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Infinite Campus Coming to Blaine

By Dick Youngblood, Star Tribune Last update: September 26, 2007 12:17 AM
When I first encountered Charlie Kratsch back in 1986, he was a year out of high school and toting the hefty title of "vice president of research and development" at a Fridley company that sold electronic kiosks to guide consumers to business locations on the street or in shopping malls. Kratsch, a self-taught computer whiz, had been recruited by the company to help design the hardware and software for a kiosk product that was both cost-effective and user-friendly. Nearly 21 years later, an older and equally whiz-like Kratsch has created a high-tech business that has been growing at better than a 100 percent annual clip in the past five years on the way to a projected $22 million in sales this year. Kratsch, 40, is founder and CEO of Infinite Campus Inc., an Arden Hills company that markets software and services that help school districts manage their flood of student data. More than 900 school districts with 2.5 million students in 40 states are using the Infinite Campus system, including all the schools in South Dakota, Montana, Kentucky and the Bureau of Indian Affairs school system. The St. Paul district is the largest of nearly 50 Minnesota clients. The result: The company, which was grossing just $250,000 in 1998 and $500,000 as recently as 2002, jumped to $13 million in sales by 2006 and is heading for at least a 70 percent increase this year. Why the sudden surge? It was the gratifying collision of two important developments. First, No Child Left Behind became law in 2002, burdening educators with a load of new data-collection chores. Meanwhile, Internet technology advanced to a point that not only allowed Kratsch to take his business nationwide but also made online interaction more user friendly, and thus more attractive to the education market. The resulting success has been impressive, particularly for a gent who rejected the notion of going to college despite having graduated valedictorian of his class at Centennial High School in Blaine. "Sitting in class listening to somebody droning on just wasn't my thing," Kratsch said. Nonetheless, he learned at least one valuable lesson in the ensuing seven years of developing software and hardware for several different companies. "I don't like working for other people," said Kratsch, who has an easygoing manner and a casual management style that explains why just about everyone from the CEO on down was wearing shorts and a T-shirt on a recent hot August day. The dress might be casual, but the business solves a serious problem. Consider, for example, the plight of the Eden Prairie School District before it became a client in 2000. "Before [Infinite Campus] we had separate databases for student information, special education and health services," said Jan Forsberg, the district's IT service manager. Worse, each school in the district had its own set of these databases, none of which communicated with each other. "We couldn't share data," because it was so time-consuming to type it into the various databases, she said. But now all the data are collected in a single database, accessible online not only by teachers and administrators, but also by parents who can easily check schedules, transcripts, attendance and grades. In short, Kratsch said, his software not only saves schools a lot of time and money once spent on moving information from one database to another, but it "truly allows parents to become a collaborative part of the education process." Kratsch started his own technology consulting company in 1993, and one of his first clients was Centennial High School, which hired him as its technology director. That's when the Infinite Campus concept was born. "There was student data scattered among schools, departments and service centers in about 20 different databases," Kratsch said. When the information needed to be shared -- not only by educators, but also by those who needed to qualify students for library, school lunch and transportation services -- it had to be entered and reentered manually into the different databases. "It was an expensive process that often led to data-entry errors," Kratsch said. The software costs clients $6 a year per student, with such services as ongoing training, conversion of school data to the Infinite Campus system and help-desk support also generating revenue. New products are being added to sustain growth, including a point-of-sale software and hardware package for school lunch checkouts that was introduced in 2006. The company also offers an automated phone alert to notify parents about absences, missed assignments and emergencies. The company also is working on a library checkout automation system and on school payroll, accounting and human resources software. Kratsch figures to have it all out there by 2015, when he plans to retire at age 48. Why? "I'm going to go to college with my youngest son," he said. Dick Youngblood 612-673-4439 yblood@startribune.com