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Mindseek helping companies move to Internet-based training

In the next few years, the anticipated growth of corporate America transitioning from paper-based learning to Internet-based learning is so phenomenal, Mississippi native William G. Stark can barely sit still. Mindseek, an Atlanta-based company he co-founded with J. Alison Williams and Dwaine Craddock, is geared to capture a significant percentage of the multi-billion dollar training industry.

“Today, U.S. corporations spend about $61 billion on learning and training,” said Stark, vice president of sales and marketing. “The bulk of training money is spent on travel, training session fees, the cost of instructors and preparing materials. In the last few years, the arrival of the Internet, CD-ROM and Web-based training has allowed us the capability of putting course materials on the Internet. Right now, the percentage of the industry’s expenditures delivered electronically is, at most, 5% to 10%. But people are embracing the idea of learning on Internet-based technology, and growth is projected at an annual compounded rate of 98%, which is absolutely phenomenal. We are so excited we can barely sit still.”

Mindseek.com, a learning management system (LMS), helps companies transition from paper- to Internet-based learning and measure the effectiveness of training, Stark said.

“A couple of other factors are driving the demand for our product,” he said. “Companies are having a hard time hiring trainers externally because the labor market is so tight. More and more, companies are ‘growing’ people from within the organization. If they want to hire a customer service trainer, they groom an employee to take that position. That requires training, too. Economic pressures also fuel the need for our business.”

While in high school, Stark and Williams, both Delta natives, met at Boys State and were roommates at the University of Mississippi. They later hooked up with Craddock, the architect of the system and Mindseek’s vice president of product development, to form the Internet-based start-up company. Prior to his involvement with Mindseek, Stark was vice president of TCA, a Jackson-based company founded by Paul Brummet to market a new, patented technology that provides a better way to send digital video imaging via the Internet.

The dynamics of the marketplace, the fast pace at which the Internet is changing, predicting customers’ needs are, and designing a product to meet those needs have been, the biggest challenges, said Williams, Mindseek’s president and CEO.

“It’s been worth the challenges because we don’t have whiz-bang technology we’re trying to sell people,” Williams said. “We’re providing something that solves business problems and improves the bottom line.”

Coming up with a name for the business was also a challenge, Williams said.

“One of the problems today is coming up with a good name that isn’t taken as a domain name on the Internet,” he said. “One night, I spent four or five hours scouring the Internet, with a dictionary on my desk and a scrap piece of paper filled with names by my side. When Mindseek.com came back as available, I almost jumped out of my chair.”

The start-up company got a boost when Inmar Enterprises Inc., a Winston-Salem, NC-based technology and transaction-processing firm, agreed to provide hosting and database administration services from its central operations facility.

“We look for early stage e-business companies with a compelling value proposition, a strong management team and a desire to execute — Mindseek certainly fits that description,” said John Whitaker, chairman and CEO of Inmar Enterprises.

For companies to hook up with Mindseek, they must have computers with speakers and an Internet connection.

“Right now, we’re targeting companies that have already invested in a high degree of computer accessibility,” Stark said. “Companies do not have to purchase infrastructure equipment to access our system. Our system is accessed through the Internet, and we manage the infrastructure.”

Major components of the system include broadcasting live Internet learning events in real time, allowing two-way communication, self-paced learning events, assessment capabilities, consulting capabilities and more.

“Using our system, the marketing VP of an organization could introduce a new product to all sales reps nationwide in a much shorter period of time — and time is money,” said Stark. “That way, all of the sales people get to hear the message from the horse’s mouth. It also eliminates the need to train the trainers to train the trainers and so forth.”

Assessment capabilities include pre-testing employees, post-course and certification tests and post-course surveys for ‘attendees.’ A customized curriculum allows specific content for specific workgroups. Customized teacher/student communication modules allow question and answer sessions in Mindseek’s forum capability module.

In every program or training file, keywords are entered in to a keyword database, which operates much like a directory on a Zip drive, for easy reference.

“If you want to get a copy of the president’s speech that he made at a trade show several months ago because there were some good comments in his speech, our system captures it automatically for reference when needed,” he said.

Monthly fees vary widely, depending on the set-up and requirements, and could range from $50 to $100 per employee. Financial services, telecommunications, software industries, and industries with a large number of sales representatives, such as pharmaceutical companies, are most receptive to the Web-based training.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne Wilbanks Jeter at lwjeter@yahoo.com, mbj@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1018.


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