Carlyle Cardinal Ireland, a fund established by private equity behemoth The Carlyle Group, has drafted in advisors to explore a sale of its stake in Irish e-training provider Learning Pool, EducationInvestor Global can reveal.

This publication has learnt that Baird, the mid-market investment bank, and Beltrae Partners, an independent corporate finance advisor based in Ireland, have been handed a joint mandate to find a buyer for Learning Pool.

Based in Derry, Learning Pool is an online training provider with more than 1,100 customers worldwide and more than five million ‘active learners’. The company sells e-learning courses to organisations including Dell, KPMG, HSBC and AstraZeneca, manufacturer of the eponymous vaccine against Covid-19 developed in collaboration with Oxford University.

Baird will leverage its extensive network of investors in the US, where the bank is rooted, while Beltrae Partners will identify suitors closer to home in Europe, it is understood. A competitive auction is slated to launch in the coming months.

Beltrae Partners has links with Learning Pool’s management team, led by Paul McElvaney, group chief executive and founder. David McCloy, one of Beltrae Partners’ directors, has advised Learning Pool on “several acquisitions”, according to his online profile.

Learning Pool is being prepared for market at the same time as Shaw Academy, another Ireland-based e-learning provider, whose co-founders last month selected GP Bullhound, a boutique investment bank, to steer a sale.

Carlyle Cardinal Ireland – a €300 million fund co-managed by The Carlyle Group and Cardinal Capital, an Irish asset manager – invested in Learning Pool in May 2016, when it bankrolled a management buyout led by McElvaney.

Since Carlyle Cardinal Ireland’s capital injection, Learning Pool has made several acquisitions.

In December, the group acquired US-based Remote Learner, a learning management system provider (Beltrae Partners’ McCloy advised on this transaction). In June 2019, Learning Pool bought e-learning company HT2 Labs. This followed earlier acquisitions of Mind Click and MediaCorp, both of which are based in the UK.

In the year ended 30 April 2020, Learning Pool booked revenues of £18.1 million – up 32% year-over-year. The firm said that 18% of growth was organic, while its takeover of HT2 Labs provided the remaining 14%.

One advisor told this publication that he expected bankers to calculate an enterprise value for Learning Pool based on a multiple of its revenue, rather than profits, “given their focus” on selling software-as-a-service.

The advisor said that three-to-four-times revenues could be targeted, indicating a value of £50-£75 million, based on Learning Pool’s 2020 financials – perhaps higher, if 2021 growth forecasts are met.

Learning Pool noted that it had not utilised the UK government’s furlough scheme, rolled out in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, and had taken on 18 new members of staff.

“We expect to continue to grow in FY21 as customers accelerate their search for online solutions to keep their workforce safe and well informed,” the group said in a statement.

Baird declined to comment when contacted by this publication.

Beltrae Partners and Cardinal Capital had not responded to requests for comment at the time of publication.

Date published: 9 February 2021

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