Based in St. John’s, Newfoundland, Bluedrop Performance Learning Inc. provides innovative workplace training and simulation software for occupational health and safety organizations, workforce systems, NGOs, the public sector and the aerospace and defence industries. Its SaaS software and services improve organizational and individual performance. We spoke with its founder and CEO Emad Rizkalla.
Bluedrop Performance Learning was originally formed in 1992 as an engineering class project by four Memorial University students. This company quickly became a custom web applications company working with Fortune 100 companies. Bluedrop was a spin out in 2004 from the original company, with a goal to improve human performance via learning technologies. Initially, the company made custom courseware for companies such as Microsoft, Cisco and Pfizer.
“We were successful, but we felt like a very small player in a very crowded piecemeal marketplace… so about five or six years ago we pivoted towards new markets we could lead and where we could solve very complex problems in multi-year, multi-million dollar projects.”
Today the company has two operating subsidiaries with two different focuses in the training industry; Bluedrop Training and Simulation and Bluedrop Learning Networks. The Bluedrop Learning Networks Inc. subsidiary offers efficient workforce development to macro systems such as unemployment systems, international development efforts and occupational health and safety.
“We wanted to help clients streamline, automate and serve more people for less money. Our training platform has created its own product category—we call it: ‘Integrated Skills Management.’ Its goal is to provide training management at the systems level. It delivers and tracks learning for people who work with many employers and receive training from many different providers.”
Integrated Skills Management (ISM) assists clients to modernize training management, allowing them to serve clients more effectively and faster. This is primarily deployed via a Software as a Service (SaaS) model in which the centrally-hosted software is licenced by subscription. A SaaS solution provides the client the opportunity to lower IT support costs. Meanwhile the recurring revenue streams of the subscription model makes this an attractive point for Bluedrop’s investors.
With the combination of the Bluedrop360 learning platform and specially designed Bluedrop content, the company delivers the possibility to provide virtual training services—increasing efficiency and capacity to track and manage training for thousands or even millions of end users.
Bluedrop Learning Networks’ platforms already host over a quarter of a million users in more than one hundred countries. The technology can do anything from managing certifications and safety credentials to assisting the unemployed with skills training. So, to achieve this, the company has brought together personnel from a variety of fields.
“Our success is based on a combination of innovations and people that come from within ‘the system’ as well as those that have nothing to do with the system. The ‘insiders’ provide validation and direction and the ‘outsiders’ dream up new ways of improving outcomes and envisioning new futures.”
For the occupational health and safety (OH&S) industry, workers’ compensation systems can use the Bluedrop360 platform to create a marketplace that allows all course offerings to be published in a central location, enabling employees to find all the OH&S training and information swiftly and easily—no different than, say, the way Expedia.com can be used to find and book rooms with different criteria, in different locations, for select times. Employers and workers alike can track and manage certifications and be notified of upcoming expirations and training. Auditors can also help ensure employer compliance and verify the credentials of people on any job site by scanning a QR code on their mobile phone.
The Bluedrop360 workforce platform permits organizations to assist those looking for jobs in a more effective manner via its automated processes—including online job hunting courseware. Bluedrop’s “Workplace Productivity Certificate” helps the unemployed and existing small business workers with skills training to improve key in-demand job skills. It also simultaneously aids governments, schools and unions to track the apprenticeship processes.
The Government of Nova Scotia is just one such client. In 2012, it launched an online workforce development initiative called SkillsOnlineNS that was designed to uncover skills gaps within the province and then work to solve them. The project was wildly successful and lauded as a sound government investment by the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses.
“It’s not just about learning. The goal is to help clients attain better results—better learning outcomes, better job outcomes and better ability to train more people for the same amount of money.”
The City of Long Beach, California’s Pacific Gateway Workforce Development Board is also launching a Bluedrop system to assist its unemployed in finding jobs. This project will dramatically increase the number of people they can help and reduce the long line ups out the door by providing their clients a way to complete many activities online.
