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Agren: Moving From a Service to a Software

December 28, 2010

For nearly 14 years, the leadership team at Agren, Inc. had been able to look at a problem and formulate a project to solve it. Its sweet spot was bringing innovation to the point where agriculture meets the environment. When it saw an opportunity to go to market with a groundbreaking software product, however, they turned to the Business Innovation Zone (BIZ) for guidance and encouragement. 
 
"Mike Colwell has been very instrumental in helping us better grasp the software as a service (SaaS) model, and how this software model is priced, licensed, etc., compared to conventional desktop software," said Jamie Ridgely, Agren vice president of planning and projects.

Creative Problem Solving

Brothers Tom and Stan Buman created Agren, Inc. in 1996 as a private consulting firm dedicated to helping agriculture find profitable solutions to environmental challenges. They have always enjoyed pursuing projects that stir their imaginations. When they see a problem relating to agriculture and the environment, they create an approach to solving the problem, and then identify and secure the resources to make it happen. 
 
From its Carroll, Iowa office, the company works nationally on a wide variety of projects and issues with local, state and federal agencies, as well as corporations, organizations, foundations and individuals. The current nine members of the Agren team bring diverse backgrounds, skills and talents — including academic degrees in agronomy, animal science, business, marketing and engineering — to every project. Projects range from absentee landowner issues to prescribed fire liability to watershed assessment.

New Software Opportunity

When states started making LiDAR (Light Detection And Ranging) high-quality elevation data available to the public, Agren identified a software solution using the data to quickly design ponds, wetlands and waterways; calculate soil loss; and plan other conservation practices.  
 
Colwell helped the Agren leadership team deal with the realities of making an investment to build the product before ever getting to the market. Together, they've also written a business plan, developed a pricing model and started preparing for the rapid growth that's possible when the suite of software products hits the market later this year. The pricing model helps the Agren team look at costs and project income under different scenarios. 
 
"Mike Colwell helped us make the transition from a consultant model to a product-based model," Ridgely said. "He helped us take a bunch of random ideas and give them the structure we need to move forward."

Square One DSM, an initiative of the Greater Des Moines Partnership, is formerly known as Business Innovation Zone (BIZ).