As the leader in ECE tech use since 1997, Lightbridge Academy knew they had to uplevel their systems to stay ahead of the game. We caught up with the leadership team to find out how they use technology to unite their communities.
If you’ve been in the ECE space for long, you’ve heard of Guy Falzarano.
As one half of the powerhouse behind Lightbridge Academy, Guy is known for his business tenacity and super-human dedication to top-quality child care. 💪🏼
Guy and his wife Julia set up Lightbridge Academy in 1997—just two decades later, the couple boast a whopping 15 company-owned child care centers and 38 franchises across 8 states. Plus, over 80 additional Lightbridge Academy franchises have been sold and are in the process of opening.
That’s 133 centers in just 23 years.
For Guy, Lightbridge’s success comes down to three things:
We wanted to know more about Guy and the team’s magic ingredients, so we caught up with them to chat about all things Lightbridge, and discover exactly how they continue to grow, no matter what.
Check it out!
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Lightbridge’s story started with a series of silver lining events.
After deciding he was done with the bureaucracy of working in a large corporation, Guy realized it was time to take the plunge and left a high-level job to set up his own business.
“Fortunately or unfortunately, that crashed and burned in a year and a half. I'm gonna say, fortunately it crashed and burned because that was how we ultimately came to Lightbridge Academy,” says Guy. “At that point we had no means of support… We were at a pretty low place. And my wife Julia says, ‘Why don't we open up a little preschool?’”
And the rest is history.
It didn’t take long for Lightbridge to get up and running. With Guy’s marketing background, they already had the key that helped them get to 54% capacity from day one.
“I go out and I start marketing, I start building relationships with local businesses—just going out and talking to them about what our concept was all about, and trying to get them to think of us when they made recommendations to people in their circles. It started to work,” explains Guy.
But for Guy, the real secret to success was to create a three-pronged pathway that would lead to a business he could be proud of.
That meant incorporating inclusion, technology and good old fashioned determination.
Let’s break it down:
When it comes to succeeding, Guy’s always known it takes grit.
“If you want to succeed, don't hesitate over decisions. Find out all the facts, get as much information as you possibly can, make a decision, and move on.”
And above all, don’t sit on the fence.
“I attribute sitting on the fence, to a very painful place to sit. Imagine a picket fence with concertina wire on the top. There you are sitting on top of that, and it's agony. Either go on one side or the other, but don't sit there,” he laughs.
But he’s only half-kidding. Guy’s tenacity has set him a league above the rest from the beginning, so it’s no wonder determination is a key part of his pathway to success.
“Life is a journey,” he says, “And you're on a path, and boulders are gonna be thrown in your way. You have to find a way, to get over that boulder, under it, around it, through it, whatever it takes. You have to be persistent, and you have to keep going, and never quit. And as long as you never quit, you will succeed.”
For Guy, Lightbridge Academy’s other key ingredient has always been inclusion.
From the beginning, he wanted to build a unique child care center—one that provided a safe space for everyone, no matter their background.
“When we started up, there was a lot of racial and social unrest going on in our community… I decided that I wanted to have a business that met two main requirements. One requirement is it was not gonna be a bureaucracy. It was going to be a happy environment. And second is we wanted it to welcome everybody. Our concept was: everybody is welcome under the rainbow.”
Guy’s first step in that direction was to hire a diverse range of employees.
“I wanted our staff to be representative of the community, so we had everybody. We had African-Americans, Caucasians, Asian-Indians, Russians, everybody was represented in that staff. Because I wanted to draw everybody in the community in. And it worked,” he says.
Guy knew he needed to get everyone in the Lightbridge community on the same page, and like any good businessman, he knew that came down to their values. And that’s where their unique Circle of Care philosophy comes in.
“The Circle of Care is made up of five stakeholders with the child in the center, and the four stakeholders around them being the parents, the employees, the owners or the franchisees, and the community. Every one of those stakeholders are viewed as being equally important. A lot of our competitors would look at the situation and say, the child [or the parent, or the employee] is the most important thing. I say, baloney. Because you need everybody to be treated equally,” says Guy.
