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UNI student is finalist for ‘College Entrepreneur of 2010’

Screenshot of Entrepreneur Magazine’s website for their Entrepreneur of 2010 awards.

University of Northern Iowa (UNI) student Nick Cash is a finalist for Entrepreneur Magazine‘s College Entrepreneur of 2010. Nick is being recognized for his startup, Book Hatchery, a publishing platform for ebooks. The contest is open to all to vote until September 10.

You can view Nick’s entry video and vote for him at entrepreneur.com.

We recently interviewed Nick to learn more about his startup, the support UNI has given him and what’s next.

Silicon Prairie News: What is Book Hatchery and where did the idea come from?

Nick Cash: Book Hatchery is a suite of community and publishing software intended to bring authors together online and help them publish their works digitally (known as ebooks).

The idea behind Book Hatchery evolved slowly over many months. I often tutor computer science freshman here at Unversity of Northern Iowa, and there was always a nagging problem: computer science textbooks are filled with pages of computer code, but there is no way to get the code onto the computer without retyping them. Also, most textbooks are not friendly for young computer science majors, so I figured I would write a simple ebook to use with the students I tutored. As I pursued this idea, I decided to see how hard it would be to make it publicly available. It turns out there was no easy way to publish it to all of the online ebook retailers, so I figured I would create the solution.

How has the John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center (JPEC) at UNI helped you bring the idea to fruition?

The JPEC here at UNI runs many programs to support entrepreneurs. The JPEC runs incredibly helpful workshops, our Student Business Incubator (SBI), provides one-on-one counseling, hosts monthly lectures with entrepreneurs or related professionals, and runs our Certificate of Entrepreneurship program. All of these programs are free to students thanks to our generous donors. I’ve taken part in nearly everything the JPEC has to offer, and all of it has proven to be incredibly valuable.

In particular, the SBI has been helpful on a number of levels. One of the obvious benefits is that it provides office space, furniture, technology, equipment, and some supplies. This helps keep costs extremely low.

However, the most valuable thing about the SBI is the environment. I am surrounded by other student businesses all struggling with problems similar to mine. Even more importantly, I’m just down the hall from professionals dedicated to helping make our businesses successful. There are few things more valuable than having people to bounce ideas off of or talk through some problem you are having.

The SBI also provided me with the confidence to get rolling. Before I got into the SBI I felt like I was just a student with some big ideas hacking away in my apartment. Once I had space in the SBI, it all started to feel very real. The SBI helped me pull my head out of the clouds and take action.

How big is the Book Hatchery team?

I get this question a lot. Legally, I am a company of one. However, Book Hatchery has a large support structure that works behind the scenes to make it possible.

Book Hatchery would not exist without the support of the JPEC and its staff. Specifically, Laurie Watje and Katherine Cota-Uyar provide extremely valuable expertise. Most of my background is in software development and technology; they help me with just about everything else!

Book Hatchery’s infrastructure is built using free, open source software. Thus, Book Hatchery owes a lot to the communities that help create, support, enhance, and fix this software.

There are also a number of professors and friends who provide help with things without asking anything in return. There have been many times where their expertise helped me fix some previously unsolvable problem or remedy a nasty situation quickly.

What stage is the product in and how has the development process gone?

Book Hatchery will be launching our beta product in October. It will include our core functionality, including format conversions, publication submission and management. Some of our more advanced features will roll out a few months later as we get more feedback from our authors.

The development process was pretty much what I expected – about 80% of it came together pretty quickly, but that final 20% has been a bit of a struggle. This tends to be true of most software development. I have become quite accustomed to spending long nights tracking down extraneous errors, reconfiguring our servers, and tackling other random problems that seem to crop up.

One of the bigger problems Book Hatchery has had was with web hosting. We initially got a good shared hosting package that seemed like it would be adequate for quite some time, but they over-promised and under-delivered. After some constant struggles with them when the site was barely grabbing any traffic, I decided to bite the bullet and grab our own servers. This gives us much greater control and dedicated resources, but it is also a big time sink I hadn’t counted on having just yet.

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