Nfld. & Labrador

E-learning company gets $3.5 million to set up in N.L.

An Ontario-based e-learning company will set up shop in Newfoundland and Labrador after getting a $3.5-million forgivable loan from the provincial government.

Provincial business attraction fund provides Desire2Learn with a forgivable loan to create 35 jobs over 5 years

John Baker is president and CEO of Desire2Learn, which will set up shop in Newfoundland and Labrador after receiving a $3.5-million forgivable loan from the provincial government. (CBC)

An Ontario-based e-learning company will set up shop in Newfoundland and Labrador after getting a $3.5-million forgivable loan from the provincial government.

Desire2Learn expects to create 35 jobs in the province over the next five years.

The company currently employs 560 people worldwide, and has operations in the United States, Europe, Brazil, Australia and Singapore.

"We’re trying to build a company that's really trying to transform the way the world learns," Desire2Learn president and CEO John Baker said.

"And to get the support of the community here, both on the business side, the academic and government [sides], is an incredible start for us to build a great company here in Newfoundland."

The loan is forgivable. That means it doesn't have to be repaid if the company meets a series of targets set by the government.

Desire2Learn will be hiring for an array of positions, Baker told CBC News.

"We’re hoping for a lot of research and development," he said. "Service support, business development, marketing, sales — basically, any kind of role that we have in the organization, we’re making available here."

The company plans to open an office in St. John’s, Baker said, but employees will be able to work from anywhere in the province.

He said the courtship process between Desire2Learn and the government lasted more than three years.

Baker, who grew up in Wesleyville, said he hopes people living in small towns can use the company's technology to study while staying at home: "Get the best of education delivered to you wherever you are, on whatever device you might be using, and really have a positive impact on your life."

Desire2Learn has a client base numbering in the hundreds, including Memorial University and College of the North Atlantic.

Other educational institutions availing of the company's services include Michigan State University, Ohio State University, and Nottingham Trent University.

The firm's e-learning solutions are provided to eight million people worldwide, according to a government press release.

‘Exciting’ announcement

Innovation Minister Keith Hutchings called the deal an "exciting" one, noting that Desire2Learn is well-financed and will help the local industry grow.

"The company did recognize this is a growing community, in terms of the business sector," Hutchings said.

Innovation Minister Keith Hutchings is in charge of the department that administers the business attraction fund. (CBC)

"They like the business environment. They like what’s happening in Newfoundland and Labrador."

Desire2Learn raised $80 million in venture capital funding earlier this year.

The forgivable loan will come from the provincial government’s business attraction fund.

That fund hit the spotlight earlier this year, in the wake of a CBC News investigation which found that more than $20 million spent on business-attraction efforts netted just dozens of jobs in return.

That $20-million figure included grants, loans and the direct costs of business-attraction initiatives.

Taxpayers fronted another $16 million for executive and support services in the now-defunct department whose main job was attracting outside investment to the province.

The numbers encompassed an eight-year period up to the end of 2011.

Last year, the business-attraction fund went largely unused — 98.5 per cent of allocated funds were not spent.

The Desire2Learn announcement was the first for the fund this fiscal year, which began six months ago.

The overall pot of money available was slashed nearly in half this year, to $15.5 million.