Cheese Maker Scores $10,000 Small Business Technology Award

Microsoft and Dell offer MouCo Cheese a whey to upgrade

It's an IT pro's dream—someone calls to tell you you're a finalist for $100,000 worth of software and hardware. Recently, Robert Poland took such a call. He's co-owner of MouCo Cheese Company, a cheese purveyor in northern Colorado, as well as the CTO, systems admin, and Help desk all rolled into one.

Poland had registered for Microsoft's online Small Business Summit. "As part of it you could register for the giveaway,” Poland says. “You had to say what you do now and what you'd do if you won." The grand prize was $100,000 worth of technology and consultation time. Even though MouCo is small, "We make a lot of cheese—integration and automation pieces are important. We had vast dreams for the $100,000 prize."

When the call came, "I wasn't sure what he was talking about. I thought we were one of a thousand finalists—I was like, wait, we're one of three finalists? Next day they sent us a Flip video camera—a grandma camera with a big button you push to record. They wanted us to shoot a video of what we used and what we could do \[with the prize winnings\]. Wednesday we got the camera and Sunday we had to have the videos ready. We used demo software and submitted the video to the FTP site." Voters then judged the three finalists' entries.

MouCo won one of two runner-up prizes of $10,000: $5,000 worth of Microsoft software and $5,000 worth of Dell hardware. Poland might have been a bit disappointed but, as he says, "Because of the technology skills of the people here, we can buy a $400 server and buy pieces to make it a $10,000 dollar computer. That kind of represents what we do--we're dynamic, adaptable, we try things."

Currently, the company’s setup includes a peer-to-peer network, five active computers for three active users, printers plugged into a USB converter, and workstations for shipping. The setup is fully automated with Fed Ex software and accounting software—"three key strokes and you can ship and invoice," Poland says. The company ships the cheese in refrigerated boxes with gel and Styrofoam and the customer returns the packaging, which is tracked via Fed Ex, after the cheese arrives.

However, "We're limping not cruising," Poland says. "We’re okay as long as the power doesn’t go out. We use XP Pro and Outlook, but we don't have any server software so we can't get Outlook to share. We have a production computer that's like a super fancy stereo streaming from Napster—because that computer's on and has two external bays, we have it set to backup to hotspot drives. We're definitely getting a server, maybe a blade server. Maybe SBS \[Small Business Server\] and also MySQL, possibly Exchange Server."

Poland's brother designs for HP, and Poland intends to get his help creating "some sort of rack-mounted server system—a RAID component within that rack. It would be nice to be able to move the rack quickly and also there are humidity issues with the cheese-making environment."

Technology aptitude runs in the family--"My dad was an electrical engineer. He built a computer running DOS and when Apple came out, we were off and running. My spelling is terrible—I've had the F7 key all my life." Poland ran a bulletin board for hackers from the age of eight. When he was 12, his bulletin board was featured in Newsweek, he says, as "a terrible hacker board and they made the guy who ran it sound like an evil person—they didn't know they were talking about a 12 year old."

Now the family business is cheese—MouCo's quality engineer is Poland's wife Birgit, and her father, a master cheese maker, provides the expertise. (Both Poland and his wife spent years at New Belgium Brewery in Fort Collins, whose unified communications environment we profiled in a recent Windows IT Pro article at http://windowsitpro.com/article/articleid/97481/new-belgium-brews-a-potent-unified-communications-combo.html and at http://windowsitpro.com/article/articleid/97464/beer-and-unified-communications.html.)

MouCo’s name plays on “moo” of course, Poland says, but also on the French word for soft, "mou," which is the kind of cheese the company has made for seven years. It sells to high-end supermarkets, resorts, cruise lines, and restaurants.

When will they get their $10,000 prize? "They said they'd get back to us as soon as possible with details." Until then, Poland and company will continue to make cheese and use their home-grown IT solutions. As long as the power doesn’t go out.

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