Small Talk: Dot.com star's new venture seeks cash for growth

AIM indices; Easier promise; Table Mountain; Ki-Bi cards
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The Independent Online

Peter Maclean, one of the stars of the dot.com years, is hoping to recreate the growth of his old company, Guardian iT, with a new venture listing on Ofex next month.

Peter Maclean, one of the stars of the dot.com years, is hoping to recreate the growth of his old company, Guardian iT, with a new venture listing on Ofex next month.

He has returned to the City to raise cash for his new company, Impera - which, like Guardian iT, specialises in the back-up and recovery of computer data. The idea is that Impera's corporate customers have an automatic copy of all their important data on Impera's servers, should anything disastrous happen to theirs.

Mr Maclean established Impera in 2002, just three months after Guardian iT was acquired by the US rival Sungard. It wasn't a particularly happy ending, you will recall, since the company had issued a string of profits warnings and admitted that earlier accounts had been mis-stated. But in the fundraising prospectus for Impera, Mr Maclean is keen to remind investors that over the preceding decade he had built Guardian iT from a small company with less than £500,000 in turnover to one boasting sales of £110m from 12 countries. Many senior managers from Guardian iT have followed Mr Maclean to his new venture.

Impera has 90 customers of its own now, made £234,000 of sales in 2004 and is already certain of beating that this year. Mr Maclean said: "Joining Ofex at this stage in our development will give the group a much improved corporate profile."

The plan is to raise £750,000 for Impera at a share price of 133p, valuing the company at £2.25m and giving it the working capital to expand its services from Windows to other operating systems, and from corporate networks into personal computers and laptops. Mr Maclean has promised not to sell his shares for two years.

AIM indices

With some 1,143 companies on AIM as of last week, investors are looking for new ways of slicing and dicing the market. Which is why FTSE, the index group, is working on a range of new indices, including ones to measure the progress of the bigger companies on AIM or of companies in particular industries. The most interesting is a possible index of the companies in which venture capital trusts are allowed to invest, which excludes the currently booming mining sector. It will make for a much more robust way of measuring just how much money people are making or losing on AIM, and provide us with information to judge whether we are already in bubble territory. And if there is an index, you can have a tracker fund. It is all part of AIM's coming of age.

Easier promise

It is two months since Small Talk revealed that £5.4m had gone missing at Easier, a cash shell delisted last year which had not communicated with its hundreds of shareholders since.

Today, a new promise from the company spokesman: "The 2003 accounts have been signed off by the auditors and are with the company's lawyers. They will be mailed to shareholders within 10 days."

Shareholders will believe it when they see it, since our original piece in February also included a promise to publish within a fortnight. There has been a pattern of stalling at Easier and at the linked company, Boustead, which is also controlled by the private equity firm Fulton Partners. Boustead, another shell, is missing £2.6m.

Boustead's auditor, Kingston Smith, is still awaiting a meeting with Sir Thomas Macpherson, the chairman. They have been in dispute since February, with Boustead demanding their resignation and Kingston Smith arguing that that wouldn't be in shareholders' interests until the money has been accounted for. Meanwhile, Boustead shares are suspended, its shareholders locked in and short of information. The company should not be able to follow Easier in disappearing without trace.

Table Mountain

Trading starts today in the shares of Table Mountain Minerals, a cash shell pursuing investments in South Africa's KwaZulu-Natal region. Its board includes two members of parliament from Inkatha, the region's dominant political party.

The interest from an investment point of view is that the float is not structured to give the founders an instant paper profit, like many shells. None has put in cash at a lower level than the investors coming aboard for the float, and the float price is being set at the cash value of the company. "This is not a Phil Edmonds company," says Table Mountain's chairman, Adam Reynolds, in a sideswipe at the former England cricketer behind White Nile, the year's most controversial cash shell.

Ki-Bi cards

These are Ki-Bi cards, and they are a good little gimmick. Like those birthday cards that sing when you open them, the Ki-Bi card plays a little tune when pressed. If you play them down your mobile phone to a special computer, it can recognise the tune and send you a new ringtone, game, video clip, wallpaper or whatever. It's more fun than simply texting a code you've seen in a TV commercial or got from a magazine ad, and the company behind it hopes phone companies and other mobile content providers will use them as a way of marketing their wares. Ki-Bi sells the cards for a couple of pounds apiece, and gets a cut of whatever content the user buys. Fund managers have seen some enormous sales forecasts, and are sceptical because this a very early-stage venture. Even so, Collins Stewart is trying to raise £10m for Ki-Bi in a flotation that will value it at £25m. It is pointing to fast-growing companies like Monstermob and Stream as comparators, although, unlike Ki-Bi, these firms produce their own content.

Ehud Levy, Ki-Bi's chief executive, is the man with the fan, pictured with Eli Gendler, the finance director.

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