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Life in the Channel: Starboard Solutions’ Michelle Bulbring

Starboard Solutions vice president Michelle Bulbring discusses her thirst for interactivity, why the company’s touch technology is ideal for learning, and outlines plans for new product launches in 2020.

Tell us a bit about your work history and your current role

I’m the vice president of StarBoard Solutions Limited, and I have two decades experience of working in interactive technology. My journey began when I was deeply involved in the NEC projector bid for BECTA in the early 2000s, after which NEC projectors took the majority of the market share accompanying most SMARTBoards.

A natural progression was to then join Steljes, the exclusive SMART distributor – and formerly one of the UK’s largest distributors – working my way up to sales manager.

My thirst for interactivity was growing, trying several contractual roles, such as a short stint with BenQ, to finally be headhunted by Luidia, the manufacturers of eBeam. During my time with Luidia, I was promoted from country manager to vice president, where I managed their global channel initially based out of Europe and finally California.

After that I moved to Shenzhen iBoard Group, to work with major global OEM accounts and now to also take over as VP of EMEA for their channel product StarBoard.

StarBoard Solution is a subsidiary of Shenzhen iBoard and a leader in the field of touch screens and presentation technology. We specialise in the production of interactive whiteboards, interactive flat panel displays, digital signage and associated devices.

I’m now based in Germany, where I head the rebuilding and restructuring of StarBoard’s operations and sales teams in order to push on with the momentum we have in the interactive screen space. I work principally across Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Australia and New Zealand.

StarBoard was born out of a partnership which began with a manufacturing contract for Hitachi Solutions in 2001, where they nominated our factory in Shenzhen through an extensive selection process. When Hitachi decided to pull out of the touch market to refocus their efforts elsewhere, we, as their OEM factory, decided to purchase the brand “StarBoard”.

We had already developed and nurtured the Hitachi StarBoard product while acting as the R&D factory behind the scenes, so we made a bold decision to purchase it, as this was already our creation. Furthermore, this made sense for us as an OEM, given that Hitachi had a footprint into over 70 countries which we would inherit, offering us an immediate reach into the international markets.

Can you tell us about any projects that your team is working on at the moment?

We cannot say too much on this front yet, but at the moment we’re very active in the Middle East. For example, one of the largest schools in Kuwait has just chosen us over all our traditional, well-known top competitors for a large order of flat panel interactive displays.

How important is the educational sector to StarBoard’s market strategy?

The educational sector is of huge importance to StarBoard. Approximately 60% of our global business is currently geared towards the sector, with a wide range of educational products like interactive whiteboards, flat panel displays, and projectors being our company’s bread and butter. Many of our products tie in well with education as they’re based around touch technology, and we’re currently seeing a huge shift in the education market towards this space.

We view the education market as crucial for digital writing and flowcharting because we’re currently seeing a shift within children and young people away from traditional writing tools such as pencils, pens and paintbrushes in favour of touch technology.

Basic skills are falling by the wayside that older generations may take for granted, such as how to hold a pen properly and how to form letters, and these are a gateway for many other important abilities that also rely on fine motor skills – opening jars is just one example. With the growth of digital technology, there’s a real risk that these skills could be lost.

We see our touch technologies as a great way for children to be more involved in the learning process.

Digital flipcharting is an incredibly fast way for children to learn as they can transfer the impulse of creativity or thought straight into writing or drawing without delay.

Whatever idea is in their mind, it can be written down instantly, and there’s plenty of evidence from research into education that agrees with this. If a child is able to express themselves near instantly, it’s a fantastic thing for a young person’s imagination.

However, that’s not forgetting that our projectors also see a lot of applications in educating at a higher- level for adults and older students. Our products are growing in use at conferences, universities and company training.

What type of companies are you looking to work more with in the near future?

We are always seeking strong value-add distributors throughout EMEA. Our model is not to work with broad-liners but rather focused interactive distributors, who become our brand ambassador in their country. My role involves looking to grow these partners, while seeking out new alliances in my regions.

What does StarBoard have planned for the rest of the year and beyond?

In the next year we have plans to launch over 10 new products. We unfortunately can’t go into too much detail about the products now, but the new launches will feature some updated technology that has been highly-patented.

We have launches coming up focused on true bond technology, and some new digital flipchart products to strengthen our primary position in the education sector. We also have some interactive flat panel displays coming for corporate buyers – another important area of our business.

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