Technology Firm Helps K-12

November 22, 2006
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GRAND RAPIDS — With the launch of a new branded product, local technology firm Foxbright believes it has found an entry into the national market.

“It used to be that organizations would have a webmaster, and you would file everything that goes on a Web site through him,” said Rob Huisingh, Foxbright vice president of sales and marketing. “In public schools, that person isn’t there anymore. And the person that was designated as the marketing and public relations person — that person was laid off long ago.”

Public schools are hurting, Huisingh said. They have fewer funds, less staff, and are for the first time facing competition, primarily from private and charter schools with often sophisticated marketing and communication practices.

“The public schools are saying, ‘I’ve got no budget, no one to do the work. How am I going to compete?’” Huisingh said. “We have a product that helps them take the cost of communications, the ability to look good, and makes it an even playing field.”

In recent years, many organizations have replaced webmasters with content management solutions. These systems allow for individuals to alter the content on designated parts of a Web site. In the business world, this could include having the marketing department update prices or product availability; human resources could post notices and event schedules. In a school, this would translate to athletic and academic schedules, school cancellations, messages to parents and the community, lunch menus and a myriad of other communication uses.

Foxbright’s work in this segment actually predates the company, which formed last year through the merger of CordesTech LLC and Huisingh’s then-Muskegon-based H2ML. The two firms — the former focused on software development, the latter on Web site development — had been regular partners, and collaborated on a bilingual Web site and content management solution for Montague Public Schools.

Shortly after that first school project two years ago, the partnership was approached by Muskegon Intermediate School District for a similar deployment. Since then, the company has sold the same product, with customized graphics, to the Kent Intermediate School District, Mona Shores, Reeths-Puffer and Fruitport public school districts.

“This creates a whole new look for the schools, a template they can turn into a brand,” said Catherine Ettinger, Foxbright president and co-founder of CordesTech with Paula Whisman. “It’s a professional presentation, and we’ve tried to make it as easy to use as possible, which is very important to schools.”

For each deployment, Foxbright will tap outside graphic design assets, likely local to the school district, to design a Web site template on its CMS platform. The company will then oversee the training of the site’s administrators, who in turn will train the appropriate teachers and staff to place content on the site. If all goes well, this will be the district’s only expense. Most are able to manage their own Web hosting, with large amounts of public bandwidth allotted to them.

Initially, Foxbright will concentrate its efforts on the West Michigan region, where it has already captured a significant share of the market. In the near future, it will expand to other areas of the state and Midwest. It has already enlisted partners to access other markets, including New Jersey-based Schedule Star, the proprietor of the HighSchoolSports.net online database, and DynaCal LLC, the Ohio-based maker of K-12 calendar and schedule software.

“Schools tend to move in herds,” Huisingh said. “It’s important to take a big chunk out of each individual market at one time.”

Foxbright has a version of its CMS product for general business clients, but does not have national aspirations for that market. It will continue to serve as a regional technology service provider to this market, where it has been particularly successful of late with health care, education and human resource applications, including an online billing platform for a patient management software package.

Since the merger, Foxbright has grown from five employees to 12, necessitating last month’s move from a small space in the North Monroe neighborhood to a new office in the Waters Building downtown.   

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