Making GeoMonkey business

GeoMonkey is a class project that has come alive as a map-sharing resource (ONLINE @ www.geomonkey.com).

Orest Pilskalns, assistant professor of computer science at WSU Vancouver, first envisioned GeoMonkey.

“My idea was to create a simple way for users to store and share maps,” he explained. “Then hiking enthusiasts, travel agents, runners, event planners or anyone could share comments and directions to destinations or routes.

“During spring semester 2006, I offered this idea to my CS420 course for undergraduate seniors in computer science.  Together we refined it and brought it to life. GeoMonkey was born in that class.”

GeoMonkey provides an advanced set of Web-based mapmaking tools that allows users with no programming experience to create and publish complex maps. Every GeoMonkey map is potentially a collaborative map, which means users can allow their friends (or strangers) to add and modify the content — resulting in online communities.

In May 2006, Pilskalns took the working prototype to the WSU research foundation.

Juli Morse, technology manager at the foundation, said WSU quickly filed a patent on the idea, on behalf of Pilskalns and his students.

“GeoMonkey is a novel idea, but the commercialized technology of digital mapping was changing quickly and we needed to protect this concept,” Morse said.

To bring GeoMonkey to commercialization, the foundation provided $20,000 from its innovation opportunity fund. That paid for some of the students to work on the project over the summer, to scale up the program and make it publicly available, and to form a startup company. GeoMonkey is the first company launched directly from intellectual activity at the Vancouver campus.

Through the research foundation, an “angel” (an individual private investor) provided an additional $100,000 to GeoMonkey in a deal finalized in September 2007.

“That should fund us for about eight months,” Pilskalns said. “Primarily, that will ensure that the students will continue on the project.”

Three students (Kevin Karpenske, Adam McDonald and Jacob Moore) from the original class of 10 are still on the project. Together they have written 50,000 lines of code and each owns a share of the company.

“We have a fully functioning product now,” Pilskalns said. “The website already has about 400 regular users who found the site through word of mouth, since we have done no advertising.

“In five years, I want GeoMonkey to be the world leader in location-based data.”

And could GeoMonkey be the next big Internet success story, the next Google?

“Of course,” answers Morse. “There’s a lot of potential here. And remember, Google was a Stanford startup.”

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