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Proplanner’s software helps streamline factory floors


AMES – Say you’re a manufacturer who’s ordering new software package to streamline the workflow at your plants. Would you rather wait about three weeks for it, or have it installed in about an hour?

That’s one of the differences Dave Sly hopes will take his start-up company, Proplanner Inc., and its sole product, a software program that shares the Proplanner name, to the top of its market. Manufacturing process management software is projected to grow into a $3 billion global industry by 2011.

Sly has experience creating little companies that made it big. He built CimTechnologies Corp. into the leading production design software maker before it was ultimately acquired by Electronic Data Systems Corp. Now at Proplanner, whose concept was spun out of technology that belonged to CimTech but that EDS didn’t want, Sly is finding recognition for his ideas, but his company is looking for more cash to help ensure its success. It has raised about $1 million and is looking for another $3 million.

“It’s never easy to find money,” said Jamie Wade, Proplanner’s legal counsel and a company director. “Companies that are more visible in the consumer world are easier to raise money for. It’s a little harder to get attention until you get revenues going.”

Businesses and investors are beginning to take notice. Proplanner’s software, which is sold on a subscription basis via the Internet, has been tested by some of Iowa’s biggest companies, including Maytag Corp., Lennox International Inc., HON Industries Inc. and EMCO Enterprises Inc. and other clients that purchased CimTech products.

The company was recently named a finalist by the Chicago Software Association in its annual business plan competition. On Tuesday, Proplanner hopes to be named one of two winners in that competition.

“As a result of being in the finals of that competition, we’ve been exposed to a lot of venture capitalists,” said Sly, who is Proplanner’s president and chief technical officer.

Sly has big expectations for Proplanner, which currently has 11 full-time and eight part-time employees. In four years, he predicts the company will have $14 million in annual revenues and a staff of between 100 and 150 employees, with salaries averaging $60,000 per year. He said that U.S. software developers have so far overlooked the market that Proplanner seeks to exploit, though European software developers are potential competitors.

CimTech grew out of a production design software product that Sly developed as part of his master’s thesis in industrial engineering in the late 1980s at Iowa State University. CimTech was bought by Ames-based Engineering Animation Inc. in 1997. Three years later, EAI was purchased by Unigraphics Solutions Inc, which in 2001 was folded into Electronic Data Systems Corp.

Despite his track record in creating technologies and starting a previous software company that was successful, Sly is finding it difficult raising capital for Proplanner.

The raise the product’s profile, the company is currently working with the Iowa Manufacturing Extension Partnership and its federal funding partner, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, to provide Proplanner software to about 3,000 process management consultants across the country.

It’s also working closely with universities to try to make Proplanner a standard tool for engineering students, as well as with trade associations.   Proplanner will make help make U.S. manufacturers more competitive globally by allowing them to easily share process improvements between plants, Sly said.

One of Proplanner’s investors is Ames Seed Capital Fund LLC, which invested $50,000 last year and is now in the process of investing another $50,000. About two-thirds of Proplanner’s initial financing came from private investors in Ames and Des Moines.

Other investors include the state’s Entrepreneur Venture Assistance program, Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Iowa, which invested the money through the John Poppajohn Entrepreneurial Center, and Emerging Growth Group, a Des Moines venture capital firm. The city of Ames also provided a $50,000 low-interest loan.   

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