Of Bluedrop’s roughly two hundred employees, the majority work for Bluedrop Training & Simulation (most of them situated in Halifax). Bluedrop Training & Simulation provides custom training services including flight simulation to the Canadian defence and aerospace sectors and companies such as Boeing, Sikorsky, and Lockheed Martin.
The one-of-a-kind Bluedrop facility in Halifax is close to universities, Canadian bases and the Royal Canadian Navy, creating a perfect location to work closely and innovate with the end customers. At its virtual training and simulation centre, the company employs the crucial skill sets of former aircraft maintenance crews, pilots and naval officers.
“We like to be different and differentiated. Part of our success is derived from our location based in the East Coast of Canada. We had to work harder to raise credibility and capital starting out, so we wanted to find greenfield markets where we could become clear thought and market leaders. Being on geographical sidelines, we had no interest in throwing our hat into an overcrowded market.”
The training and simulation subsidiary develops state-of-the-art training systems to train operators of complex equipment as well as those who will maintain it. Last year, Boeing announced that Bluedrop, in a USD$2.3 million deal, would be creating a trainer for the crew in the rear Chinook helicopter.
“If it is successful, then Boeing will help sell this new product for us. It will be featured at a Boeing facility in the US and be sold around the world. Both Boeing and Bluedrop are very excited about this partnership.”
Another recent announcement is the $15 million contract awarded by Fleetway Inc. and Irving Shipbuilding Inc. in Halifax. This world-class shipbuilding and fabrication firm wants Bluedrop to design the simulation and training software for Arctic Offshore Patrol Ships (AOPS).
Irving Shipbuilding President Kevin McCoy said in a statement, “This contract with Bluedrop provides a significant investment in Nova Scotia. By investing here at home, Irving Shipbuilding can help ensure Canadian companies who are engaged in the shipbuilding industry remain competitive for years to come.”
“For the Canadian market, our goal is unambiguous. We aim to be the market leaders for content development and the specialized virtual simulation. We are highly innovative and considered thought leaders. We also have partnerships with those that actually build the aircraft and ships and their components. That gives us a global opportunity.”
Bluedrop has seen an astonishing growth of more than four hundred percent in the past five years and has been listed on the several of the annual Profit 500 lists for the last two years.
“Our strategy to find and define markets we can lead can take a while to achieve results. But for me it’s much better than saying, ‘we’re going to jump into a crowded market and hope to convince clients to switch to an upstart, claiming a better mousetrap.’”
Bluedrop acquired Serebra Learning Corporation (a publically listed provider of learning management services) a few years ago and went public in the process. More recently, it bought Atlantis Systems Corp., builder of aircraft maintenance trainers and flight training devices. Apart from the acquisition of these two complementary firms, the company’s rapid growth has been organic.
“We are not interested in being a follower or a ‘me too’ provider. We choose market areas that are under-serviced and in some cases, we choose markets that our competitors have not even thought of servicing. We already possess a significant head start.”
When Bluedrop went public (TSX-V: BPL) in 2012, it committed to its shareholders at the time that it would aim to build a great global company. Emad explains that it will be built on numbers, news and strategy, not on dreams and hopes.
“We are not a hype company. As a result, for a long while we were a neglected stock—growing quietly under everyone’s noses. Our appeal is really for longer term, more serious investors. We put the vast majority of our energy into making the company real—a relevant market leader in the areas that we’ve selected. I think we have done that.”
It certainly has. For the three months ending March 31, 2016, revenue was $8.4 million, a 57 percent increase over the previous year’s first quarter.
It has taken a while, but investors are finding their way to Bluedrop stock. Over the past year, shares have outperformed the Standard & Poor’s Toronto Stock Exchange by 166.45 percent.
“We haven’t put a lot of energy into telling our story. We put most of our energy into making the story, and now as a result I think we are thriving and posting remarkable growth. I think people are starting to notice the stock as well. I believe we are just getting warmed up.”