Technology firm Learning Pool has expanded and grown considerably over the last few years, which includes a number of key acquisitions, fuelled by its key banking partner Ulster Bank. In the latest in this series, its founder Paul McElvaney talks about the story so far, working remotely and growing its headcount to 260 staff
The continued burgeoning success of technology firm Learning Pool is yet another clear indication of the growing strength of the talent base in the north west.
The Derry-based business, founded by Paul McElvaney in 2006, has surged to a workforce of more than 260 – now working remotely – and has expanded organically and through several major acquisitions, alongside the help of Ulster Bank, which Paul says has been a “key partner”.
The company develops products for digital and remote learning.
It’s now working with a host of international giants, including one recent major deal with a firm which boasts a workforce of more than a million people – equivalent to more than half the population of Northern Ireland.
“We have 260 people in the team now following an acquisition in the US just before Christmas and the intention is to continue to grow,” Paul says. “We have about 1,100 customers across the portfolio – ranging from small local authorities right up to some of the biggest brands in the world which use our technology to train staff and stakeholders.
“A typical customer uses our solution. The first part is the learning content that users interact with which we either create or give the client the tools to create themselves.
“The second part is the hosted software which is used to publish that content. Customers use us to solve compliance problems, to onboard new staff, to deliver leadership training and train people about new products and services which they are launching.
“Customers are looking for something which they can use to deliver a message quickly and consistently. A lot of times we are working with clients which are saying ‘we can do this face-to-face but it’s going to take me too long and lots will get lost in the messaging’.
“Having an online delivery gives you the ability to roll that out in minutes and hours, rather than weeks and months.”
The latest expansion, which saw it taking on US-based Remote Learner, has been backed by its banking partner Ulster Bank – and is helping meet growing demands across the Atlantic.
“The US is a key growth area for us and the acquisition gets us to just shy of 30% of revenues coming out of North America, which is quite a material step-change for the business,” Paul says.
“We are increasingly seeing a shift towards the US in terms of the business which we are winning.
“Ulster Bank has been our company bank since 2016 and it has helped us on a daily basis, and done a great job. It has also helped us fund our acquisitions.
“The relationship with Ulster Bank has been fantastic… they have been able to get to grips with what our opportunities are, how the business works and what dynamics are at play, and they have been able to give us what we need to grow the business.
“They are a really key partner for us as part of our growth strategy.”
And Paul says as a digital business, its own switch to remote working was “fairly seamless”. And while he says he sees the future of Learning Pool as a ‘work anywhere’ business, that Derry will always be the firm’s home.
“When we go to recruit we are less precious or concerned about where people are now because we know we can do this,” he said. “But Learning Pool’s home is in Derry and it will continue to be here.”
By Kenton Hilman, head of corporate and property, Ulster Bank
The switch to remote working has emphasised the importance of connectivity which goes hand in hand with having good technology. Imagine how difficult the past year would have been had it not been for advancements in technology and all the various ways we have to keep in touch.
While many of us may be suffering from Zoom fatigue at this stage, it’s worth remembering how all of these tools and online resources have enabled workforces right across Northern Ireland to transition out of the office and work from home. It’s increasingly clear that those businesses who had already invested in good IT systems found this transition to be much more seamless than those who had not but it’s fair to say everyone will now recognise the value that this investment can bring.
Of course here in Northern Ireland we have an additional challenge; regardless of how good your IT might be, too many areas are still unable to access high quality broadband. Significant strides have been made in this area but the rural / urban disparity is still causing problems.
Fortunately we have a number of companies who are stepping up to tackle this challenge and when you look across this sector, it’s remarkable just how well local businesses are performing. Even before the pandemic set in back in March 2020, our teams recognised the importance of this sector and the high growth it was experiencing and began to think carefully about the role we can play in its advancement.
Today we have a dedicated team working solely with the technology, media and telecoms sector. Their expert knowledge and specialist skills are helping these companies make the right financial decisions and our local presence is an obvious attraction to many in the industry. We have taken the time to get to know this convergent sector; the key players, the challenges, the opportunities, and are now in a strong position to help these businesses achieve their aims and bring their product to the global stage.
A fitting testament to this is the work we have done with Learning Pool. Since being introduced to the company in 2016, our team has guided them through a number of significant acquisitions, both locally and internationally. We understand Learning Pool’s strategy is to continue to grow its customer base and geographic footprint, fuelled in part by the increasing demand for remote learning products, so we are working hard with them to identify opportunities in this area and ensuring our team always remains ahead of the curve.
The team at Ulster Bank, supported by our colleagues in NatWest, is the leading supporter of the TMT (technology, media, and telecoms) sector and we are committed to always looking for new ways to support these businesses. Our aim is to grow alongside the sector and ensure our team of relationship managers are continually upskilling and developing their experience in this area.
We want to deliver services that are expertly tailored to our network of partners and ultimately to you and your business.
If you are interested in finding out about the work that we do or the value we can bring to your team then please get in touch and start, what could be, a very useful conversation.