Startup Focuses on the Tech Needs for SchoolsAfter posting spectacular growth for seven years, Schoolwires announces merger with Blackboard Inc.
By Eileen Wise

When Founder and Chairman of Schoolwires, Ed Marflak, started the company in April of 2000, he knew he had a good idea, a strong team, and a clear vision. But he did not foresee just how rapidly the company would grow—at a rate of 20-30% annually. For the past seven years in a row Schoolwires has been ranked by Inc. Magazine as one of the fastest growing privately held companies in the US.  

Other industry leaders in education technology have taken notice. In fact, Schoolwires has just announced it will join Blackboard Inc., which provides website hosting and content management solutions for schools. "Today's news marks a great milestone for Schoolwires, and we couldn't be more excited to join the Blackboard team," said Christiane Crawford, president and CEO of Schoolwires. "We are eager to merge these two industry-leading teams and continue our pursuit of helping students be more successful, improving the educational experience in K-12, and investing in the future of this industry."  

Schoolwires provides technology solutions to enhance communications at schools throughout the country. Schools need to connect with their many stakeholders both within the school (to teachers, students, and parents) and outside the school (to the community), and that requires some sophisticated technical solutions. As more parents and students access their school district websites through mobile devices, Schoolwires has developed and refined its technologies to meet these changing needs.

Headquartered in State College, today Schoolwires employs approximately 120 team members and has recently expanded internationally with a base in China. Marflak believes it was a great decision to set up shop in State College. As a 1997 Penn State graduate from the Smeal College of Business, he extolls the quality of life, the local talent, and the support of Innovation Park services, such as Ben Franklin Technology Partners. The Ben Franklin team provides early stage funding and business support services to emerging technology-based companies.

“I can’t overstate how important they were,” said Marflak.  “At the start of a business you are trying to learn, trying to connect with helpful people, and you need funds. They were there with all of those things.”

Marflak also emphasized the importance of people, including the company’s CEO Chris Crawford.  “Ultimately, every company’s success is the direct result of its people, and we are extremely blessed to have attracted a great, mission-oriented team and unbelievably talented and dedicated leaders such as Chris.”

“We currently serve more than 1 out of every 10 public schools in the country, and that includes more than 20 percent of the large districts such as Dallas, Houston, and Denver,” Marflak explains. “One of the hallmarks of our success is that we make the technology very “turnkey” and easy to use for the school districts, which often don’t have the personnel or the resources to create these technologies for themselves.”

While headquartered in State College, what is really keeping Marflak hopping is the recent expansion of operations to China. Marflak said, “China has some great programming and technical talent that is versed in the same technologies that Schoolwires uses in the US. So we made the decision to do some of the R&D and quality assurance work there with a deliberate eye toward using that office as a base to expand to see if some of our products and services might be marketable in China as well.”

Marflak grows reflective when analyzing the elements needed to create a successful business, “Clearly defining values, mission, and vision are crucial. It’s not just an exercise. It creates the framework to which team members can hold themselves and each other accountable.”

Marflak grew up immersed in the world of education with both parents being teachers. While he always respected their profession, he knew from high school age that he wanted to go into business. “I don’t know if it was nature or nurture, but somehow I was attracted to the technology needs of schools.”