Canada’s Desire2Learn Raises $85 Million for Cloud Software

Desire2Learn Inc., an online education provider based in Canada, raised $85 million in a second round of funding to be used to create cloud-based learning software as well as to speed up expansion of international efforts.

“It’s a fantastic validation that we’re on the right track as a company,” said chief executive John Baker. “Not too many technology companies have raised as much as we have.”

The company’s product, Brightspace, offers teachers a platform with which to deliver curriculum to students through the web and mobile devices.  The product also tracks and assesses the learning progress of each student, allowing intervention to occur prior to a student failing a course.

For those in K-12, the technology works to identify at-risk students and offers them materials to help them master the subjects they are in danger of failing.

Brightspace works as a “Netflix for education,” recommending courses for higher education based on a student’s skills, aptitude, and interests, and in turn allowing students to stretch their education and complete a degree program faster while decreasing dropout rates, according to Baker.

“Unlike advertising and e-commerce, education is an industry that has just begun to use big data analytics,” said New Enterprise Associates Partner Jon Sakoda, whose firm took part in the new financing round. “Ultimately, Desire2Learn is helping educators deliver personalized learning the way that Amazon.com delivered a personalized shopping experience.”

More than 15 million students, in New Zealand and the US currently use Brightspace in some 1,000 schools.  The technology can be used for free by individual teachers or by an entire school or district as part of a larger package with more tools available.

The money gained from the second round of funding is expected to further the company’s efforts in helping to train the employees of other corporations.  Currently, this accounts for 10% of Desire2Learn’s business.

“If you think about it, Global 1000 companies have a larger employee or student base, larger budgets or endowments than most of the US public and private education system,” Mr. Sakoda said.

Other uses include expanding the company’s market to reach Asia, the Middle East, and furthering endeavors in North America.  The company also plans on hiring 100 more employees, mainly in research and development.

Founded in 1999, the company has 800 employees worldwide, serving 1,100 clients and 15 million users.

The year the company was founded, $80 million was invested globally in education technology companies.  That number has jumped significantly to more than $800 million this year.

“In the past, it used to be considered a nice thing to do, to go online or support blended learning, but now it’s a competitive necessity for schools and universities,” Baker said. “It’s no longer an option.”

The company has raised $165 million since it was founded.