Smart Technologies Chalks Up a $660 Million IPO


Back in the 1860s, US schools started to receive an innovative new product: blackboards. But in the digital age, blackboards things appear to be relics of a bygone age -- and yet another reason for the problems in the educational system.

So change is afoot. Just look at Smart Technologies (SMT), which develops interactive, electronic whiteboards. The firm's growth has been rapid and Smart Technologies is now going public.

Today Smart sold 38.83 million shares at $17, raising $660 million. (The target price range was $16-$18). This makes it the largest U.S. IPO for the year.

So far in today's trading, shares of Smart are up about 1%.

A Smart Deal?

Smart's origins go back to 1987. Interestingly enough, the co-founders -- David Martin and Nancy Knowlton -- are married. Martin is the inventor of the smartboard technology and Knowlton has a background in public accounting.

As of now, Smart is the leader in its space. Since 1991, the company has shipped over 1.6 million units.

So what does their gadget do? Basically, with little training, a teacher can easily write on a whiteboard just by swiping a finger. There are also applications that help build presentations, such as with maps and math tools. Oh, and of course, you can save lessons and written notes, and even share them via email.

Smart has also developed a variety of add-on products. Examples include handheld devices for students interaction and a podium and document camera. These are a nice source of additional revenue.

Indeed, since 1992, Smart has only seen revenue growth. From fiscal 2008 to 2010, Smart's top-line has climbed from $378.6 million to $648 million. Profit for the past year came to $142 million.

Business Market?

About 85% of Smart's revenues come from the education market. However, the company has business whiteboards that allow for remote collaboration. And those are getting some traction, as customers include biggies like Cisco (CSCO), Ernst & Young, General Electric (GE) and Microsoft (MSFT).

To bolster its position in the business segment, Smart recently made some senior management changes. The company is also working on developing better interfaces and expanding its distribution network.

Despite all this, the main driver for Smart will be the educational market. And so far, that opportunity is still in early stages, with strong growth likely to continue. After all, a report from Futuresource Consulting estimates only 7% of the estimated 41 million teaching spaces across the globe have interactive whiteboards.

Originally published