Computer-Savvy Business Takes Root
In the six months since the University of Iowa College of Engineering board awarded the student-run business Solid Systems with the $5,000 2005 Hubert E. Storer Engineering Student Entrepreneurial Award, the two owners have already learned some valuable business wisdom.
Mathias Gran and Michael Erps, owners of the home computer repair company, hope to apply the newfound wisdom they've gained from the ups and downs of their first six months of business as they prepare to leave the comforts of the UI Bedell Entrepreneurship Learning Laboratory for a new and independent location in Iowa City.
The move, slated to occur by Sept. 1, marks the pair's first steps toward becoming owners of a small business one no longer dependent on UI support and its faculty's advice and guidance.
"We are excited because the timing is right. We've got everything figured out as far as business operations are concerned," said Mr. Erps, expressing his appreciation for the UI's help. "It will feel very good to be self sustaining and no longer be riding the coattails of the university."
While Mr. Gran and Mr. Erps plan to continue offering strong communication, timeliness, and reliability in removing hassles associated with broken or virus-riddled computers, and offering free pick-up and drop-off services, a 60-day warranty and free diagnostics, the pair has made some significant alterations in their business plan.
The plan before, Mr. Gran said, was too complicated and had too many price offerings. In addition, the pair used to preach the value of signing year-long contracts something they think actually turned interested customers away.
Originally, the pair hoped to secure more than three dozen long-term contracts in the months of January and February. They secured none. However, the pair's current financial state and their limited number of customers have not hampered their personal enthusiasm for the business and their mission to help residents fix their computers and other home electronics.
"Nationwide we are beginning to shift from a break/fix model to an ongoing support model," Mr. Erps said. "We want to establish a relationship with our customer."
"We've seen what everyone one else does and we keep coming back to the idea of how time consuming and complicated it is," he added.
Today Mr. Gran and Mr. Erps offer potential customers a more simplified plan one they hope will top competitors like Bedford, Mass.-based Plum Choice and Richfield, Minn.-based The Geek Squad and will also draw in a steady flow of customers.
Those customers, however, are not there yet. Fewer than five people have signed up with Solid Systems for its $349 year-long technology assistance program. The program includes the cost of existing issues, repair, reconfiguration, and 12 months of same-day response service.
The pair hopes their combined extensive background in computer technology will reassure new customers of their qualifications. Mr. Erps, 24, of Cedar Rapids, served as a personal computer technician for the UI's Iowa Memorial Union and oversaw more than 200 computers being used by business units and student organizations. He also interned with the Cedar Rapids Community School District where he installed network infrastructure in elementary school buildings.
Mr. Gran, 25, of Newton, was a computer support technician for the UI Department of Residence Services, where he offered support to approximately 120 staff members. He also acted as webmaster for the UI housing web site.
Iowa City resident Frank Judisch and his wife, Susan, signed up for the companys technology assistance package two weeks ago. They said the package is perfect for people who don't understand the inner workings of most electronic goods.
"My wife and I are in our later 60s and we are part of that generation that did not grow up with computers and are not very computer literate," he said. "We are very impatient, and we did not learn all the nuances like those who grew up with them in school. The beauty of having someone you can call down when you have a problem is very valuable to us."
Mr. Judisch said this is the first company he has spoken with about technological issues that has been both helpful and timely. But he added that he saw little value in the company for computer-savvy college-aged youth.
But Mr. Gran said students are often big customers at the start of each academic school year, and that many of them continue to seek their services throughout the year, particularly during finals.