Our Start-up of the Week is Dublin-based Komeer, which has developed a low-cost mobile messaging service for schools and parents.
“Komeer for schools is a free two-way messaging service that saves schools up to 85pc on their communication costs, makes parents’ lives easier and provides a 24/7 child safety alert service,” said Komeer founder and CEO Pat Walsh.
Komeer has already sent more than 1m alert messages this year on behalf of schools in Dublin, Cork, Mayo, Louth, Wexford and Laois.
â€˜So far, Komeer has sent over 1m alert messages for schools, including 50,000 during Storm Ophelia’
â€“ PAT WALSH
A Komeer study revealed that more than 74pc of parents say schools are still choosing to communicate with them via a schoolbag note, to announce upcoming events and meetings, discuss security issues, and even alert people to cases of head lice and chicken pox.
Komeer’ initial market is the 4,000 schools in Ireland that are heavily dependent on expensive SMS, outdated communications and ineffective costly school apps.
“Schools using Komeer are reporting savings of up to â‚¬5,000 per year on SMS text messaging, printing and ink costs,” Walsh explained.
“Komeer is free for schools and free for parents. So, they can start make savings immediately.
“Later this year, we will be introducing some premium services including Komeer payments, a parent-teacher meeting organiser and other services that we will announce. These optional services will be chargeable and available to schools using Komeer.
“While chargeable, they will create further savings based on current school costs.”
With edtech viewed as the next fintech, Walsh said that Komeer is ideally positioned to take advantage of the predicted $252bn edtech global spend by 2020.
Walsh is a successful entrepreneur with 28 years of experience in start-ups, the serviced workspace industry and technology developments.
He is also the owner and founder of Sky Business Centres, one of the country’ leading workspace providers, with three centres operating in the Dublin area.
“Schools use our free school dashboard to communicate and engage with parents,” Walsh explained.
“Parents and students use the free Komeer mobile app to receive and respond to message alerts from their school.”
Walsh added that Komeer includes innovative features, including live two-way communication, allowing schools to view parents’ responses on a live dashboard displaying how many will attend a sports day or a parents’ evening, or who has received an important safety alert and who has not.
“Schools can prepare and send a message to one or 1,000 parents in minutes. Komeer messages, unlike SMS, are not limited to 160 characters and can contain images and web links.
“Komeer is uniquely child-centric, which means that messaging groups can be created by children’ names or by parents’ names. Komeer messages are personalised and invite parents to respond with a yes, no or maybe.
“Recording and reporting on these responses, Komeer actively measures and promotes school-parent engagement and participation.
“In addition to the free Komeer app, email and chargeable SMS services are provided for those users without smartphones.”
Top marks for ambition
Walsh said his goal is to have Komeer in use in every school in Ireland.
“Komeer is free for schools and free for parents; saves schools time, money; and increases engagement and participation. Schools can change over to and start using Komeer within minutes. So, all schools should be using Komeer now â€“ it’ a no-brainer.”
Walsh said the company also has its eye on the UK and US markets, and recently exhibited at the Oxfordshire Head Teachers’ conferences in the UK, and also at the CoSN Education Technology leaders’ conference in Atlanta, Georgia.
“So far, Komeer has sent over 1m alert messages for schools, including 50,000 during Storm Ophelia.
“We are supported by Enterprise Ireland [and] are one of the first Irish start-ups to be accepted on the Facebook Global FbStart programme.
“We have been shortlisted for the Dubai Future Accelerator and, last month, after a competitive process involving 82 start-ups, we were announced as one of the two winners of the LEO Dublin City Innovation Investment Fund programme, winning an investment of â‚¬25,000.”
In terms of hurdles to overcome, like all start-ups, Walsh said that software development took longer than planned.
“Our feedback loop involved, and still involves, actively listening to school principals every day for feedback, ideas and criticism, and then to regularly include their suggestions in our three-week development sprints.
“This takes time and patience. We have a market fit product now, but Komeer is on a journey. We need to think long-term; not everything has to be done today. It’ a marathon, not a sprint.”
With the presence of many tech giants and household names in Ireland, Walsh believes Ireland is an exceptional place to start a business.
“There’ lots of supports, easy access to third-level institutions, incubation space, and good bootstrap programmes are available.”
His advice for fellow founders is to read and understand Eric Ries’ The Lean Startup and Getting Real by 37Signals.
“Develop something small at a low cost first, even if it’ a small â€˜byte’ of your big dream. Get it out there [and] see what happens before you plunge head first into the big wide ocean.”