Project supports software startups

Project Skyway will fund and assist up to 10 student startup companies.

Adam Link, left, and Jake Liu, right,  celebrate Jake's and a friend's birthday with Bottle Service at Seven Steakhouse Saturday night in Minneapolis. Bottle Service is something different restaurants do where they give VIP access and mix drinks in the area they provide. Liu helped create a company that will do online booking for Bottle Service starting in June.

Adam Link, left, and Jake Liu, right,  celebrate Jake’s and a friend’s birthday with Bottle Service at Seven Steakhouse Saturday night in Minneapolis. Bottle Service is something different restaurants do where they give VIP access and mix drinks in the area they provide. Liu helped create a company that will do online booking for Bottle Service starting in June.

Kathryn Elliott

In 1994, Cem Erdem frantically doled out postcards to businessmen in skyways to advertise a new concept âÄî software as a service. Back then, the Internet wasnâÄôt that popular.
He made $4,300 his first year.
Now, as founder and CEO of Augusoft Inc., a Minneapolis-based software development company, Erdem wants to help other young entrepreneurs. His solution is a program âÄî named Project Skyway after his early days âÄî to accelerate the success of infant technology companies.
Funded personally by Erdem, Project Skyway will provide founders of new software enterprises with $6,000 cash, two web developers and three months of training. In return, Erdem will get between 5 percent and 9 percent of the companyâÄôs future earnings âÄî if they make it.
Erdem said his personal success was slow-going at first.
But since 2001, Augosoft has grown by about 58 percent each year, he said. The business has processed $506 million in transactions and 2.3 million people have used its system.
The goal of Project Skyway, Erdem said, is to help just-out-of-college entrepreneurs do what he did âÄúfaster, better and cheaper.âÄù
The program is also a mentoring resource. Erdem has a core group of industry professionals available to advise the startups.
Project SkywayâÄôs application process ends May 1. A select number of applicants will be invited to a weekend boot camp in June. Then, up to 10 startups will be selected for the programâÄôs first cycle.
âÄúWeâÄôre tired of hearing about all the cool companies coming out of Silicon Valley,âÄù Erdem said.
Applicants have already gotten the chance to network at a recent Project Skyway meet-up event.
Ryan Freed, a Carlson School of Management student whose company is vying to be a âÄúSkywalker,âÄù attended the mixer. Freed and his brother are developing a business called Served, which will provide online ordering and discount incentives to people who order from Qdoba Mexican Grill or BaldyâÄôs Barbeque.
Customers will use social networking tools to tell friends what theyâÄôre ordering and recruit others to join their party order. People joining get free delivery from the original customer, who then gets a percentage off the total order.
Right now, the FreedsâÄô small team is working on its website, ServedDelivery.com. TheyâÄôre actively looking for a third co-founder to run the technical side of the business.
Entrepreneur Jake Liu, a Carlson School senior, is in a different position.
Liu is working to start a company that will help people who want to order bottle service âÄî VIP treatment at clubs âÄî to sign up online. The system will also provide the participating clubs with data about the buying habits of these high-paying customers.
Liu and his team considered applying to Project Skyway when they heard about it a month ago.
But then they realized they had everything the program offers, including connections in the market. Minneapolis club Aqua, plus venues in Chicago and Milwaukee, have shown interest in the reservation system.
Liu and two co-founders have gathered a team of software developers and entrepreneurs, preparing to launch the site this summer.
As for Project Skyway, Liu said, âÄúWe realized we didnâÄôt need that support.âÄù
The Freed brothers, however, need exactly what Project Skyway offers. For months, theyâÄôve outsourced programming to developers in India. The work is good âÄî and cheap âÄî but communication has become a hurdle.
For ErdemâÄôs Augusoft, seamless collaboration with partners in India has been a competitive advantage. Erdem hopes Project Skyway will teach entrepreneurs the âÄústrategic skillâÄù of outsourcing, among other things.
According to Erdem, networking, mentorship and startup capital are keys to entrepreneurial success. If Project Skyway chooses ServedDelivery.com, the Freed brothers will get all three.
âÄúIâÄôm trying to help the young Cem running around the skyway,âÄù Erdem said.