Anthology to acquire Blackboard, creating large private equity-owned company spanning ed tech markets

Dive Brief:

  • Anthology, a relatively new higher education software and services company, is acquiring Blackboard, long one of the most prominent companies in the educational technology space.
  • Executives believe the deal, which was announced Monday and is expected to close by the end of the year, will allow the combined company to offer a much broader range of software and services than its competitors.
  • The two companies didn’t share the financial terms of the deal, which they announced as a merger but is effectively structured as an acquisition. Anthology’s chief executive will become CEO of the combined company, and Blackboard’s CEO will depart once the deal closes. One of Anthology’s current owners, private equity firm Veritas Capital, will hold majority ownership after closing, although Blackboard’s majority owner, Providence Equity Partners LLC, will have a minority stake in the combined company.

Dive Insight:

Anthology provides services around enrollment management, student engagement, fundraising and institutional effectiveness. Blackboard sells products including learning management software, student success services and communication tools to higher education institutions, K-12 schools, businesses and governments.

Both companies have been active in the merger and acquisition space for quite some time. Anthology, based in Boca Raton, Florida, was created last year when two private equity firms combined three ed tech companies: Campus Management, Campus Labs and iModules. 

And rumors have long swirled that Reston, Virginia-based Blackboard was up for sale. Reuters reported in 2015 that the company was seeking a transaction valuing it at as much as $3 billion. Blackboard went on to sell its Blackboard Open LMS business in March 2020. It has also been shedding clients in recent years to LMS competitors Canvas and D2L Brightspace, according to an analysis by Phil Hill, partner at ed tech consulting firm MindWires.

The acquisition announced Monday is a higher ed-focused deal that fits with an Anthology goal of building a wide-ranging slate of services for colleges, according to those who monitor and invest in the ed tech space.

Anthology already had products in the student information systems, enterprise resource planning and customer relationship management markets, according to Troy Williams, managing director at Achieve Partners, a private equity firm focused on the future of education and work. That means it operated in three of four core software areas. But Achieve had a hole in the LMS space.

“By acquiring Blackboard, they fill the last major piece,” Williams said in an email. Now the company can sell its newly acquired Blackboard products to its existing customers, Williams said. 

Chief executives at the two companies stressed that fit in an interview Monday.

“We have virtually no overlap between the solutions we bring to market,” said Anthology’s CEO, Jim Milton.

The combined company will stand apart from other ed tech providers because it will be able to offer a wider range of products and services, said Blackboard’s CEO, Bill Ballhaus. With many other ed tech providers being single-product or niche companies, “‘all of the above’ is a very focused strategy,” for the combined company, he said.

Executives haven’t decided what branding the combined entity will use. Those details will be worked out during a soon-to-start integration process.

Together, the two companies have more than 4,000 unique customers in over 80 countries around the world, with more than 3,000 in North America, Milton said. They employ about 4,000 people. 

Leeds Equity Partners, another private equity firm that’s a majority owner of Anthology, will hold a minority stake in the combined company, as well. The transaction is subject to closing conditions and regulatory approvals.

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