Gaming float marks return of the retail punter

Small Companies Notebook
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The Independent Online

Investors with a gambling streak are being invited to buy into a new internet betting exchange to rival the controversial Betfair.

Investors with a gambling streak are being invited to buy into a new internet betting exchange to rival the controversial Betfair.

The fundraising for Gaming Bourse, which is expected to be launched today, marks the first time since the end of the bear market when a substantial flotation has been opened up to retail investors. The company hopes to attract extra interest by offering free wagers worth up to 10 per cent of a shareholder's investment.

Seymour Pierce, the broker running the "offer for subscription", hopes it can raise up to £5m.

Betfair, the internet betting exchange, has revolutionised the world of gambling by allowing punters to wager on horses not winning. It has attracted brickbats amid suggestions that it encourages race-fixing, since punters can reap big winnings if a jockey throws a race. Exchanges have also attracted the attention of the Chancellor, Gordon Brown, who is examining whether large operators are using them to get around betting taxes.

None of which has deterred Hamish Raw, the former options trader who went on to set up FfastFill, a company making software that allows trading on electronic exchanges. He is the man behind Gaming Bourse, which plans to go live next month.

InVu outlook bright

The recently floated InVu looks like it should have a good year. The company makes document management software, useful for keeping track of everything that arrives on your desk: paper, e-mails, web pages, faxes and electronic files. The software scans, imports, stores, routes and retrieves instantly all of these different types of data. The key issue for this company is how its products are distributed, and it has signed up 100 good quality re-sellers, who can get the InVu product range out to small and medium-sized businesses. The best so far, Nasdaq-listed Ikon, has 30 offices in the UK and gives InVu access to up to 40,000 customers, but there ought to be another of these "super re-sellers" coming on board within the next few months.

Good run for Mice

See what you think this morning of results from Mice, a little advertising group which has managed to keep sales rising throughout the downturn. The company runs "face-to-face" marketing campaigns, which usually means putting on trade exhibitions, pushing O 2, Vodafone and Motorola products, for example, to the likes of Carphone Warehouse. It can also mean setting up the West Ham football club museum or designing Bang & Olufsen stores. In the year to February, turnover ought to have risen £30m to £150m and profits by £1m to almost £8m, and if other advertising groups' comments are anything to go by, the outlook should be pretty positive.

Maiden bloom at j4b

Why has Royal Bank of Scotland been having difficulty making inroads into the vibrant Asian community of Southall in west London, which has seemed a little resistant to its financial products and services?

This is just one of the fascinating market research issues to have been tackled in recent months by j4b, an Ofex-listed information publishing and research group whose other customers have included the Home Office, FedEx, Royal & SunAlliance and the Iceland supermarket chain.

Results from j4b this morning should show a maiden full-year profit. The highlight is likely to be news that existing customers are signing up for repeat business.

India calling

With a new Congress Party government likely to soften rather than reverse India's economic reforms, the remorseless transfer of outsourcing to the country is sure to continue.

One of the shining examples of the trend is Goldshield, the distributor of drugs and vitamins which fell on hard times when the Serious Fraud Office launched an investigation into price fixing.

The company is practically an Indian company now, with most of its admin and all its call centres there. All of which shows a new focus on efficiency that was sadly lacking while the group was expanding at breakneck speed.

Not so Advanced

Plans for a reverse takeover at Advanced Power Components have been put on hold, we hear.

The company, which was a private punters' favourite during the tech boom, has long since sold its telecoms business to switch its focus back to its historic electronic components distribution business. It has been bulking up in this area through acquisitions over recent months.

Trading is still difficult - some in the market are already fretting that this month's interims will include a profit warning - but the company is growing more optimistic on its longer-term prospects.

It has found the confidence to go after a target so large that any deal would amount to a reverse takeover of APC, which is worth just £3.6m these days. But a final decision, which had looked imminent, is now dependent on the target company winning an important bit of business.

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