i3-Group… all back in the family

i3-Group, the manufacturer of ergonomic, school furniture and digital school boards (formerly Vanerum) has taken charge of its own destiny. CEO, Gert Van Erum, has acquired the shares of financial investor Sofindev, putting the firm entirely back in the hands of the family. “Our business model has changed enormously over the last few years,” says Gert Van Erum. “Our priority is to further strengthen our leading position as a global, technology manufacturer for education and corporate markets—where we are rapidly expanding our market share—and that means being able to assume full control of our strategy and execution.”

The i3-Group has a rich history. The father of current CEO Gert Van Erum started the business in 1968 by importing traditional school boards. “Since the company was founded, our product offering has been continually evolving in parallel with educational needs—staring from the production of blackboards and furniture and expanding digital interactive displays and e-learning tools” Gert Van Erum explains. Under the umbrella of our internal Solutions division, we enjoyed rapid growth from 2002 onwards, and venture capitalist Sofindev teamed up with the i3-Group in 2012 to support that growth even further.”

The birth of the i3-Technologies brand: Market conditions then changed…“Over the last 5 years, market conditions have forced us the adapt our strategy. Prior to 2012, we invested heavily in the internationalisation of our Solutions division but (in the aftermath of the financial crisis) experienced some challenging times. Governments around the world came under pressure to reduce education budgets, ,” Van Erum recalls. During the same time period, various technology innovations arose and, “Our suppliers had difficulties keeping up with the rapid changes taking place within the sector,” Van Erum continues. “and their products no longer met the demands of the market.

Responding to these changes in the market, we took the drastic decision to launch our own technology brand to better meet customer needs. The decision involved major changes,  investments, and re-organisation. Examples included making our production units more efficient and flexible, and selling off a number of departments—such as the sale of our Danish subsidiary, SIS to Lekolar, a market leader in school supplies in Scandinavia, that concluded this month.”

New success story

“We are no longer the same company than 5 years ago,” says Van Erum. “Sofindev was alreay 5 years on board, and helped guide us through the changes, that we think are now concluded with the sale of SIS. Together with Sofindev, we thought it was the right time to adapt ownership to this new situation. This has lead to me purchasing the Sofindev stake, which makes me 100% shareholder. It’s now up to us to make a success of our new strategy and I’m certain we’ve made the right decision and our technology division has grown to become the most important part of our company. Our investment is bearing fruit and maintaining the Group’s turnover reasonably constant. In 2018, we aim to achieve a turnover of 30 million Euros in our technologgy division alone, in whhich we have experienced terrific growth over the last five months, up to 100% month over month.  We are active in more than 70 countries worldwide already, and our ambition is to become a real global player. Thanks to our dramatic evolution towards technology, we are now on the right path and undisputedly more a technology manufacturer than a furniture maker. All that that is left is for our results to follow the same trend.”