be a tremendous networking benefit for the company. Winning the contest would hopefully increase traffic to the site and open conversation with venture capitalists.

The grand prize of $50,000 would also benefit Online Kiosks' expansion plans, bringing them closer to investment goals of $250,000. Strand plans to increase advertising and hire a larger staff, bringing on a full-time receptionist and sales representative.

More than monetary rewards, however, the prize would be a validation for Online Kiosks and Strand. "I think that if the plan got selected it would be a huge indicator that the plan is sound and not much could hold it down," Strand said.

Les Chappell is a staff writer for WTN and can be reached at les@wistechnology.com.

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