A change of direction quickly seemed to yield the desired result. Until corona struck mercilessly and Elphas had to temporarily stand still. Thanks to the COL, the Groningen company now has the wind back in its sails.
The corona crisis has accelerated the world of digital learning and development. The sense of urgency is higher than ever. Antje Meindersma had long been aware of the added value. 'The customer finally understands what we are doing,' smiles the CCO and co-owner of the Groningen-based IT companies Alledaags and Elphas. 'Because of the COL, we can respond to opportunities at the right level. Without the loan, we would not have been able to keep sales and service at the desired level.'
Smarter, better and more fun
How can you use digital tools to make working and learning smarter, better and more fun? With this in mind, Alledaags was founded some nine years ago. Or more precisely, the company started specializing in building websites, applications and platforms that are so user-friendly that you want to use them every day. Success was not long in coming. Shortly after its founding, Alledaags was asked to help with the application Squla, an online play and learning platform for elementary school students. 'Although children already frequently used an IPad, Squla was only available on PC at the time,' says Antje. 'We then made the translation to mobile and developed the first iPad apps. As a result, the popularity of the platform increased rapidly. The great thing is: often children don't even realize that they are actually learning the same thing as in school. But suddenly it's fun and in a recognizable form. I think that this is also the strength of Everyday. We look at how to use technologies like artificial intelligence and big data to best connect with how people work and learn.'
The Squla project immediately put Alledaags firmly on the map. And so, in the period that followed, numerous organizations were provided with smart digital solutions. Well-known regional customers are Basicly, Biblionet and the Hanzehogeschool. Yet a few years ago the decision was made to change course. 'Over the years we had come up with a lot of IT solutions for online education,' Antje explains. 'At the same time, we started to specialize more and more in artificial intelligence. We thought: if we combined all that accumulated knowledge and expertise, we could optimize personal development even further. That eventually resulted in the creation of Elphas, for which we received an investment in 2018. Elphas is a tool with which we use artificial intelligence to improve personal development. Thanks to artificial intelligence, we can, for example, predict the talent and skills of individual employees and then link a personalized learning path to that. Because if you know at what level and at what speed someone is learning, you can also see what learning material best matches that. We had separated Elphas from Everyday, which put us back in a start-up position.
All balls on red
Like Everyday, Elphas got off to a flying start. Interest, national and international, appeared to be high. So nothing was wrong, until corona reared its head. 'With the change of course we had taken quite a risk,' Antje realizes. 'All balls on red, so to speak. We were convinced that Elphas would boom. We were also fully committed to that in terms of investment. There was every reason to do so. We had great clients and at the beginning of last year we also had a number of enthusiastic pilot customers lined up. If they actually joined, we could enter a second round of investments. The crisis put all that on hold. In addition, existing customers indicated that they were forced to temporarily suspend their innovation budgets. Suddenly I found myself with a team that was no longer working for customers. And yes, that makes you very vulnerable as a start-up.'
Indeed, investing in the development of your staff is not a top priority for many organizations in times of crisis. While by corona, it became clear that many suddenly needed to develop other skills, such as working digitally. In education, for example, online learning suddenly became a must for almost everyone. 'Because of the change in direction, however, we had focused mainly on large employers and less on our online education clients,' says Antje. 'I did call them immediately, of course, and successfully set up a kind of IT helpline. Then you roll right back in. So it wasn't like we weren't making money anymore. But before your sales have recovered from the dip, you're a few months down the road.' In short, funding was needed. After all, the bills and salaries had to be paid. Through Techleap, an organization that promotes start-ups, Antje was alerted to the COL. She immediately sought contact with Jeroen van Onna, Investment Manager of NOM. 'He was very firm and helpful,' Antje looks back. 'From that moment on, things went lightning fast.'
The application process was time-consuming, she says. Mostly because she didn't want to leave anything to chance. It had to be right the first time. "In addition to a preliminary discussion with our current investor, I asked for help from fellow entrepreneurs," Antje emphasizes. 'Like: shoot some holes in our future plan. After all, you are often preaching to your own parish. A critical and independent view is more than welcome. Shortly after submitting the application, the COL was granted and paid out fairly quickly. Of course, it speaks for us that we are a start-up with a track record. And because we do all kinds of great jobs with Alledaags, we are not a start-up without cash flow either. Moreover, we already have quite a few years of experience, so we know the ropes. That's another reason why we had everything in order.
The COL brought much to the company. It allowed wages and deferred taxes to be paid and allowed almost everyone to stay on board. But the bridge loan also ensured that Elphas, as mentioned earlier, was able to maintain sales and service levels. 'We are in good shape,' Antje outlines the current state of affairs. 'Not necessarily financially, because that always remains exciting for a start-up, of course. But mainly we are in good shape because I notice that the market is ready for what we do. The crisis has made it clear that you have to be flexible with work and what people can really do. Training and developing personnel is no longer a luxury, but has become a necessity. Everything points to a bright future. It is not that we would have gone bankrupt without the COL. But thanks to the loan we were able to stay on course and are where we are today.'