Iselin-based Lightbridge Academy, one of the nation’s leading providers of educational childcare, is accelerating its already rapid expansion in markets across the U.S. The franchise has announced plans to expand its system from 57 to more than 150 locations by 2026.
The expansion will make Lightbridge Academy’s innovative early education program accessible to even more families around the country. More importantly, it will also provide trusted and nurturing learning environments for young children as families navigate the post-COVID world.
The catalyst for this accelerated growth plan is an infusion of capital from investment partners Westerly Group (Westerly) & Elmsley Capital (Elmsley). Unlike traditional private equity investors, who invest from funds with limited holding periods, Westerly & Elmsley invest on behalf of a small handful of families without a requirement to sell. This permanent capital makes them the ideal partners for Lightbridge Academy, whose core commitment to providing a high quality of care and early education in a safe and trusted environment has played a critical role in the lives of thousands of families for the past 24 years. This shift will combine Lightbridge Franchise Company with Jule Holdings, the owner of the corporately-operated childcare centers, under a new company – Lightbridge Holdings Group.
In tandem with the Westerly & Elmsley investment, Lightbridge Academy’s President Gigi Schweikert has been promoted to CEO of Lightbridge Holdings Group. Since joining Lightbridge Franchise Company in 2015, Schweikert has served as COO and most recently as President. Founder Guy Falzarano will continue in his role of Chairman for the combined company, providing strategic oversight alongside the Board of Directors.
“Since joining the company in 2015, Gigi has proven herself to be an inspirational leader and effective integrator,” Falzarano said. “I have complete confidence in her ability to lead this company through our next phase of development.”
Since its founding in 1997, through several recessions to a pandemic and onto today’s springboard to national prominence, Lightbridge Academy has remained steadfast in its mission to be The Solution for Working Parents. At the bedrock of this mission are the brand’s core values, which include the Lightbridge Academy Circle of Care philosophy that draws parents, children, franchise owners, staff members and entire communities together to support and enrich the health, well-being and education of children. Westerly & Elmsley are investing behind those values and are well-suited to advance the Lightbridge mission.
“Westerly & Elmsley share our vision and values, and it is clear that they are committed to our long-term success,” Falzarano said. “They place tremendous value on the business model and culture we have created, and they want us to keep doing everything we’ve been doing to continue to grow and thrive.”
Westerly & Elmsley’s deep expertise in real estate development will provide the perfect complement to Lightbridge Academy’s successful franchise opportunity, allowing the brand to provide full service real estate solutions for new franchise owners.
“Historically, it’s been incumbent on our prospective franchisees to locate, negotiate and lease or purchase commercial property for their center location,” Schweikert said. “In the future, we will offer turnkey franchise opportunities that include fully developed sites. This means we will be able to speed up the opening process and offer even better real estate options for future franchise owners.”
Despite the widespread and unpredictable challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic, Lightbridge Academy enjoyed historic growth in 2020 opening ten new centers. It is leveraging that success for additional expansion in the coming years.
“Our goal is to have over 150 centers open by 2026,” Falzarano said. “We will open new markets to achieve our accelerated growth plan as we expand outside of our core presence in the Mid-Atlantic region. I am heartened by the fact that every time we open a new center, we help people fulfill their dreams of becoming a business owner, offer jobs to those living in that community and most importantly, support working parents by providing their children with the highest level of care and quality early education programs.”
According to Westerly founder Ross Brendel, Lightbridge Academy has successfully navigated the past year and positioned the brand to grow as a prominent leader in the childcare industry. “From our first meeting with Guy and the team amid the tumultuous year that was 2020, we were incredibly impressed by the depth of talent, the resilience of the Lightbridge Academy’s centers, and the care taken to preserve Lightbridge Academy’s brand and core values.”
“We are excited to back Guy, Gigi and the entire team as they continue to provide best-in-class services and innovation in early childhood education,” added Brian Burke, managing partner of Elmsley. “We feel very fortunate to work with the talented team at Lightbridge and assist with their mission to deliver high quality education and childcare to families everywhere.”
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