Local site speeds search for after-school activities

The Activity Rocket website helps parents streamline the search for after-school activities for children (Courtesy Activity Rocket)

WASHINGTON – Any parent who has ever looked for after-school activities or camps for children knows it can be a frustrating, time-consuming process.

Activity Rocket, a website created by two local mothers, lets a parent enter basic parameters into a search engine, which quickly spits out options to head off kids’ complaints of “there’s nothing to do.”

“Activity Rocket is akin to Expedia or OpenTable, but for kids, classes, and camps,” says Illene Penn Miller, who co-founded the company with Lisa Friedlander.

Miller said they realized there was a market for the service after comparing the ease of booking a trip online, with the difficulty of researching, cross- referencing, registering, and paying for childrens’ activities.

“That was our ‘a-ha moment,’ says Miller. “We suddenly realized, ‘Why can’t we apply that Expedia or OpenTable technology to that age-old process of random searching for kids activities.”

Miller says the site offers options for children ranging in age from newborns to 18.

The site organizes activities in groups: Academics and Enrichment, Performing Arts, Special Needs, Sports and Fitness, and Visual Arts.

Activities range from astronomy, to basketball, to calligraphy, to circus.

The company launched in 2010, serving Montgomery County and D.C. It recently relaunched a newly-designed website, now offering options to parents in Northern Virginia.

Companies which post services on Activity Rocket choose among three different packages, says Miller.

“There is a free package, and that was important to us, philosophically, because we didn’t want to be a website that was beholden to advertising and that only listed those business that had the budget or wherewithal to advertise.”

Still, Miller says Activity Rocket is a startup venture that needs to make money. The site offers basic and premium paid-for subscriptions, which cost $99 and $199 per month, respectively.

“That results in things like giving them a first-in-search where their listing comes up first on our website,” says Miller.

Miller says she and Friedlander toyed with the idea of reviewing the activities listed on the site, to award an Activity Rocket seal of approval, but decided against it.

“At the end of the day we thought it was best for us to present the information in a neutral fashion and to let parents and their reviews and ratings really drive folks’ impressions of each of these businesses,” Miller says.

The newly relaunched site attempts to speed the process even more for parents, offering a single registration form that can be used with the hundreds of business listed on the site.

“The universal registration is really borrowed from the college application process,” says Miller, “where college kids can compete one… form and then send that out to multiple colleges, rather than having to redundantly fill out some of the common information over and over again.”

Similarly, the site now offers a shopping cart check-out, which Miller compares to Amazon. After choosing activities from several different businesses, parents can pay with a single transaction.

“You’ve avoided writing multiple checks, filling out multiple credit cards, and registration forms,” says Miller.

While the Activity Rocket website is optimized for all platforms, Miller says a mobile app is next on the company’s to-do list.

“Truth be told, we hesitated to do the mobile app in conjunction with the relaunch because we wanted to have the opportunity to live with the site,” says Miller.

The company’s ultimate goal is to provide activities across the country, says Miller.

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