Business

Fresno entrepreneur rises to the top

Laurie Seaborn, who sold her company Spero Software last year to a larger company in a six-figure deal, stands inside the Fresno Rescue Mission, which is using the software. Spero Software developed a niche by creating software for nonprofit groups to track donations, clients they serve and other bookkeeping tasks.
Laurie Seaborn, who sold her company Spero Software last year to a larger company in a six-figure deal, stands inside the Fresno Rescue Mission, which is using the software. Spero Software developed a niche by creating software for nonprofit groups to track donations, clients they serve and other bookkeeping tasks. ckohlruss@fresnobee.com

Laurie Seaborn of Fresno, founder of Spero Software, sold her company last year for a tidy sum. It was a pinnacle in her 23-year career in the technology industry.

But as anyone familiar with Seaborn knows, her journey as an entrepreneur has been anything but typical. She overcame numerous challenges, both personal and professional, to become one of the first women to own and operate a tech company in Fresno.

She successfully carved out a niche in diverse industries from trucking to nonprofits by building software to improve their operations. And she handsomely profited from the sale of her firm to a much larger company –the dream of many tech entrepreneurs.

To meet Seaborn now, a woman who is always smiling and self-confident, you probably would never know she lived in poverty growing up in Twin Falls, Idaho.

She also was homeless for a time and admits she wasn’t very good at school. As soon as she could, she fled her small town life for a nanny job in New York, searching for a better life.

Two days before Christmas, a 21-year-old Seaborn was on a plane headed for the East Coast.

“I didn’t know a single person out there,” she said. “I just knew it was an opportunity and I wanted to take it.”

Seaborn moved to California several years later and began creating opportunities for herself. She had a cousin who lived in Fresno, so she decided to settle in the area.

Despite not having a college degree, Seaborn discovered she had a talent for problem solving, organizing information and building databases. She also had a knack for teaching people how to use computers and technology.

After working a string of jobs, including managing a real estate office, Seaborn made the leap in 1992 and formed her own computer training company. She trained hundreds of people. At the same time, Seaborn was honing her skills at building databases.

“Everything I learned in those days, I taught myself,” she said. “It wasn’t always easy, but I could see the potential for creating databases for companies with specific needs.”

By 2001, Seaborn had launched her second company, Summit Software. The company specialized in building industry-specific software.

One of her first clients was the cemetery industry. For years, California cemeteries relied on index cards, handwritten forms or outdated software to run their operations. Seaborn’s software allowed cemetery directors to access information quickly, reducing the paperwork involved with burials.

Within three years, Summit had contracts with 16 cemeteries from Madera to Bakersfield. With her team of programmers, Seaborn also developed software for the trucking industry to help in routing trucks and tracking schedules.

But by the mid-2000s the economy began to tank and Seaborn’s business slowed. Without a steady income, she nearly lost her house to foreclosure. She began looking at secretarial jobs to keep herself afloat and eventually landed a job working in the IT department at a local food processor.

Rebecca Abell, president of Hire Up Staffing Services, was among those who helped Seaborn during those lean years.

“She is incredibly resilient,” Abell said. “Even during those low periods in her career, she always stayed positive and focused. She had a vision of what she wanted to do and she stuck with it. A lot of people might have given up, but she didn’t.”

Seaborn was struggling to keep her company alive in 2009 when she was contacted by the Fresno Rescue Mission. The nonprofit group that provides help to the needy was looking for a better way to track clients and the services they received.

Seizing the opportunity, Seaborn agreed to work with the organization. She also renamed the company Spero Software to reflect a new direction for the company and for herself. Spero loosely translated means “to hope” in Latin.

Soon after, she began identifying other nonprofits and church organizations that needed help managing their client services.

Her software was able to track enrollment, attendance, and even created a paperless login system for clients.

“What Laurie has created has allowed us to better meet our clients’ needs and provide detailed information to our board and our donors,” said Deborah Torres, director of marketing and resource development at the Fresno Rescue Mission. “It also helps us know if we are doing a good job.”

Torres wasn’t the only one impressed with Spero Software’s product. Bowman Systems in Louisiana, a software and data support company, was interested in Seaborn’s company. They approached her in late 2013 and by May of last year, the deal was done.

Seaborn declined to reveal the purchase price, other than to say it was a “fair price.” As part of the deal, Seaborn was hired by Bowman as the business development manager of the Spero Software division.

Already, the software is being used in 19 rescue missions from coast to coast. She travels often, marketing the software to nonprofit organizations, churches and other charitable organizations.

“It has been a long road, but I have accomplished one of my major goals,” Seaborn said. “And I will stay on with Bowman, as long as they will have me.”

And like most entrepreneurs, Seaborn admits she still has the desire to create another company.

“I wouldn’t mind starting another little software company at some point,” she said with a laugh. “Of course, it wouldn’t compete with Bowman. It would be something totally different.”

Robert Rodriguez: 559-441-6327, @FresnoBeeBob

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