Espresso Education, the online multimedia curriculum service that most UK primary schools subscribe to, is seeking new development capital to attract fresh funding for Espresso's continued push into secondary schools and international markets (it already provides a service for Swedish schools,).Chief executive Lewis Bronze, the former BBC Blue Peter editor who co-founded the company, is upbeat about the move: “This is a highly positive development in the company’s evolution and I am fully committed to driving it forward, and key to that is getting the right partner. We have a unique service and we want to take the company to more places around the world.”
A recent report in the Independent on Sunday newspaper tipped Pearson as a likely buyer, but the options are open, and a number of potential investors are being contacted by PricewaterhouseCoopers, who have been engaged by Espresso. Lewis Bronze co-founded the company 12 years ago and has been a driving force behind its success which has seen it grow from a firm which, pre-broadband, pioneered the delivery of digital multimedia learning materials to schools via a satellite service. The path to broadband networks was lined with many incremental, innovative steps, and Espresso was at the forefront of the use of "cache servers" in schools to help with bandwidth issues, something that was then taken up by government ICT agency Becta.
Now Espresso is a key digital provider in primary education and is already growing a niche in secondary schools for the ClipBank service which came from its involvement with, and acquisition of, 4Learning from Channel 4. It has won multiple BETT Awards (one this year for early years) and others from Bafta, the Royal Television Society, European Seal of excellence and ERA.
Success is not the issue for Espresso - it already has a strong measure of that; what the company requires is the ability to expand sufficiently quickly while the opportunities are available. And the key opportunity, despite the credit crunch, is international expansion.
"We think for a number of reasons there is a huge opportunity for Espresso abroad," says Lewis Bronze. "Whenever we go to international conferences in major countries like America it is quite clear that there is nothing else like Espresso out there. Britain clearly leads the world, especially in primary schools, in terms of its integration of ICT into teaching and learning. We’re ahead, in my opinion, of countries like Australia, the States and Canada and they can learn from us but they are going to be following along - so what we were doing three and four years ago they are doing now".
In reality Espresso is already expanding to other countries. It runs a service for Swedish schools in partnership with Liber (a sister company to Nelson Thornes, and part of the Infinitas Learning group). The classroom materials are created by the Espresso team (including Swedish producers) in Hammersmith, London, while the sales and marketing is based in Sweden. However, to continue the international push without investment would be a very slow process, hence the courting of new investors.