Acquisitions / Education

Baltimore edtech company eThink Education acquired by publicly-traded leader

The deal brings together two teams with roots in the region's storied edtech community.

Ready to learn. (Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash)

Notable edtech acquisition news came in Monday with a local focus, as Baltimore-based eThink Education, an open source learning management systems provider, will be acquired by London-based Learning Technologies Group (LTG).

Along with a local company being acquired by a publicly traded firm that’s a leader in elearning, it means a pair of edtech teams with Baltimore roots will come together.

The 39 team members of eThink Education will join with Open LMS, which LTG acquired from D.C.-based Blackboard in March and is now operating as a subsidiary. Open LMS was formerly called Moodlerooms. It grew as a Baltimore-based company to acquisition by Blackboard in 2012, and still counts members from the original Moodlerooms team, including Open LMS Managing Director Phillip Miller, as well as employees in the area.

Edtech is an area where Baltimore already has a long legacy of businesses that are recognized in the industry around the nation and world. These two companies point to how Baltimore teams played a key role in a single market.

Coming together under Open LMS, the team of over 140 people will seek to grow in the market for providing learning management systems to educators, corporations and other large organizations that run on the open source Moodle platform.

eThink Education is the market leader when it comes to providers in North America. CEO Brian Carlson said joining forces makes Open LMS the leading provider globally. He also sees an advantage in what they can offer, as each of the businesses brings a unique area where it specializes. Plus, it’ll benefit from the larger LTG group of companies, which has 800 employees working across learning technologies and talent management.

“I’m very impressed with the team that we’re joining and their ability to execute at scale,” Carlson said. “Quite frankly I’ve never seen anything like it in the edtech space.”

The combined businesses also have a total of 1,460 clients, when adding eThink Education’s 325 clients, which reaches 2 million users in 22 countries. LTG also recently acquired Australian company eCreators in September, which joined Open LMS.

Founded in 2008 by Carlson and Cheryl Patsavos, eThink Education offers elearning solutions for running courses and training that use the open source learning management systems Moodle and Totara, as well as corporate-focused platform Moodle Workplace. While the platforms’ code is freely available, additional services can help organizations make these platforms work for their needs. eThink helps organizations set up and optimize these open source platforms, providing cloud-based hosting, management and support. It also offers training on learning management systems, and custom content.

eThink Education is a certified partner with Moodle and Totara, which means it has the open source organizations’ seal of approval as a service provider and works with their communities to continue innovating.

eThink Education's team at Beta City.

eThink Education’s team at Beta City, 2017. ( file photo)

Carlson said the company’s longtime home at local incubator Betamore provided a boost on the local community level, as it made connections and gaining resources at both at its original 1111 Light St. location and at City Garage in Port Covington. It built to a distributed team with growth, and is now fully remote with the pandemic.

A bootstrapped company, Carlson said eThink Education has prioritized growing a culture of team members who are “phenomenally well-versed in what they do and extremely driven for client success.” It’s a methodical approach, where adding each new employee is meaningful not just to indicate the business is in a position to grow, but to ensure it builds a foundation with a strong culture. Carlson said this helped to build a foundation of “quality” for the company. It led to 98% client retention rate, a metric the team is proud of. At the same time, a small business can also benefit from a larger organization’s tools for reach.

“We were growing,” Carlson said, “and doing great work for our clients, but we could do so much more if we could scale.”

The companies plan to integrate eThink as part of Open LMS going forward, a process that is likely to play out over the next six to 12 months. By joining with the Open LMS team, Carlson said the combined teams will be in a position to develop new products and features.

eThink’s cofounders will remain in leadership roles, as Carlson will become head of sales at Open LMS, and Patsavos will become head of customer success.

The deal includes an initial cash consideration of $20 million for eThink, as well as further performance payments, capped at $16 million, for the next three years going forward.

“The pandemic has drastically increased the need for effective online teaching and learning programs for thousands of education institutions and corporations worldwide,” said Miller, the managing director for Open LMS, in a statement. “With the integration of eThink, which is a strong business delivering high levels of growth and profitability alongside peerless customer service, we can further support those who need a fully-functional, open-source solution to manage courses and deliver engaging content experiences at any time and anywhere.”

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