THE rapidly-growing digital learning company founded by former AFC Bournemouth chairman Peter Phillips has been sold to a software group.

Mr Phillips remains managing director of Unicorn Training under the deal, which also sees him take personal ownership of the games developer Amuzo.

Bournemouth-based Unicorn was founded more than 30 years ago in a spare room, using an Amstrad computer to provide training programmes on floppy disks for the financial services sector.

In recent years, it has pursued a high-growth strategy and was expected to turn over £11m in its most recent financial year.

Mr Phillips said education technology, or “edtech”, was a “hot topic” currently and that the deal with Access Group made sense.

He told the Daily Echo: “We’re very much a specialist in financial services. That’s where our expertise lies and where we have products that are applicable beyond that sector. They have strengths in half a dozen very different sectors and we think, and they think, they can bring the two together.”

He had hired Grant Thornton to value the business after a series of approaches from private equity firms. The process led to around 15 bids for the company.

“Of those 15 or so, we declined 13 because essentially they were private equity investors looking for short term gain and that wasn’t of any interest to us,” he said.

He said Access had around 17,000 staff in the UK.

“They’re nice people. They seem to treat their staff in a very similar way to the way we treat ours – the informal, relaxed approach which we like. We try to make it fun to come to work.”

Unicorn bought a 30 per cent stake four years ago in Bournemouth-based Amuzo, whose products include a series of Lego video games and Star Wars Battle Drones. It later acquired a majority stake which has now been taken over by Mr Phillips.

Mr Phillips – who was AFC Bournemouth chairman from 2002-06 –said he would be spending around one day a week at Amuzo but not running it day to day. “It’s a small company and they’ve got really good people running it,” he said.

The sale of Unicorn Training adds its Unicorn Learning Management System to the Access Workspace suite of products. It will enable Access to help organisations with training, governance, risk management and compliance.

Unicorn’s 1,500-plus customers include the UK Finance Association, University of London, Tesco Bank and the Chartered Insurance Institute.

Access chief executive Chris Bayne said: “Digital learning is a rapidly growing market with Europe alone expected to see a compound annual growth rate of approximately 15 per cent between now and 2023. The UK holds an impressive share of this market, which is why we have moved to make these solutions part of Access Workspace.

“We know many of our existing and future clients are coming under increased pressure for training, risk management and compliance, driven by increasing legislation and regulation in their industries. By offering digital learning through the same platform as people use to do their job every day, we believe that uptake will increase and monitoring adherence and completion will become simpler and more cost effective.”