Start-up Discovers Day Care Niche Online

INTERNET START-UPS spring up like weeds, because savvy entrepreneurs see a need and rush to meet it. Monis Rahman, co-founder and chief technology officer of eDaycare.com, is one such entrepreneur.

True, the 29-year-old University of Wisconsin graduate does not have children of his own, but by drawing on the experiences of others and then using his high-tech background to make it happen, Rahman has filled an online need for millions of parents.

"We're the first mover in this space, and we're the only one addressing the issue holistically," Rahman says. "We talk to parents who already have children in a day care center. We address parents looking for day care centers. We address providers of day care, the owners, and staffs of these centers. We wrap all of these together."

After leaving Wisconsin, Rahman got his "dream job" -- an engineering position at Intel. In three and a half years at the chip giant, Rahman -- who was the youngest member of the Merced development team -- snared three patents, while also doing graduate work at Stanford University.

Rahman left Intel to work at competitor Advanced Micro Devices and later founded Crestech, a consulting company. But when he realized he could do more than tinker with Web sites, Rahman teamed up with an old Intel colleague, Ramana Bodepudi, to form ICUNet in August 1998. The company's site used video-streaming technology to let parents watch their children in day care on the Web.

"[Bodepudi] has a daughter, and he thought day care was a good fit for the Internet," Rahman says.

Last April, ICUNet evolved into eDaycare.com, which offers a range of services.

The site can help parents find day care centers -- of the United States' 115,000 day care centers, the company's database boasts 114,000, according to Rahman -- and offer them information and virtual tours of some of the centers.

For day care providers, eDaycare offers help recruiting staffers and building Web sites. Currently, 650 day care centers have eDaycare-built Web sites.

As with any start-up, eDaycare is eyeing electronic commerce in a big way, Rahman says. The Santa Clara, Calif., company -- which completed a multimillion dollar round of funding last fall and in January expanded its staff to 15 people -- plans to charge for features such as online video similar to ICUNet's, extended video tours of centers, and enhanced Web site management for day care centers.

Perhaps most importantly, eDaycare plans to forge partnerships with retailers, which can then leverage eDaycare's narrow demographics to sell items such as books, toys, and diapers.

"What you see right now is the tip of the iceberg," Rahman says.

With a major e-commerce push on the horizon, naturally Rahman is concerned about infrastructure. As do many start-ups "that don't have a lot of money in the early days," eDaycare went with Windows NT Server 4.0 and SQL Server. As the company grows, however, Rahman sees it moving to a Sun platform, which he says would be more stable.

"Our goal was to get up and running quickly," Rahman says. "When needed, we'll move over to another platform. Everything we're doing is in Java ... so Java will let us move from NT to Sun quickly and seamlessly."

In the end, Rahman is satisfied that eDaycare is filling an Internet void. His sister even tapped into the site recently, finding desperately needed infant care when her nanny quit unexpectedly.

"That hit home for me," Rahman says. "I saw in my immediate family the practical implications of this tool."

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