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MBA Alum Creates A New High-Tech Angle for Anglers

June 16, 2011

Mike Lauenstein casted his Carlson MBA skills into building a tech business that helps anglers reel 'em in. 

People who fish know that having knowledge of when and where the fishing is good can be the difference between a successful day on the water and going home empty. Mike Lauenstein, a recent Carlson MBA graduate and avid angler, has struck on a tech-savvy solution designed to improve the odds of catching fish.

"The idea actually came up in February 2009 in the back of my business formation course at the Carlson School," says Lauenstein. "I started scribbling some notes on paper and it started taking form."

What started to take form was an idea for a fishing tracking system, where a professional fishing guide could track data of his or her day out on the water, have the data packaged in a detailed, visual format, and later sell the data package to recreational anglers who could use the information in their fishing outing.

Lauenstein and his business partner knew early on that they were on to something unique, so much so that Lauenstein, who at the time was working on his MBA while employed at Microsoft, decided to quit his job to work on the idea full-time.

"The challenge and excitement of an entrepreneurial endeavor was always attractive to me. Technology is fun, but my passion lies in the outdoors," he says.

With a concept formulated and a business name, Contour Innovations, solidified Lauenstein turned to his Carlson MBA colleagues for additional guidance.

"I submitted the business as the course project for my financing business ventures course, so I had a great team of eight Carlson MBA students drill into Contour Innovations' potential revenue streams, balance sheets, etc.," says Lauenstein. "To say that was valuable would be understatement. Getting a wide range of perspectives was a great learning experience and in the end, that project produced a researched, tangible, and accurate pro forma."

John Stavig, director, Gary S. Holmes Center for Entrepreneurship, says that kind of peer-to-peer learning is exactly what makes the entrepreneur classes at the Carlson School so effective.

"Requiring peer feedback helps all the students learn to apply a framework for evaluating potential business ideas and demonstrates the value from seeking input to develop and improve their ideas," says Stavig. "Leveraging the collective experiences of a class of Carlson MBA students can really accelerate the business planning process."

For Lauenstein, the insight he received from his peers helped propel Contour Innovations into what is and what it offers today: a high-tech fishing system called the Contour Innovations Platform (or CI Platform).

In essence, the CI Platform is a boat's "black box" that records the data of consumer-based depth finder models as well as tracks movement on the water via GPS.

After a day out on the water, the professional guide uploads the data to Contour Innovations' database where it is processed, matched with weather conditions, and a detailed map (or "trip") is produced of the entire fishing outing. Everything from the boat's path on the water, the depths and locations of rock and weed formations under the boat, to the wind speeds and barometer pressures are laid out.

The guide can add comments and suggestions, and publish these dynamic trips on Contour Innovations' website for purchase by recreational anglers who can choose a trip based on the guide, lake of interest, weather conditions, time of year, and species.

"Fishermen can use the data to improve their odds in catching fish by leveraging a powerful web environment," says Lauenstein.

Since taking on Contour Innovations full-time, Lauenstein says he has been using his Carlson School education to the fullest while navigating the often times uncharted waters that most entrepreneurs face.

"Whether the challenge is financial, marketing, technical, negotiations or legal, the Carlson MBA has provided a foundation to attack each challenge with a level awareness and exposure that increases the chance for a successful solution," he says.

Contour Innovations had its official launch in mid-May of this year, and Lauenstein and his partner foresee expanding their technology to become a valuable research tool to ensure the future health of lakes and rivers. They also anticipate introducing a consumer model that creates 2D and 3D maps.

"Where that takes the business, I do not know, but I do know it will be challenging and exciting along the way!" says Lauenstein.

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