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Little Rock Startup Apptegy Gets $5.7M Infusion

3 min read

Little Rock technology startup Apptegy plans on leveraging a recent $5.7 million investment from Five Elms Capital of Kansas City to get aggressive on growth. Its goal? To see 2017 sales triple from 2016, its first full year of sales.

The company sells a platform called Thrillshare that allows a school district’s teachers and staff to, through a mobile app, distribute information in every way the district has at its disposal — through email, its website, its Facebook page, its mobile app, Twitter and more.

An administrator can approve or deny the content before it is published, but the platform eliminates the need for teachers and staff members to hand the content off to multiple people in charge of different distribution methods.

But removing the technological barrier to communicate better is just the beginning for Apptegy, CEO Jeston George, a 40 Under 40 honoree, told Arkansas Business.

He said the startup plans on developing Thrillshare into a platform schools can use to manage every type of digital interaction they engage in these days, from enrolling students to posting job openings.

The recent investment is part of Apptegy’s second round of investment seeking. It previously raised $1 million from angel investors in Arkansas.

The company also qualified in 2015 and in 2017 for the state’s Equity Investment Tax Credit program. Scott Hardin, communications director for the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, said that is a discretionary incentive that provides investors in technology-based businesses an income tax credit that is equal to 33.3 percent of their investment.

In 2015, Apptegy was approved to offer the credit on $800,000 worth of investment, meaning the tax credits for investors would have totaled about $266,000, he said. In 2017, the startup qualified to offer the credit on $5 million; credits to investors will be approximately $1.66 million.

George praised the state’s help and said that while getting a startup off the ground here can be difficult, the Little Rock area offers those who are able to put their good ideas into action a place where they can be a “big fish in a small pond.” He said a startup like his could have been lost in a larger city full of competing ventures.

Although George started Apptegy four years ago, working from home with freelance developers, he said it’s really been operational for just two years because he began hiring people in Little Rock in 2015.

Now the startup has almost 50 employees, he said. Seven or eight new hires are set to start on June 12, and Apptegy had 42 full-time employees as of last week.

The startup now has more than 260 public school districts in 38 states as clients. That’s about 1,200 schools, George said. In Arkansas, it’s working with 50 public school districts. Plans are to eventually branch out into serving charter and private schools.

The districts pay a one-time setup fee plus a recurring annual fee based on enrollment, and prices range from $5,000-$25,000 a year, George said. The largest school district that uses Thrillshare has approximately 20,000 students.

Another advantage for clients is streamlining the work of their communications personnel. “They can sit there and approve or decline, and they just become curators of content instead of creators of content,” George said.

The business could be profitable in three months if it slowed down, he said, but it’s focusing on growth and market penetration instead, for now.

“I know this sounds crazy, sounds like Silicon Valley-type stuff, but that’s not one of our primary goals anytime soon. Maybe three years from now,” George said. “If we’re profitable, that means we’re going too slow.”

One challenge Apptegy has faced in growing is being viewed as a risk, so it’s a good thing clients have loved its product so far, George said.

George, noting that school districts answer to publicly elected boards, is grateful for the support of his startup. “There’s that old saying that no one ever got fired for hiring IBM. If you hire IBM and they mess up, you can go, ‘But who would have thought IBM would’ve messed up?’ If you hire a startup and they mess up, the school board will go, ‘What did you think would happen?’”

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