Canada's Desire2Learn raises $85 mln for global e-learning push

TORONTO Thu Aug 14, 2014 12:00am EDT

TORONTO Aug 14 (Reuters) - Canada's D2L Inc said on Thursday it raised $85 million in venture capital funds, the country's biggest such deal this year, as the fast-growing owner of educational software maker Desire2Learn looks to ramp up its overseas expansion.

Already an established player in Internet-based learning in North America, privately held Desire2Learn plans to spur its global expansion efforts with the cash injection, one of the five largest venture capital fund raises in Canada in the last 10 years, according to Thomson Reuters data.

"We see an incredible opportunity in front of us as we support an industry rethinking itself as it goes digital," the company's chief executive officer, John Baker, said in a phone interview.

The company, whose workforce has grown more than 40 percent in two years, competes with the likes of Blackboard, which was bought in 2011 for $1.64 billion by a group led by Providence Equity Partners.

Desire2Learn, based in the Kitchener-Waterloo corridor some 100 km (62 miles) west of Toronto, recently opened offices in Brazil, Singapore, Britain and Australia. It says almost 900 software applications from schools, universities and companies are integrated into its Brightspace platform serving 15 million learners.

"It's not just about putting course notes online. It's about adaptive learning, mobility, learning analytics and everything else that goes into creating a great learning experience," Baker said.

Investors in its latest funding round included Columbus Nova Technology Partners, Graham Holdings, Four Rivers Group and Aurion Capital. Silicon Valley Bank provided debt financing.

The latest financing follows an earlier $80 million round in 2012, co-led by New Enterprise Associates and OMERS Ventures, which both also contributed this time around.

OMERS Ventures CEO John Ruffolo said the venture capital arm of the massive Canadian pension fund had kept a prorated stake in the company in the latest round.

"D2L is a great example of putting in a boatload of capital, taking dominant market share to grow this thing and then putting even more capital in there to make sure," Ruffolo said in an interview at his Bay Street office.

D2L's Baker said the company had no near-term plan to go public as his team, with 800 employees, was focused on global growth and research and development.

Baker also said he had no immediate plans to make acquisitions. In March, the company bought the Achievement Standards Network, which Baker said has 400,000 predefined educational standards that can be tied to curriculum.

Baker declined to specify a current valuation for D2L, but said after the latest funding round, the venture capital investors will still hold a minority of its equity. (Editing by Jeffrey Hodgson and Jonathan Oatis)