Promethean to press ahead with £500m IPO plan

Plans unchanged despite other groups blaming poor markets for pulled deals
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The Independent Online

Promethean, the education business, will this week unveil plans for a stock-market flotation that will value the company at as much as £500m.

The announcement, which could come as early as today, will give some comfort to new-issue specialists, who were rocked last week by the decision of three large companies to postpone plans for flotations amid nervousness about stock-market conditions and investor appetite.

Promethean, which is one of two companies that dominate the worldwide market for the interactive whiteboards now commonly installed in British school classrooms, has been working hard on its flotation plans, but might have been expected to delay the formal announcement of its initial public offering (IPO), following last week's moves by New Look, Merlin Entertainments and Travelport to step back from their stock-market launches. Like last week's businesses, a significant chunk of Promethean is owned by private equity, with Apax Partners having taken a 25 per cent stake in the company in 2004, eight years after it was founded.

However, Apax is thought to be relaxed about the prospects for a successful flotation of the business, which would enable it to realise the value of its entire stake. Crucially, Promethean is a profitable business – it made £26m in 2008, the last year for which figures have been published – that is free of the debt some other companies proceeding to flotation have been saddled with.

Investors' appetite is also likely to be whetted by the growth prospects for the business. The UK has been an early adopter of interactive whiteboard technology, with around 70 per cent of British classrooms now equipped with the devices. Other countries, however, now seem to be copying the UK example, with Promethean having just enjoyed a breakthrough year in North America and building a presence in a string of European countries, as well as the Far East.

Promethean has also developed a number of handheld devices for children which have proved increasingly popular with teachers. A third strand to the product line is Promethean Planet, an online community that enables teachers from around the world to communicate on topics such as lesson plans.

Tony Cann, the business's founder, still owns a 50 per cent stake in Promethean, though it is now chaired by Graham Howe, one of the founders of the mobile-phone giant Orange. Its chief executive, Jean-Yves Charlier, is a former CEO of Colt Telecom.

Despite having taken positive soundings from investors, Promethean and its advisers, Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan Cazenove, will need to keep their nerve in order to get the flotation away. In addition to the three high-profile cases of last week, up to 10 companies are thought to have put IPO plans on hold in recent weeks, such is the nervousness about the fragility of investors' confidence.