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Name and age: Jens Molbak, 35

Company name and description: Coinstar Inc. manufactures, markets and operates 3,900 automated coin-counting machines located in grocery stores nationwide. The distinctive green machines, which are connected to a central computer network that monitors operation, automatically counts coins deposited in the hoppers and then prints out vouchers redeemable for goods or cash (less a 7.5 percent "convenience charge") at the stores' checkout counters.

Based: Bellevue, Washington

Founded: 1991

Start-up costs: $30 million (venture capital)

1997 sales: $25 million

A penny for your thoughts: "I moved around the country a lot, and every time I moved, the last thing to go into the U-Haul was my growing jar of coins," says Molbak. "A couple of times, I actually sat down and wrapped some of the coins. It took an hour or so, so I was looking for another way to convert them. A friend and I interviewed about 1,500 people outside supermarkets, and we found that there is about $7 billion in coins out of circulation in this country, which comes out to about $30 per person."

Count on it: Using a patented mechanism, the Coinstar machine can count as many as 600 coins per minute and processes more than 180,000 coins before automatically calling for service via the central computer network. The Coinstar's screen shows consumers a running total of the coin count; it also displays advertisements and messages on behalf of the host store.

Coins of the realm: Coinstar has been contacted by 20 foreign countries about exporting modified versions of the machines overseas, says Molbak. A plan is now in development to use Coinstar machines to convert a variety of European countries' coins (which would otherwise be worthless after the changeover) into new Eurodollars.

Contact Source

Coinstar Inc., (800) 928-CASH,

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This article was originally published in the August 1998 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Get Smart.

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