OREM — Matt Bills had been toying with a business idea for a few weeks, but he kept being interrupted by his household chore. His job was to clear an entire room of boxes containing all his wife's grandmother's belongings, accumulated before she moved out of the house Bills and his wife now occupied. The boxes were stacked literally to the ceiling, full of everything from dishes and old clothing to childhood keepsakes. They were covered in dust and what appeared to be loose papers.

After emptying half the room, Bills made a startling discovery.

"Then I'm realizing as I'm cleaning," he said, "I'm not just stepping on random things, I'm stepping on love letters between her and her husband and film from the 1940s, the only images of those family members — the stuff people cry about when it's lost."

Bills quit cleaning and used this ready-made opportunity to pursue his business plan. He pulled out a card table, piled up the relics he had been stepping on, and started figuring out a way to digitize the irreplaceable mementos into DVDs. Unlike other companies that have customers mail in pictures and documents they want preserved, Bills wanted to create a business in which his team could work in a client's home so that no priceless originals ever had to leave their owner's possession.

A few months later, Bills' idea started taking off.

"We started getting clients," he said, "a lot more clients than I ever thought we could get. We asked for a drink and we got a fire hose."

Bills started looking for help to expand his business. His brother-in-law and a few friends were involved in SpoonMe, a Provo-based frozen yogurt company that was starting to open franchises in other states. When Bills asked his contacts at SpoonMe how they maneuvered through obstacles such as state laws and operating manuals, they said a company called Franchise Foundry handled that.

"Franchise Foundry is a boutique private equity firm that invests in proven and profitable companies that want to grow through franchising," said company CEO Christian Faulconer. "We partner with them to help them grow by helping them with legal services, technology, franchise marketing and franchise sales."

Faulconer's company steps in to handle the franchise side of business so the owners can stay focused on their products.

"The people running the business are working so hard on marketing and selling their product; it's extremely hard for them to switch gears to market and sell a franchise investment," Faulconer said. "It's the difference between marketing and selling a five-dollar frozen yogurt to marketing and selling a $150,000 investment."

But Faulconer said what makes Franchise Foundry really unique is the long-term partnership it creates with the companies it serves.

When Franchise Foundry signs a contract with a company, it also buys "an aggressive minority" of shares in the company — up to 49 percent. The company owners remain autonomous, but Franchise Foundry gains a long-term interest in helping its clients succeed.

"Pure consulting is expensive, and (consultants) don't have a vested interest in the company succeeding," Faulconer said, "and angel investors have no expertise. But because we buy shares in the company, we have a vested interested in giving them good advice."

When SpoonMe signed on with Franchise Foundry in February, the company had two franchises and three corporate stores. Ryan Combe, co-founder of the company, said Franchise Foundry immediately generated leads for more franchises, refined the sales process and had more franchises sold by April. By May, SpoonMe had an option to open 25 more stores through a single franchise.

"We could have done all that, but it would have taken us much longer," Combe said. "They had systems in place that we could move in immediately. Before, we could sign 100 stores but we couldn't support 100 stores. Now it's enabled us to focus on the success of the stores and (Franchise Foundry) can focus on bringing those stores to us."

Now, almost a year after signing, SpoonMe has locations in Idaho, Arizona and all over Utah. Franchise Foundry is projecting 30 to 40 more units in the U.S. and Canada by February 2010, and is also looking at opening franchises in the Middle East.

Bills and iPreserve signed on with Franchise Foundry in May 2009. After extensive rebranding, including changing the name from Ecentra, iPreserve was launched as a franchise in August 2009.

Since then, Franchise Foundry has generated 77 leads of people interested in opening iPreserve franchises in the month of November alone.

Faulconer said that's brings the total leads to 217 in just over four months.

With so many promising options, Faulconer can keep bringing in leads, and Bills can focus on preserving more memories.

"People's computers burn down with houses, just like everything else," Bills said, "and with franchises, it really benefits a lot of locations and clients, not just a single centralized location."

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