Jongleurs, the comedy venue group that brought through stand up acts such as Eddie Izzard and Peter Kay, is to go public as it looks to convince the City that after a torrid few years, its expansion plans are no joke.
The group confirmed yesterday it was seeking to raise funds in a pre-initial public offering as it looks to resurrect the company's fortunes after regaining control of the brand two years ago.
The company's adviser, Webb Capital, is currently sounding out several private investors to raise £500,000 initially. The company is then expected to list on the Alternative Investment Market within 18 months.
Its chief executive, Maria Kempinska, who also founded the group almost 30 years ago, said: "To keep a hold on all areas of expansion, we need to work with someone who understands our potential. That's why we have approached specific investors. It can be hard for some in the City to understand our business."
Ms Kempinska set up Jongleurs in Battersea in 1983 and said that ever since "there has never been a dull moment". It started as a variety club. "I wanted to be in the theatre. I was around immensely talented people, but they did not have a platform."
She built the venue with her former husband and chairman, John Davy, as the club changed to comedy and saw young talents including Rory Bremner and Harry Enfield on its stages.
Regent Inns bought the group in August 2000 in a deal worth £30m, and Ms Kempinska, along with many of the executives, stayed with the company.
Yet, the parent company ran into trouble and collapsed into administration. The move allowed Ms Kempinska to exercise a right to take back the brand, and essentially start again from scratch.
Regent, which had by then changed its name to Intertain, was forced to remove the Jongleurs branding from its venues. Ms Kempinska set about agreeing franchise deals with Novus Leisure, Momo Leisure and Luminar, and so far has 19 in clubs and theatres across the UK.
"Since regaining control of the Jongleurs brand we have made positive steps in re-establishing the company in the UK's comedy sector," she said.
The company's turnover this year is forecast at £1.9m. In its statement yesterday, Jongleurs predicted that the sum would rise to £10.3m in 2013 and £22.4m the following year. The fund-raising round, which could be extended if the appetite is there, will back the company's expansion drive.
This has included plans to take the franchises to 30 within three years, and the company is currently looking at stand-alone sites in London. There are plans to extend its internet television business, where it can stream performances from stand-ups in the clubs, and increase its "On-the-Road" operation. This provides stand-ups from its 2,000-strong database to other venues, including theatres.
Ms Kempinska also hopes to take the brand international: "Our management team is experienced with huge ambition and we are confident of achieving extraordinary expansion of the business in both the UK and overseas. We are trying to get the Jongleurs brand out there, and the public markets is the best way for us to do that. It is also crucial for us to keep the standard up."
She is confident the re-shaped business will be a success. "The British second language is humour," she said.