Hay growers with pie-in-the-sky marketing ideas -- or other business-related brainstorms -- can find out if their dreams are doable. All they need is a computer and a few hours time, says Cole Ehmke.

Ehmke, now a University of Wyoming extension specialist, helped create Purdue University's INVenture software model, which assesses business endeavors. It can be found at www.agecon.purdue.edu/planner.

"The INVenture software will help people think through their ideas. It asks key planning questions -- and helps them decide whether the idea is worth exploring. As they type answers to the questions, they'll build a basic business plan," Ehmke says. The program also offers examples of completed plans.

Its questions try to cover all the angles, he adds, so someone weak in marketing or finances, for example, doesn't ignore those areas. Divided into six stages, the program progresses through questions, but it also allows growers to skip to the areas they want to work on first. For instance, growers who already have a clear concept of their product can go to the stage most helpful to them. "I recommend starting at the first stage. Often producers will jump into the pool without looking to see if there's any water; this stage asks them to step back and take look at the big picture. Then they can go where they want in the software," Ehmke says.

"There could be some part of a plan that is ripe for improvement. Sometimes when you step back and view what you are doing, you see there's a weakness there. Or an opportunity."

The first stage, "Fundamentals of Your Business," has very basic questions and an assessment that asks growers to rate the viability of their ideas.

"If you rate the profit potential of the business lowly, then maybe you should reconsider the venture. But if you rate it highly and your assessment comes out good, then go to the next stage, where it will talk about marketing," Ehmke says.

The second stage, "Analyzing Your Market," is a detailed look at the target market with another assessment requested. The other stages, in order, are on producing the product or service, marketing it, financially analyzing the business and an executive summary that reviews the potential venture.

"At the end you will get a report that you can download into an MS Word document and take to potential investors or keep for yourself. The software helps organize your thinking. So, if you have a pie-in-the-sky idea? If you can't bring it down to the details that are going to make you money, then you need to do some more work," he says.

For an overview of the program, visit www.joe.org/joe/2006april/tt2.shtml.