It took nearly a year, but St. John's e-learning company Bluedrop Performance Learning's recent acquisition has its co-founder and CEO eyeing South American markets.
Emad Rizkalla's company announced in March last year its intention to buy Serebra, a Vancouver competitor, but the transaction was officially completed last week.
"The reason we were interested in them was that they had some really good technology that fit with our CoursePark platform, and they have some really large opportunities with the Clinton Global Initiative and in Chile, and there are some pilot projects now that we're doing in Chile and Peru in the spring that could lead to some really big use of our platform in South America," he said, adding the company has excellent staff, bringing Bluedrop's employee count to more than 100.
Because Serebra was listed on the TSX Venture exchange, Bluedrop now assumes the listing. There was no one reason why the transaction took so long, said Rizkalla, who chalks it up to how busy his company, headquartered on Prescott Street downtown, was in 2011.
"We had a very, very busy year. We doubled our size, we expanded into Halifax, we just had a very, very busy year," he said. "The legal process, the TSX process - nothing bad happened, it just took forever."
One of those things they're focused on is its CoursePark technology program, designed for companies and organizations to provide online learning for employees or members.
"It's really focused on a lot of small businesses. It's being used here provincewide. The province has supported it and provided it to small businesses right across the province," he said, but noted it's in use in 100 countries even without a major promotional push from Bluedrop yet. The reason, he said, is that large companies are increasingly turning to online learning systems rather than establishing their own costly corporate universities, while small companies find online learning an inexpensive, effective way to train staff.
"The idea is that e-learning is a really effective way to help increase business skills," he said. "Our vision for CoursePark is that it will become the world's learning platform for workplace learning."
It's a long way from the company's 1992 beginnings in Rizkalla's basement. But despite the company's growing global presence, the CEO - whose family emigrated from Egypt to Canada when he was seven, and came to Newfoundland when he was 12 - says he hasn't considered moving his headquarters to a more central location.
"I've gotten that question from all kinds of people over the years," he said. "My answer is, why are the Sobeys in Stellarton, or the McCains in Florenceville? I don't think that they've done a comprehensive, exhaustive survey of the best places to set up a grocery empire and picked Stellarton, N.S. I love it here. I came here as a kid. When I finished my engineering degree, my family had moved in my last year outside, so I was alone here, and I had to make a decision. We started the company when I was still in university. On a personal level, I really enjoy being here, and I've always enjoyed proving to the world that we can do this sort of thing here."
Rizkalla said the company's location is a source of pride for its employees.
"If we were in Toronto or Ottawa, I don't think you 'd get the same kind of passion from the people that work here," he said. "It really does feel like we're going to change the world in our own little way from this place. And I think if you're in Ontario, there's maybe 20 or 30 other companies that are trying to do the same thing. But it's a real source of pride for the people who work here."
Even the name reflects the company's Newfoundland heritage, he pointed out. The company was ZeddComm up until 2004 when it decided to rechristen itself.
"We hired a Dutch branding expert from Ontario," he said. "He could just see that we were very proud to be from Newfoundland. Newfoundland was big part of who we were, our identity. So he recommended that we give him the Newfoundland English dictionary, and he went through it, and 'blue drop' means a clearing in the ice."
For Rizkalla, the irony of hiring a Dutch person from Ontario to come up with a Newfoundland-centric name is also indicative of the kind of access to global markets that a company headquartered on an island in the North Atlantic can have. "That's the world we live in," he said.
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