As we celebrate our 15th birthday, Sponge’s founder and managing director, Louise Pasterfield, reflects on our successes and key landmarks over the past decade and a half. She also outlines Sponge’s ambitions for expansion into Europe and the US. (You can listen to Louise’s inspirational story here).
As Europe’s largest independently-owned custom digital learning provider, we have been at the forefront of using the very latest technology to deliver seriously creative workplace learning for some of the best-known brands and organisations in the world – including Coca Cola, Glaxo SmithKline, Specsavers, Tesco, AstraZeneca, AXA and the NHS.
Sponge started in February 2004 – it was the same month that ‘The Facebook’, as it was then called, was launched at Harvard University by Mark Zuckerberg.
From a small launch team of just a handful of staff, we now employ over 120 people. We’re looking to recruit another 80 plus in 2019. To reflect our growing global position, we refreshed our brand at the start of the year, dropping the ‘UK’ from our name.“I could never have foreseen the success Sponge would have when we set out on this journey,” admitted Louise, “but, for me, there are some key landmarks that demonstrated we were on the path to success. The first was in 2009 when we took on our first global client, the United Nations, based out of New York. This was a momentous win for us proving our digital learning could make a difference on an international scale. When we won the Toyota Europe contract, that further cemented that we were on to something special.”
Sponge is one of the most respected digital learning companies in the industry, winning a total of 18 awards for industry and business excellence, including 13 gold awards in the last 3 years alone. Earlier this year, we were named Learning Provider of the Year by the Learning and Performing Institute (LPI). And, last year, we won Silver in the coveted Learning Technologies Company of the Year category.
“Being named Learning Provider of the Year at the LPI’s Learning Awards was a real personal highlight for me,” said Louise. “I was also incredibly proud when Sponge was listed in the top 50 of the Sunday Times’ ‘100 Best Small Companies to Work For’ in 2016’.”
As well as expanding our Plymouth HQ, we have also opened offices in London, Dublin, Bristol and, most recently, Sheffield. And there are more to come: “Today around 35-40% of our business comes from Europe. By 2020, we plan to have expanded our European footprint to the continent and we’re also exploring the US market,” said Louise.
As part of our expansion strategy, US-born Louise visited New York City as part of the Female Founders’ Mission, an initiative is backed by The British Consulate New York, the Mayor’s International Business Programme and the UK’s Department for International Trade to foster commercial relationships between the UK and US.
15 seismic years of tech innovation
A lot has changed in the world of tech since 2004 and it’s not just revolutionising the way we live. It’s also transforming how people train for their jobs. Louise said: “We’ve seen huge improvements in connectivity and major advancements in technology over the past 15 years. This has driven changes in consumer expectations and experience; just look at how smart devices have changed our working lives and how video is increasingly used to contribute and collaborate. We see these changes in consumer technology and trends playing out in the workplace and in learning.
As an example, at Sponge, we’ve gone from delivering 30 to 60-minute elearning modules, to far more engaging learning that uses games, interactive video and immersive technology such as virtual reality (VR) to deliver seriously creative learning. Who would have imagined, back in 2004, that postmen and women at Royal Mail would be using VR for their dog safety awareness training?”
If harnessing innovative learning technologies has been behind Sponge’s success to date, then, according to Louise, it’s also critical for staying ahead in the future: “Continued investment in research and development is very important to the success of our business and key to identifying areas of growth – both in terms of technology and new markets. We are going to see some exciting developments in AR, VR, robotics and AI in the next few years that are going to change the face of digital learning.”
And, through all the expansion, the ethos of being a company that people want to work for has remained. That’s why, to celebrate our 15th birthday, all 120 Sponge employees were invited to attend a Crystal Maze-style team building challenge, followed by a party in the evening.
Louise said: “It was a fun, action-packed day, and a great way to thank our dedicated and hard-working people for helping us get where we are today.”