Nebraska-based student information system now serving 41 countries
Tuesday, July 23, 2013
Glen Ellis goes above and beyond the call of the PTA.
In 1999 the software engineer began volunteering at his childrens’ school, Dominion Christian in Grandview, Mo. Some dads might work the concession stand at basketball games or set up chairs before a band concert.
But Ellis noticed a different need, one more up his alley: an online management system for students, teachers and parents. So he got to work.
From that first line of code in 1999, Ellis and his team have expanded Sycamore Leaf Solutions, based in Fremont, Nebr., and its flagship product, Sycamore Education, to over 40 countries across the globe, including schools in Nigeria, Russia, Japan and New Guinea.
“There's a real need for web-based school management systems,” Ellis said. “That's what we're telling our customers: ‘You guys are in business to train and teach kids. You shouldn't have to be filling out a data center and worrying about DDoS attacks.’”
Early on, it was slow going. The company had zero funding except for what Ellis bootstrapped himself. Plus, Sycamore Education was offering a cloud-based management system before the term even existed––back then it was called an Application Service Provider or ASP. Ellis quit his corporate job in Kansas City in 2004 and moved to Fremont, shifting his full focus towards developing and selling Sycamore Leaf's products.
“We went to one school at a time and won them over,” Ellis (right) said.
Ellis says public schools tend to use internally hosted student information systems, but Sycamore’s cloud-based service has appeal for schools that don’t want the hassle of maintaining that sort of network. So most of Sycamore’s clients are international or private schools, such as Catholic Schools of Omaha and the Diocese of Orange in California.
“A lot of the international schools or just schools abroad see the benefit,” Ellis said.
Sycamore Education charges a one-time set-up fee when administrators purchase the software, followed by monthly charges on a per-student basis. The service allows batch e-mail sending, attendance tracking and even cafeteria management.
Sycamore Leaf now has 12 employees based in Fremont and seven more working remotely across the country. The company is currently working to expand one of their other products JCobi Campus, which offers a similar student information portal for college students.
It’s a broad reach for a company based in the middle of America. Though he's not a Nebraska native, Ellis lived there with his wife before moving to Kansas City. Now a father of five, Ellis had an important decision to make when he decided to make Sycamore Leaf his full-time gig.
"We said, 'You know what, we can live wherever we want. Where do we want to live? Where should we start this company?' And we chose Fremont,” he said.
Meanwhile, Sycamore Leaf is trying to inject a little bit more tech into the community. They recently hosted their first Summer Tech Series, a week-long event in Fremont teaching young adults computer science basics.
“Parents will spend several hundred dollars to send their kid to baseball or football camp, but there's nothing for the geek out there,” Ellis joked. “We're trying to cultivate that environment here in Fremont by helping with technology.”