Since the early days of Lightbridge Academy, Guy and his team have been leaders in ECE technology.
For them, it’s all about utilizing tech to create a stellar customer experience.
“We've been leaders in using technology to bring people together. A lot of our competitors have put in the same technology now, but they put it in to catch up. We put it in to keep parents connected, and parents love it.”
Here’s how Lightbridge Academy uses tech to connect with parents every day:
But although their commitment to tech definitely helped Lightbridge connect with parents, the team soon realized they needed to streamline their systems if they wanted to really step up and support their teachers.
Staff empowerment was a goal that Gigi Schweikert, President and COO of Lightbridge Academy, was determined to reach.
“The place we want our employees to be is greeting parents and in the classrooms, coaching teachers and being with children. But because there were such a multitude of tech platforms, there was a lot of admin work. So, we needed something new to integrate these as much as possible, so employees could focus more time on relationship building.”
“We've been leaders in technology for a long time but it came to a point where there were about seven different tools that the directors had to keep track of,” says Guy, “So, we decided to look for a tool that could bring those different systems together.”
Enter Ben Blake, Lightbridge Academy CIO and Guy’s tech-savvy right-hand man. Ben knew he had to find the best of the best, so he began by drilling down on what they really needed from a child care management platform.
“I wanted to make sure that we picked the best child care management solution out there, so we gathered over 110 requirements to then compare to the options,” explains Ben.
That’s right, over 110. Ben then canvassed the market, selected a handful of vendors to present their options, and picked the two tools that stood above the rest—and the final decision came down to eight factors:
“MomentPath really shined and demonstrated their flexibility throughout the whole selection process.”
For Lightbridge COO Gigi Shweikert, great tools are everything—and they’re more important now than ever.
“One of the ways we use MomentPath is to communicate with parents about what we're doing with Covid and health and safety. We produce small videos etc, that we push out to parents through MomentPath, so parents get education about masks, sanitization and our screening process. It’s an extremely helpful tool for us to push out our video productions and give parents a visual understanding of what's happening and what we're doing to protect them and their children,” explains Gigi.
As a parent herself, Gigi understands the need for parents to feel secure about their child care choice.
“MomentPath affirms the trust that a parent already has in a center, and really helps them feel more confident in knowing what's happening with their children in their absence. So as a parent, they feel fully connected to their child, and that helps to really lessen the guilt that working parents can have.”
For Gigi, child care providers need to recognize the shift in parents’ working patterns and use smart, dynamic tech to respond to the change.
“People aren't just 9-5 anymore, and child care needs to respond to the flexibility that parents have now in the workplace. We need to utilize technology so parents can balance what's happening with their children and what's happening with their work and feel good about the accomplishments at the end of the day for both—and MomentPath helps us do that.”
The Lightbridge model is based on the formula that determination + inclusion + tech = massive business growth.
And so far, it’s working.
“We’re super excited about all of our growth,” says Gigi, “Even in the pandemic, we've opened 10 centers this year and have more scheduled to open at the end of the year.”
“The next step is to start filling out the Mid-Atlantic region,” adds Guy, “We’ll start building up more franchises in that market. So, we've got 53 open now, we'll have 56 by the end of the year. We'll be up to 70 by the end of next year. And we're already starting to work on centers that will be in development or opening up in 2022. By the end of '22, we'll be probably around the mid 80s.”
And finally having streamlined systems, definitely played a role.
“We partnered with MomentPath because we felt we could do something exceptional in the field together. We continue to partner with them because we believe in them, we believe in their company and we believe in their culture. And we think it's an excellent partnership,” says Gigi.
Whether you’re opening one new center or 70, MomentPath can help. Our simple, powerful platform brings all your tools under one digital roof. Now you can provide your own circle of care with the tools they need to travel a smooth path towards better quality care for young children everywhere.