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Academic software firm graduates from UB incubator

By CHARLOTTE HSU

Published July 18, 2013

“The incubator gives you a support system that allows you to move your ideas forward.”
John Eisner, consultant
Liaison International

Academic Software Plus, a UB spinoff company, has graduated from the UB Technology Incubator after a stay of more than 10 years in which the firm grew from a feisty startup into a mature business with a stable client base.

The company moved into new offices at 200 John James Audubon Parkway in Amherst, about two miles from the incubator, on July 13.

Liaison International logo

Coinciding with the move, the firm is taking the name of its parent company, Liaison International, the Massachusetts-based admissions and accreditation software and solutions company that acquired Academic Software Plus as a subsidiary in 2001. Last year, Warburg Pincus, a well-respected private equity investor, acquired Liaison International and has supported its investment in products and services for the higher education market.

Today, Liaison International’s Amherst office provides software and support services that help universities manage admissions information for applicants to many health professions and other graduate programs, and evaluate students’ performance in clinical courses.

At full capacity, the Amherst office employs about 30 people, including software developers—many more than founder John Eisner ever expected when he conceived of Academic Software Plus’ first software in the 1990s as a solution for streamlining dental school admissions at UB.

More than 3,000 admissions officers nationwide use the company’s WebAdMIT and AdMIT software, and hundreds of university programs use the ClinicEval and SiteManager software.

Amy Chan, vice president of administration and special projects for Liaison International, says the company decided to maintain offices in Western New York to avoid uprooting the high-caliber employees the region has been able to provide.

“The majority of our staff in the Buffalo office is from Buffalo. All their families are here, and they love it here,” she says. “Western New York also has a growing talent pool of young developers coming out of UB and surrounding colleges, and we are interested taking advantage of that resource.”

Academic Software Plus began with simple ambitions.

In 1993, Louis Goldberg, then dean of the UB School of Dental Medicine, asked Eisner if he could develop a software program that would computerize the admissions process, making it easier for staff to organize and search through data from hundreds of applicants.

Eisner, then associate dean for information resources, knew other schools were facing similar challenges so he designed what he called an “industrial strength” program that colleagues across the country could also use. Business partner Michael Russo wrote the program.

Eisner wasn’t expecting to sell many copies, but the program turned out to be extremely popular. He had discovered a great niche for a business and founded the company in 1995.

Soon, most of UB’s health professions schools were using the software, and the firm was asked to develop GrAdMIT, a Web-based graduate admissions management product for the UB Graduate School that is still in use today.

In 2001, the same year that it was acquired by Liaison International, Academic Software Plus moved into the UB Technology Incubator on Sweet Home Road.

There, with Russo as director of software development, Eisner began building a sales, support and development team.

After years in academia, Eisner needed to learn to navigate the business world, and incubator staff members were there to help. They provided guidance on issues like accounting and marketing, and hosted frequent seminars in which experts spoke to incubator tenants about human resources, marketing, legislation and other topics of interest to entrepreneurs.

“The incubator was always very helpful from the very beginning,” says Eisner, now professor emeritus at UB and a consultant to Liaison International. “We didn’t know very much about business. We didn’t have a secretary, we didn’t have a copier, conference room or coffee machine, and here comes the incubator, where all of those things just seemed to materialize magically. The incubator gives you a support system that allows you to move your ideas forward.

“Academics have many good ideas, but are often reticent about giving them a try in the business world,” Eisner says. “But I would certainly encourage it. Not everybody’s cut out for it, but you have to try to find out. I discovered that I really had a knack for it—and enjoyed it immensely.”

In 2010, the team’s CoursEval software, which continues to be a market leader among campus-wide course assessment products, was sold to another company.

The UB Technology Incubator, administered by the UB Office of Science, Technology Transfer and Economic Outreach (STOR), has assisted more than 100 tenants since its inception in 1988.

Woody Maggard, UB associate vice provost who oversees the incubator, says it was a joy to watch Eisner and his company evolve, following the trajectory from entrepreneur and startup to experienced businessman and incubator graduate.

“John Eisner grew his company steadily and wisely, utilizing all of the benefits afforded by the incubator,” Maggard says. “We worked hand-in-hand with Academic Software Plus throughout their growth, meeting their need for more space and services as they expanded. We are proud to see them move on to the next step.”