From the April 1999 issue of Startups

Laura Groppe is 35, but she'll freely use the word "terminal" to describe her ever-present teenage mentality. So it's pretty lucky for her--and for girls everywhere--that she's the conceptual force behind entertainment company Girl Games Inc. in Austin, Texas, a workplace where blow-up furniture is standard and achieving "absolute chaos" is encouraged.

But this freedom didn't always reign: Before starting Girl Games in 1994, the former film and video producer/director (who's won Academy, MTV and Sundance Film Festival awards) grew weary of Hollywood and of following directions when she couldn't be boss. You didn't read it here, but she even got canned a couple of times.

Seeking a new direction, Groppe returned to her native Texas and began researching a business idea that would, as she puts it, "get girls to be more effective in the evolution of technology." She knew the dynamics of producing entertainment but wasn't proficient in software, so she attended computer conferences to enlighten herself. She also teamed up with Houston's Rice University in a National Science Foundation-funded study to research how sixth- to 12th-grade girls felt about different computer products.

The interaction worked: After raising $1 million from private investors, Girl Games' first product, a Simon & Schuster-published, interactive CD-ROM diary called Let's Talk About Me, hit the shelves in 1996.

Successfully infiltrating the once-paltry girls' market, Girl Games now has 13 employees and is developing products and brands for virtually every medium. This year, look for the company's ShredBetty.net Web site (an "edge-driven" sports-lifestyle community for girls) to expand into a Fox Sports TV show and maybe even print. Heading to The Disney Channel this spring is the pilot for animated series Bernice Takes a Vacation. The company is also developing another CD-ROM with game-maker Activision to follow the success of Teen Digital Diva, the official Teen Magazine CD-ROM.

Girl Games' sales success is top secret, but one thing we do know: Groppe has no qualms about going to the office every day. She explains: "Who doesn't want to be able to wake up and say `What I'm doing is going to make a difference in a kid's life?' "

Weather Or Not

The moral of the following story is: See a potentially prosperous technology gathering dust and exploit it . . . but in a good way. That's what Frederic Fox, 34, did when he bought a business that supplied advisory services to large corporations from one Irving Krick in 1990.

After renaming the company Strategic Weather Services (SWS) Inc., Fox expanded Krick's core business--patented technology that forecasts weather 12 months in advance in North America and Europe, and analyzes business techniques to predict a company's success--to several levels. Today, his 90-employee Wayne, Pennsylvania, firm projects 1999 sales of $13 million from its three divisions: one that helps retailers and manufacturers plan sales based on long-range weather data; another that helps utility companies plan operations; and the surprisingly popular WeatherPlanner (http://www.weatherplanner.com), launched late last year, which offers consumers long-range weather forecasting via a Web site.

We say "surprisingly" because even Fox didn't know if the WeatherPlanner concept, which SWS initially launched without an ad campaign, would prosper. He decided to start the business only after consulting SWS meteorologists in 1993 to plan his wedding. "My fiancée gave me the impossible task of ensuring our wedding would be free of rain," says Fox. When it was, WeatherPlanner hit the drawing board in 1994.

"The feedback's been excellent," Fox says. "[Consumers] think it's worth paying [the $14.95 fee]. Eighty percent say they'd use the service again, which is very gratifying."

Thanks to such favorable conditions, WeatherPlanner will offer phone service beginning this summer, and Fox is planning a line of WeatherPlanner products that will integrate the technology into handheld computers and search engines.

Contact Sources

Girl Games Inc., info@girlgamesinc.com, http://www.girlgames.com

Strategic Weather Services Inc., mail@weatherplanner.com, http://www.weatherplanner.com