Spokane Journal of Business

Aurora expects rapid growth

Spokane company says strong ties with Microsoft to boost revenue, more than double its work force

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Spokane software developer Aurora Consulting Group says it expects to generate tens of millions of dollars in additional revenue in the next 18 months through strong ties it has forged with software giant Microsoft Corp., a relationship thats also expected to fuel explosive job growth at Aurora.

To gear up for the expected growth, Aurora is seeking at least $5 million in investment capital, which would allow it to expand its marketing efforts nationally and add 18 to 38 people to its 12-person staff, says Beth Britt, Auroras president and CEO.

Aurora, which also offers systems consulting, is basing those rosy projections on a group of products it has developed that add ease of function to certain Microsoft software.

Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft is paying Aurora $250,000 to develop a demonstration disk for one of Auroras products, called myGroupWorks, that Microsoft plans to send in September to more than 500,000 potential customers worldwide, Britt says. Microsoft is doing that because myGroupWorks helps adapt several Microsoft programs, including Project 2002, to the needs of medium-sized organizations, which are an important target market, she says.

Microsoft will forward any sales leads for myGroupWorks that result from the mailing to Aurora, and because each sale of myGroupWorks likely will require some consulting work as well, the deal potentially is huge, says Steve Trabun, Auroras vice president of business development. Its a pure direct-marketing play by Microsoft on our behalf, he says.

MyGroupWorks, which Aurora developed with the help of a $100,000 grant from the Spokane Intercollegiate Research and Technology Institute, is the program thats expected to drive exponential growth in Auroras revenues over the next 18 months, says Dennis Hake, whom Aurora recently hired as its vice president of program development.

MyGroupWorks is part of a line of products and services that Aurora has developed called Initiative ME, which it will roll out nationwide in July as a group of solutions, based on Microsoft programs, for medium-sized organizations. Aurora brought Hake, who has worked as a national brand and account manager for consumer-products powerhouse Procter & Gamble Co., aboard to help with that national campaign.

Aurora is seeking $5 million or more to fund the rollout, which will require that the company beef up its sales-and-marketing team, its software-development group, and its business-consulting team, Britt says. The company is located at 1522 N. Washington.

Based on discussions with potential investors that already are under way, We believe we will get the dollars, Britt says.

In the future, Aurora might license myGroupWorks to another company, although Britt declines to say whether Microsoft would be a potential licensee.

Auroras close relationship with Microsoft came about very deliberately, Britt says.

Although Aurora, which was founded in 1997, has been profitable since its second year in business, two years ago it moved away from custom software development to focus its efforts on developing products and consulting services around Microsoft programs, Britt says.

Trabun says the switch came because we were trying to be kind of everything to everybody, and the custom software and consulting services Aurora provided were expensive for its customers.

By basing its work on Microsoft products, Aurora can serve its customers very quickly and very economically, he says.

Now, 100 percent of (Auroras work) is Microsoft, Britt says. We still have a substantial development team, but we do custom development between Microsoft solutions.

Aurora is a certified Microsoft partner for four of the companys product groups and for five of its sales teams. It gives joint presentations with Microsoft representatives, and Microsoft personnel are working to introduce Aurora to other companies it does business with, Britt says.

Romi Mahajan, business development manager for Microsofts Project marketing team, confirms that eight months ago his team plucked Aurora from the relative obscurity of being one of Microsofts certified partners to become a crucial partner for our plans for the medium enterprise, or medium-sized organizations.

Microsoft chose Aurora because of their professionalism and ability to take ideas and put them into action in really short time frames, Mahajan says.

Aurora is targeting the medium enterprisethe ME in Initiative MEfor several reasons, Britt says. Such organizations, which have 50 to 1,000 networked computer users, have many of the same needs as large businesses, but typically dont have the same level of technological savvy. Auroras products and consulting services help adapt Microsoft programswhich typically were designed for much larger organizationsto the needs of smaller companies, she says.

For the same reason, Microsoft also is targeting the medium enterprise as a rich potential market, she says.

In addition, much of Auroras past business in Spokane has been with companies that fit the definition of a medium enterprise, she says, such as WestCoast Hospitality Corp., Gonzaga University, Olympic Foods Inc., and Itronix Corp.

Auroras software-development work on behalf of those companies spawned Initiative ME and myGroup Works, Hake says. Aurora saw the same issues come up in every single company, and developed ways to meet a set of needs that really werent being met, he says.

Britt says shes not nervous about concentrating all of Auroras efforts on Microsoft. For one thing, Microsoft is a multi-faceted company, and Aurora has forged relationships with numerous groups there.

For another, says Hake, Youve got to look at the last 25 years and realize that heres a company that has done a lot of right things. Is it risky for us? Probably not. Probably for us its a smart move.

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