App teaches better contact for schools and parents

Communications between parents and schools can be time-consuming and frustrating. An Irish start-up is helping to make the process easier with a free, two-way app for schools, sports clubs and creches, writes Ruth Doris.

Komeer’s founder and CEO, Pat Walsh, claims the service can save schools up to €5,000 a year on text messaging and administration costs.

The entrepreneur, with 30 years’ experience in technology, property and services companies, has been involved in overseas development in Uganda, Ethiopia and India where he recognised the importance of rapid communications between groups.

Back in Ireland, Mr Walsh is lead mentor for his local GAA club. He said he’s familiar with the effort involved in the unsung hero of the administration side of organising training sessions, games, and meeting compliance regulations.

The team at Komeer — which is a word play on “come here” — took part in Enterprise Ireland’s New Frontiers programme in 2014, and looked at the pain points for schools and sports clubs. Communications and payments were top of the list. Getting messages out to large groups rapidly and getting people to respond was a big problem for schools.

Mr Walsh said the Komeer app is unique in the market because of its two-way communication. Unlike a service like WhatsApp, where the feed can become cluttered with irrelevant information, parents’ replies are restricted to “yes”, “no”, or “maybe”.

About 90% of schools use SMS for communicating with parents, spending between €300 to €5,000 annually, he said.

Over 4,000 schools are using a system which charges 0.5c per text.

Gaelscoileanna are spending even more, as they have to send out messages in both Irish and English.

While a text message is limited to 160 characters, the Komeer app can easily include the contents of a school bag note. Once a text is sent, it’s gone.

However, unlike SMS, Komeer makes it possible to recall or edit a message. The app also allows characters from several different languages, including Polish and Mandarin, to be used.

Over one million alerts have been sent using the app so far, with more than 300 schools in Ireland using the Komeer service, with several sports clubs and creches signed up. Komeer has users in the UK and a trial is under way with a school district in Alabama in the US.

The school’s administration staff log onto a dashboard. Mr Walsh said: “The principal can see exactly how many parents have received the message and how many parents will be there at a school event. So, for example, if there’s a parents’ meeting or presentation next week they’ll see that 185 have said ‘yes’, 20 have said ‘no’ and 30 haven’t responded yet.”

Komeer can be used for anything, from weather alerts, messages about head lice or chicken pox, early school closure, to congratulating the children on their performance.

Features include the ability to automatically add an event to the parent’s calendar on iPhone or Android.

Mr Walsh, who chairs the Dublin City Student Enterprise Awards, with 82 schools participating, said Komeer has put a lot of work into GDPR and child safety.

“We’ve built in functionality to help and reassure parents on data privacy. Parents using the Komeer app are in full control and can update, remove and restrict their information,” he said.

Komeer received €15,000 in funding from the New Frontiers programme. The company was one of the first start-ups to be accepted onto Facebook’s global programme for start-ups, FbStart, in 2016. Winning a Dublin City Innovation

Investment Fund award in December 2017 of €25,000 allowed Komeer to increase its team to eight at its offices in Coolock, in north Dublin.

The team has bootstrapped, with Mr Walsh putting in €120,000 of his own money. While the app is free for schools, sports clubs and creches, Komeer is offering premium add-on services,

including payments, taking a 1% charge. The payments function allows parents to pay for expenses such as their child’s school trip by tapping on a button.

There’s no need to go to a website or call the school, and they can easily access their payment history.


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