How much do you know about innovative Atlantic Canadian entrepreneurs? This article is part of a special feature showcasing exciting initiatives occurring in Atlantic Canada’s innovation ecosystem. Here, we will introduce you to the success of innovative men and women across the region that are making an impact on the economy. This special feature is sponsored by the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency.
It was 2010 and Jim Fitt didn’t want his Nova Scotia-based education and training company Velsoft to go the way of the “buggy whip,” which became outmoded with the advent of the automobile.
Fitt, who co-founded the company in 1996, had built a successful business providing companies, governments and organizations with a suite of course material for employee training purposes.
After nearly 15 years in business, though, he decided to take stock of where the company was heading and wanted to avoid the fate of a buggy-whip company that couldn’t change with the times.
“This company very quickly died a painful death because they never saw themselves as a transportation company, they were a buggy-whip company,” he says. “So what I didn’t want to do is [become] the educational version of the buggy whip. In 2010 I did what many CEOs do and sat back and asked, ‘where’s industry going?’ I just took some time to try to figure out, ‘are we relevant?’ ”
In the course of his research, Fitt came upon statistical projections which showed that 50 per cent of the organized training courses would take place online by 2019.
“I thought, ‘I’m not on a path to be part of that.’ So [we] began the planning and the shift in our organization, which took us from what used to be called a ‘courseware company’ to be a software company. We provided educational training materials but we evolved into an educational technologies company.”
Velsoft still produces educational material that can be used by consultants and HR professionals who conduct face-to-face training in the workplaces. The company still offers 450 educational software packages that are the basis for in-house programs like language training, leadership development and conflict resolution.
But Fitt nonetheless knew they had to develop a new book of business based on where the industry was heading.
We had to stay relevant, and go where the world was going,” he said. “And the world was going online. They were taking education online and we saw that…We made the move.”
But the move was going to prove costly, which ultimately led to an innovation that Fitt says positions Velsoft to be an industry leader worldwide.
“How do we get all of this content into [an e-learning platform] without spending hundreds of thousands of dollars of work, assuming we can even find the people that have skills creating e-learning in our own community,” he said. “We had a major problem, but we envisioned a solution that was innovative, a solution that was not out there.”
They developed a plan for that solution and pitched the idea to the Innovacorp competition in 2013, and the company finished in second place.
“That plan caught the attention of the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA) and they said that is the type of thinking that we need to have in Atlantic Canada,” says Fitt. “[They asked us], ‘What would you need to support it?’
With ACOA funding, they brought in eight programmers and instructional designers, and another 12 or so people provided support to develop the solution, which involved developing software that would reduce the time it took to translate an hour of a standard training program into an online one from 200 hours to one.
“They gave us the funding to hire the people we needed to do the research, and we built it…We would not be where we are without ACOA,” he says.
The company has since landed large clients like Amazon and Dell and has tripled in size since they got into e-learning and started marketing the new software.
They’ve also developed a third component of their business – the custom development of e-learning programs – that Fitt says is a direct result of their move into e-learning. He’s especially pleased with one high-profile partnership they’ve struck with Beyonce’s father, Mathew Knowles.
Velsoft has partnered with his Knowles Institute on creating online business courses for people in the music industry. “He’s been to New Glasgow [to work with us],” Fitt is proud to say.
He’s now working on other projects with Knowles.
These new opportunities have grown the company from 10 employees in 2010 to nearly 30. Velsoft is still headquartered in New Glasgow, but it now has offices in Halifax, the UK, South Africa and Guatemala.
Fitt attributes this growth to the decision to enter what has now become a $200-billion global industry and become one its leading players.
“It’s opened up lots of opportunities to work on projects that never would have been available to us before,” says Fitt.