Deal Snapshot: ISSA

ISSA (International Sports Science Association) is the premier eLearning and certification platform for the global fitness and wellness sectors. Harris Williams recently advised ISSA on its sale to private equity firm Tailwind Capital.

Here, members of both our Technology and Consumer Groups discuss what makes eLearning and certification ripe for investment. They focus on why fitness and wellness are compelling sectors of this industry and what made ISSA an attractive investment. They also explore what other buyers should know about this space.

What is appealing to buyers about eLearning and certifications, especially in the fitness and wellness sectors?

Hendler: People are trying to find better health through fitness and wellness—both at the individual level and in the institutional market. Health plans and large employers are recognizing the value of having healthier members or employees beyond the benefits of lower costs. They’re realizing how better health outcomes can improve productivity, satisfaction, and loyalty. As a result, we are seeing organizations more proactively support their employees’ wellness through financial incentives and subsidized fitness and wellness programs. This trend has accelerated a shift towards personalized coaching, thereby creating significant demand for certified fitness and wellness professionals.

Leed: Within professional education, eLearning has been rapidly growing for years because of the inherent benefits over in-person learning, including cost, convenience, and flexibility. However, as the past year proved how much people and businesses can accomplish remotely, the broader eLearning industry’s trajectory accelerated. Essentially, COVID-19 validated the power of all things remote, including virtual training and continuing education. The pandemic amplified the industry’s growth, and we expect the opportunity to last. Additionally, many employers often require and pay for continuing education and professional certifications, which helps make this a recession-resilient business.

England: We continue to see tremendous opportunity for companies that provide eLearning and certifications. They can help professionals advance their careers and consumers enhance their knowledge and pursue their passion for fitness and wellness. The current fitness-certification market is expected to continue its long-term historical growth trajectory and is projected to reach ~$340M by 2024. Continued industry turnover is a key driver of the ongoing market opportunity. Each year, approximately 30–40% of fitness professionals typically leave the market while an even larger cohort enters.1 This dynamic creates a significant opportunity for businesses to target a wide funnel of both new and existing professionals and prosumers. As a result, we are seeing meaningful sector interest and activity.

What makes ISSA a particularly attractive asset?

Hendler: Over its 30-year history, ISSA has built a strong reputation among the most sophisticated fitness-content consumers—and leveraged that standing into a powerful market position. In fact, ISSA has the highest brand recognition among fitness pros.2 Gym operators also respect ISSA for its strong reputation, vast offerings, and flexible service model. To date, ISSA has trained more than 300,000 students and placed personal trainers in over 140 countries.3 The company did so while developing greater access to opportunities that promote a healthier world.

England: In addition to its brand value, ISSA has built an impressive community and catalog of courses. The content is 100% digital, so customers can complete courses and exams at their own pace. This flexibility makes learning more about wellness and advancing careers easy for both current and aspiring fitness professionals.

Leed: Unlike many competitors, ISSA allows users to earn a certification and continue taking classes to advance their knowledge. As a result, customers can engage longer with the company instead of using it as a one-time certification tool. ISSA’s focus on community and content meets the consumer’s needs wherever they are in their own educational journey. This relationship increases the likelihood that customers will continue to purchase courses.

What should other prospective buyers know about this space?

England: The same traits that matter for eLearning and certification as a whole apply to the fitness and wellness education sector. Buyers should prioritize companies that have an entrenched position in the market due to their value proposition and differentiation. They should also have a wide and current library, and offer evergreen and on-trend certifications. The goal is to keep professionals and consumers coming back for more content, rather than receiving one certification and simply re-certifying.

Hendler: Competitive, audience-aware pricing models are also critically important. An aspiring fitness professional may need to span payments out over months, whereas a large corporate buyer has different financial needs. The companies with the greatest potential also have global reach, strong infrastructures, and quality learning management systems. 

In addition to eLearning and certifications, the Harris Williams Technology and Consumer Groups cover a wide range of fast-growing subsectors. Contact our senior bankers to learn more.

Select Recent Harris Williams Transactions

1. ISSA Market Study, Executive Summary, p. 14
2. ISSA Market Study, Executive Summary, p. 14
3. ISSA Confidential Information Memorandum, p. 19 and p. 34
Published May 2021
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