The way learning is delivered is constantly evolving. This evolution has accelerated in recent decades alongside technological advancements, which have opened up a world of possibilities for developing educational resources.
Swansea-based educational technology company CDSM Interactive Solutions has been at the forefront of that change, supporting business and government in providing digital teaching and learning for a broad range of users.
CDSM Interactive Solutions has been supported through the Business Wales Accelerated Growth Programme (AGP). The AGP provides targeted support for ambitious growing firms. The programme is part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund through the Welsh Government.
Here, CDSM's Digital Marketing Manager Joe Diamond recounts the story behind CDSM and shares how the company has overcome obstacles on its path to success.
Tell us about CDSM Interactive Solutions.
It all began in 1998 when Dan and Cathy Sivak, then both college lecturers, saw the potential of emerging digital technologies to deliver distance learning. As a result of feeling constrained by the traditional learning environment, they started building a team of tech experts to realise their vision. From here, CDSM was born.
CDSM has emerged as a disruptor in the learning technology market and has developed a client base across the education, healthcare, and corporate sectors. Our business is all about transforming how organisations develop and deliver learning. We produce fantastic results, and clients talk in glowing terms about the impact we create.
We have 52 employees, and we're continuously growing – we have new team members joining in the next few months.
There are several phases in CDSM's history.
In our first decade, our innovative ideas were ahead of their time – none more so than our 2003 Technology Wales award-winning social networking portal for Swansea University Alumni. This was, in essence, a version of Facebook before Facebook even existed!
The mid-2000s saw the birth of CDSM's first learning platform, My Learning Space, built for several local authorities in the UK.
By the end of the decade, we began working with some major commercial sector customers, most notably Honda Motors Europe. We worked with Honda for five successful years, and it culminated in us winning a Learning Technology award in 2014 for the European Sales and Service Online learning programme we designed. This programme delivered critical new skills and knowledge to 10,000 Honda employees across Europe and continues to be something we are immensely proud of.
In 2013, we released the first version of a completely new learning management system called Thinqi. This development was a game-changer for us. It was a new, dynamic, efficient and responsive technology that enabled both organisational and educational transformation.
Then, in 2014, we won the right to supply and deliver the Welsh Government's Hwb Learning Platform for all of Wales' 1,500 schools. This work was a huge success, and we have just secured a new five-year contract with Welsh Government. This will now enable us to continue developing and delivering Hwb for schools all over Wales.
Three years ago, we won the right to supply and deliver our learning platform to the Egyptian Ministry of Education for some 50,000 primary and secondary schools. This may well be the most comprehensive national implementation of a learning management system anywhere in the world. We are now proud to support more than 20 million students and teachers with access to Thinqi.com.
Our success continues to attract talented staff drawn to our positive, can-do culture and our passion for providing innovative solutions to our clients' problems.
What are your proudest moments in business so far?
That has to be seeing the value that Thinqi.com brings to educational achievement and attainment for young people and children. In both Wales (Hwb) and Egypt (EKB), we continue to provide children and young people with access to high quality online, digital education-provision.
Despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have scaled Thinqi.com to meet the enormous demand. Students who came to rely on our technology can continue their personal and academic development, wherever they are. That's very special indeed, knowing that our technology has such a significant impact on so many lives.
Our mission has always been to improve the life chances of young people by providing equal access to high-quality learning opportunities and experiences.
What challenges have you faced in business?
As is the case for many businesses, the pandemic has posed its own challenges. We've quickly had to adapt by shifting the way we work and changing how we communicate internally and with our clients.
Despite this, we've managed to overcome these difficulties and have come through the crisis more robust and ready for further expansion.
If you were starting again, what would you do differently?
This business was born in response to the frustrations of our founders' day jobs. With the quality of business support available in Wales now, exit strategies from careers and into full-time entrepreneurship can be far less fraught and 'messy' than when our founders were starting out.
These days, through programmes such as the AGP, support is now available for people with a clear business plan, vision and passion. It means entrepreneurs can focus on building their business with expert support, enabling them to reach key milestones and achieve success more quickly.
We wish support like this had been available when we were starting out!
How has support from Business Wales AGP helped your business?
The Business Wales AGP programme has been vital in supporting us as we've taken on new staff and expanded the business. We also had access to Job Growth Wales, which allowed us to employ talented young people embarking on their tech careers.
Having access to support from the AGP has been hugely beneficial, providing us with the right support and encouragement to grow and create jobs.
What advice and guidance would you give other businesses starting out?
● Read the instructions! Get a mentor that has taken the journey and has the experience of setting up and running a similar business.
● Develop the plan first. It costs very little but can save you a fortune in the long run. Ensure you do as much research as you possibly can.
● Take advantage of the programmatic support available through Welsh Government funding, expertise and technology.
● Don't fear debt. Interest rates are low, and as long as the plan accounts for it, debt is nothing to fear.
● Finally, don't expect to sleep much!
To learn more about CDSM Interactive Solutions, visit here.