Education Savings Account Policy Is Sweeping The Nation: Student First Technologies Is Helping Blaze The Way With Innovative ESA Technology Solutions
Student First Technologies (SFT) is a company that has been focused on the end-user experience in the world of education since its entrance into the school choice space in 2013. Initially, SFT was dedicated to serving Tax Credit Scholarship granting organizations, enabling them to scale exponentially. This helped families across the country gain access to private schools that they might not have been able to attend otherwise. SFT's expertise in Edtech was firmly established, but the company sensed it could make an even bigger impact.
Mark Duran, CEO, and co-founder Forrest Fowler, CTO, both come from alternative education backgrounds. They have years of business and leadership experience that led them into a partnership in the world of technology. Their friendship, sparked by their wives' mutual pursuit of competitive running, turned into a strong business partnership. Their mission-driven approach to life, keen competitive nature, and deep understanding of the alternative education space inform their business strategy and vision today.
In late 2019, after many conversations with policymakers, education freedom advocates, and families, the SFT team decided to start focusing their efforts on building toward the burgeoning national need for Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) and Microgrant program technology and implementation. Today, the School Choice landscape continues to grow. With the deep experience and knowledge gained from serving Tax Credit Scholarships, SFT was uniquely positioned to make a real difference in these new sectors.
SFT's proprietary platform went through a significant transformation, and "Theodore" was born as the new and improved software platform. Theodore is an end-to-end platform that can handle any type of education funding program. It was designed to be efficient, effective, and mobile-friendly, making it easy for families to navigate and for administrators to manage all elements of the program from a clean dashboard experience. It comes with robust security and compliance measures designed to exceed government contract requirements. Theodore is a comprehensive solution for managing ESAs and Microgrants. The platform's unique modular foundation allows it to be assembled and customized to meet any program type. Theodore's features include Applications, unlimited user accounts, budgeting, and scheduling tools, digital wallets with real-time payments, education provider user accounts, a marketplace where goods and services are pre-approved and listed, integrated technical support, and a robust administrative dashboard with comprehensive reporting capabilities.
New in 2023, another unique addition to the SFT suite that is just coming out of testing is a product they call “QuinnIQ.” QuinnIQ is a comprehensive “human-in-the-loop” ML (Machine Learning) learning model that optimizes and automates ESA program expense verification. QuinnIQ is fully integrated with the Theodore platform, but it is also available ala carte to program administrators as an API (Application Programming Interface) plug-in, even if they are not utilizing the Theodore platform. Fowler said, “The needs of the ESA market are not rocket science, but it does demand technical solutions. The ability to adapt, innovate, and put together creative solutions and respond to the market in real-time is paramount if you want to keep up with the public's expectation of technology today.” Notably, at the time of this article, SFT is the only company in this space that has a CTO as a Co-Founder. Duran says, “Having a Co-Founder like Forrest is key. Not only does he understand technology at a granular level, but he is also extremely well-versed in the business side of running a company. On top of this, he has been supporting the School Choice space since before we met, so his understanding of policy and how it pertains to implementation is a tremendous asset to us on a daily basis.”
SFT's journey has been inspiring. The company started small and has grown thoughtfully, thanks to a small team who are passionate about making a difference in the world of education. As the company grew at a healthy rate, the need for a senior-level executive emerged. Micheal Lindell joined the team as the Chief Operating Officer, bringing a wealth of knowledge and experience from his tenure as a former director at J.P. Morgan Chase and leadership positions at several large education-focused nonprofits.
Duran says, “Forrest has known Micheal for over five years, and I've had the pleasure of getting to know him myself over the last couple of years. It's great to have him on our team now. I am excited to work with him and learn from his experience.”
Through hard work and dedication, SFT has become a leading provider of education choice technology solutions, serving and competing at a national level. Duran said, “We caught the vision for ESAs years ago and have been patiently waiting and building a foundation on which to serve this market for the long term. The heart of SFT lies in the belief that every student deserves the right to quality education. We exist to help to connect the dots and cross the T’s to support that mission. We like to say a rising tide lifts all ships; what we provide is just part of the educational journey for families. Our aim is to make that part of the journey the best it can be.”
The company's dedication to improving access to education for all has never wavered, and its commitment to excellence is evident in everything it does. Whether it's helping students gain access to quality education through Tax Credit Scholarships or providing families with the tools they need to save for their children's education expenses through ESAs and Microgrants, SFT is making a real difference in the lives of people across the country.
In conclusion, Student First Technologies is a company dedicated to improving access to quality education for all. Its journey from serving Tax Credit Scholarships to serving ESAs and Microgrants is a testament to its commitment to excellence and its desire to make a real difference in the world. As SFT continues to grow and evolve, it will undoubtedly continue to be a driving force in the world of education, shaping the future of learning and positively impacting the lives of students and families everywhere. Fowler said, “We are looking forward to the growth ahead of us; we have a huge vision for the future and look forward to continuing to build our team. People are life's greatest gifts, and having a company that helps provide a better way of life not only to our team but also to the partners and families we serve is the most rewarding part of this work”.
To stay up to date with SFT’s work, you can connect with them here:
Website: Student First Technologies
Chief Executive Officer