Former Education Secretary Launches Online-Purchasing Business

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Former U.S. Secretary of Education and two-time presidential candidate Lamar Alexander threw his hat into a different kind of ring last week: He launched a company designed to allow educators to procure school supplies and services over the Internet.

Lamar Alexander

Mr. Alexander is a founder and the chairman of, a World Wide Web-based venture with a goal of making purchasing cheaper and easier for schools and their suppliers.

"Most school business officials feel trapped in an antiquated procurement system that wastes their time and the taxpayers' money," he said in an interview. "We're going to help schools use the Internet to save money, whether they are buying frogs for biology class or erasers or school buses." will enable school officials to place orders with vendors over the Web, thus eliminating written purchase orders that are processed slowly and add as much as $125 each to the procurement process, the company says. Schools also will be able to pool their purchase requests, making it easier to obtain bulk discounts.

The service is free to educators, who won't need any special software because the service is based on the Web. The company plans to charge vendors, but it said they will benefit from the elimination of paper purchase orders and by being linked to a large national market.

"We are going to take existing vendors and put them online," said Amar Singh, the chief executive officer, who founded the company with Mr. Alexander and three other businessmen.

The company estimates that schools spend $85 billion annually on outside goods and services.

In fact, is not the first to see potential profits in helping schools make purchases online. In November, Kelly Blanton, a former schools superintendent in Kern County, Calif., founded, which uses a similar Web model to link schools and other institutions with suppliers.

Both companies are among a growing number of online ventures that are focusing on the "B2B," or business-to-business, market.

Mr. Singh said is concentrating on the education market rather than all government and institutional buyers. The company, based in San Francisco, has already signed up 100 school districts and numerous vendors, he said.

From Politics to Commerce was launched on Feb. 1, a day Mr. Alexander once hoped he would be occupied with the New Hampshire presidential primary. He dropped his second bid for the Republican nomination for president last August after a poor showing in an Iowa straw poll.

Mr. Alexander served as governor of Tennessee from 1979 to 1987 and as secretary of education under President Bush from 1991 to 1993. His first presidential campaign, in 1996, briefly gained momentum based in part on his folksy manner and dogged campaigning.

"Four years ago on [New Hampshire primary] day, I came within 3,000 votes of Bob Dole," Mr. Alexander said. "Today, I am in San Francisco helping to launch a new company."

Now retired from politics, Mr. Alexander can draw on his experiences as a former president of the University of Tennessee and a co-founder of a child- care concern now known as Bright Horizons Family Solutions Inc.

"One difference between politics and business is that in business there can be more than one winner," he said. is structured like most of today's Internet ventures. Mr. Alexander and other top executives have equity stakes in the company, and thus the promise of riches if it is successful.

Vol. 19, Issue 22, Page 5

Published in Print: February 9, 2000, as Former Education Secretary Launches Online-Purchasing Business
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