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Cover Story
Boxlight projects bright ideas

Cover Story: Boxlight projects bright ideasThere’s a winner in the People’s Choice awards from the Kitsap Peninsula, though it’s not one of the fan favorites in movies, music and TV.

The recipient of one of the 2013 People’s Choice Stevie Awards for Favorite New Products is Boxlight Inc., the Belfair-based company that manufactures and sells high-tech interactive projectors.

The Stevies may not be as familiar as Oscars, Emmys or Golden Globes, but they have been presented as part of the American Business Awards for more than a decade. This year’s award for Favorite New Product in the computer hardware category went to the ProjectoWrite5, Boxlight’s top-of-the-line projector — an achievement prominently noted on the website of the company owned by Hank and Sunshine Nance.

“It’s a huge deal, for me,” Sunshine Nance said of the award. “I do all the marketing.”

Boxlight owners Hank and Sunshine Nance and product manager Jeremy Peterson, center, stand by their 2013 People's Choice Stevie Award displayed at the entrance to company headquarters in Belfair.The company’s patented embedded interactive projector technology is fully utilized in the ProjectoWrite5 (P5), and in the P6 unit that boasts an unmatched level of wireless connectivity.

A user can install 1.5 gigabytes of software such as Microsoft Office programs on the projectors, which can wirelessly stream video and audio input from up to four devices simultaneously in a split-screen format.

“Everything from your Windows machine, your Mac to an iPad or Android can connect,” Hank Nance said. “Multiple platforms are able to be displayed on one product.”

The wireless connector is a dongle that plugs into a USB port on the back of the P6 projector, so no cables or input cords are required in a classroom or other presentation space.

Attendees watch a demonstration of Boxlight projectors at the International Society for Technology in Education 2013 Conference held in June in San Antonio. (Boxlight Photo)The company also sells portable screens and wall-mount screens up to 10 feet wide, and its line of Projection Plus Wet Erase Boards that have a non-reflective porcelain steel surface and are touted as “the only markerboard that doubles as a projection surface.”

But no special screen is required, and Boxlight’s line of ProjectoWrite LCD projectors includes the LightPen, which can function in mouse mode or touch mode in manipulating an onscreen display. The P5 and P6 even features dual pen control, and have handwriting recognition software.

“With two LightPens, you can emulate all the Windows 8 touchscreen tools,” said Jeremy Peterson, the company’s product manager who demonstrates the LightPen’s capabilities in a video on the Boxlight website.

The privately held company doesn’t release sales figures, but Hank Nance said their biggest market is the education sector, where Boxlight products are sold through partners like Advanced Classroom Technologies in Marysville.

The 2013 People's Choice Stevie Award for Favorite New Product in the computer hardware category went to Boxlight for its ProjectoWrite5 interactive projector.One of the biggest deployments of Boxlight products is in Dallas. The school district there, which is one of the largest in the country with 160,000 students, plans to equip many of its 11,000 classrooms with the company’s interactive projectors.

Gary Shuman, the district’s director of network services, said 200 Boxlight projectors were installed at three new schools that opened this year and in additions built at six other schools.

“We have a remaining 7,000 classrooms that have no interactive projectors that we would like to put the Boxlight projectors in, all pending funding at this point,” he said, adding that the school district is preparing a bond measure for next year that would include funding for the technology upgrades.

“Our vision is to have a completely wireless classroom, so the teacher is mobile,” Shuman said, and the district made a major investment to install the largest K-12 wireless infrastructure in the country.

“We have a wireless access point in every classroom,” he said. Incorporating Boxlight’s technology enables a teacher with a tablet or any type of mobile device to “roam the classroom completely wirelessly while controlling the projector and using any number of software programs.”

Boxlight ProjectorThe one problem the district encountered in testing the Boxlight projectors was getting them to work effectively with a broader wireless network. Shuman explained that the projectors worked fine with a small network within one school or even an individual classroom, but the Dallas district has a centralized wireless system for all its schools.

“They changed the way the networking from the projector functioned,” Shuman said, and made it possible to sync with the district’s infrastructure. “Within just a couple months they stepped up and did a custom software change for us.”

The Nances said that shows their company’s commitment to providing top-flight customer service and support, along with cutting-edge technology.

“They came to us with an idea as much as we came to them with an offer,” Hank Nance said. “We’re in a unique position to have such a diverse and flexible R&D side of the organization, to meet the needs and vision of our customers.

“They were just absolutely floored that a manufacturer would go and do those things.”

With Hank as company president and Sunshine as Director of Global Marketing & Communications, the couple have overseen growth and expansion of the operation since they bought Boxlight in 2009 and relocated the corporate headquarters from Poulsbo to Belfair. The Nances both had worked at Boxlight since the 1990s, and were able to purchase the company from founder Herb Myers when he retired.

The most significant change over the past several years, Hank Nance explained, has been Boxlight’s transformation from an OEM — a company that bought products from other manufacturers to incorporate into its own branded product line — to a full-line manufacturer of its own projectors.

“We formed a relationship with a company in Taiwan, a smaller manufacturer looking for a way to bring projectors to market worldwide,” Nance said. “We sought them to be a major investor.”

Today, Boxlight has three manufacturing facilities — in Hsinchu, Taiwan; WuXi in China’s Shanghai province; and Mexico City. The company does some assembly work in the U.S., including at a Belfair warehouse.

“In order to be successful we needed to be able to manufacture our own products,” Nance said, explaining that before, “we would just kind of pick and choose from our partners’ product lines.”

The drawbacks of that arrangement were “very little quality control, and you had virtually no influence on development of products from an R&D standpoint.”

Not only does Boxlight, which has 164 employees worldwide, control all development and manufacturing for its own brand now, it also makes projectors that other, larger companies sell under their brands.

“The tables have turned quite a bit on that,” Nance said. “About 50 percent of our total production is done as Boxlight, and (the rest) for a variety of international companies.”

With her focus on marketing, Sunshine Nance talks about the free lifetime technical support that’s available 24/7 for Boxlight products, and she notes proudly that their company was an American Business Awards finalist in 2011 for Best Customer Service Department.

She said their new crystal Stevie trophy, which she accepted at the American Business Awards gala in San Francisco in September, is a special recognition because the public is allowed to vote for the Favorite New Product awards.

“We’re getting validation from our customers; they’re using our product and they love it,” she said.

Another popular option with customers is Boxlight’s Lamps for Life program, which costs $99 and provides free replacement bulbs for a projector. The bulbs cost more than $300 apiece and a customer could need to replace a bulb two or three times in five years, depending on the level of usage of the projector.

Boxlight customers closer to home include the new Raisbeck Aviation High School in Seattle, and North Mason School District, which is building a new high school in Belfair.

Ed Lucas, executive director of operations for North Mason, said the district’s choice of Boxlight projectors for its classrooms is based on the quality of the products, but it’s also convenient to take any units that need service to the company’s main office nearby.

“What’s the best technology available is certainly our number-one priority,” Lucas said. And in an endorsement that’s music to the ears of a marketer like Sunshine Nance, he adds that “Whether we bought HP projectors, or Dell projectors, we’re not going to get a better projector than what Boxlight provides, and they have pretty good price points.”

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