Opinion

Happy birthday! AIM’s ten best companies of its two-decade history

12 min read

16 June 2015

Former editor

As London’s Alternative Investment Market (AIM) reaches its 20th birthday, Real Business decided to look back over its eventful history and select the ten businesses we believe show what success can come from listing on the exchange.

When AIM was launched on 19 June 1995 it was done so as a form of experiment – a way of seeing if an easier on ramp to the capital markets could be provided for smaller, but growing, businesses. Since then, 3,000 small and medium-sized firms have decided to call it home, raising somewhere in the region of £24bn during that time.

Regulatory clearance is less than you’d find on the London Main Market, incentivising companies to float earlier rather than feel the need to hammer away using working capital or equity investment. The self-regulated nature of AIM sometimes leads to manipulation by institutional investors, but its flexbile nature has encourage many to see it as a springboard to, or training ground for, a full listing in the future.

There are a few sectors which have thrived over the years. Oil and gas producing companies number 102 of AIM’s 1100 odd listees, with financial services having an identical population. Real estate, construction, equity investment vehicles and the much-maligned cash shells also feature highly.

However, for this feature’s sake, we decided to look at the companies which have become household names. We won’t necessarily be including those with the biggest market capitalisations, or those which have raised the most institutional funds, but those achieving transformative growth.

Some may have left AIM for loftier climes, while others may have been acquired along the way. One thing each has in common is an AIM IPO.

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(1) Domino’s

Sector: Food and drink

List date: 1999

Details: The franchise-based pizza delivery business was founded as a UK operation in 1985 and has grown to a size of nearly 900 locations throughout the UK, Ireland, Germany and Switzerland. Having first joined AIM in 1999 though a partial listing of its shares, the business then transferred to the Main Market on the London Stock Exchange, where it currently resides in the FTSE 250. Final results revealed in February 2015 showed sales of £767m and profit before tax of £54.8m, with 44 new stores opened up during the year preceding.

It’s growth in Germany was fuelled by acquiring a majority stake in the exclusive master franchise to own, operate and franchise in the country. It is a great example of a business which listed on AIM, used institutional funds to expand and then moved up to become a member of the FTSE elite.

(2) ASOS

Sector: Ecommerce

List date: 2001

Details: Long seen as the darling on AIM, the online clothing marketplace was founded by Nick Robertson in 2000 and achieved an IPO a year later. By selling a mix of both own-brand and well-known labels, ASOS has built up a dedicated community of customers, and launched websites targeting other countries such as the US, Australia, France and China.

Many have questioned why ASOS and its management team have not decided to pursue admission to the Main Market, believing its footing there would be more sound for a greater international push. However, its market volatility in recent years, see-sawing from a market capitalisation of £4bn in 2013 to £2bn today, and contentment that big institutional investors are already involved, has meant that ASOS is all to happy to remain where it is.

(3) Mulberry

Sector: Fashion

List date: 1996

Details: A long-standing member of AIM, Mulberry has experienced the kind of roller-coaster ride its home stock exchange also has. Having trundled along as a British company specialising in leather goods, its decision to partner with major names from the world of fashion have thrust it into the big time.

Headquartered in Somerset, the brand has collaborated with the likes of Ann Friel, Lana Del Rey and Alexa Chung, with the latter one producing an iconic bag that was in demand the world over. However, the departure of creative director Emma Hill in 2013 saw the company’s share price nose-dive by eight per cent, highlighting the tempestuous nature of being a listed firm. However, Mulberry remains a household luxury name and is deserving of a place on our list.

(4) Center Parcs

Sector: Travel and leisure

List date: 2003

Details: In a slightly confusing set of affairs, the UK side of Center Parcs was sold to a venture capital firm in 2001, after which the UK resorts business was offloaded to a special vehicle listed on AIM for £285m in 2003. Back then it only had four of its “villages”, in Wiltshire, Suffolk, Cumbria and Nottinghamshire. When it was acquired in 2006 though a take-private deal, it had opened new locations and grown revenues to £113m.

Earlier in June, UK Center Parcs was again sold – this time to a Canadian investment firm for £2.4bbn, bringing value to the £100m upgrade process undertaken by previous owner Blackstone. Center Parcs may have only been on AIM for three short years, but it was a key element in the company’s impressive growth.

(5) Young & Co’s Brew

Sector: Travel and leisure

List date: 2005

Details: As a pub chain with more than 200 locations and a market capitalisation of £533m, Young & Co’s Brew has achieved remarkable growth whilst a constituent of AIM.

Over the last year it has added eight pubs, 76 new hotel rooms, “invested significantly” in its estate, and remained active in the market for further acquisitions of pubs and hotels. Against a backdrop of independent pub closures, Young & Co’s Brew has developed a model for sustained growth in the sector, using AIM as a source for investment finance.

Read more about AIM:

(6) Sportingbet

Sector: Online gaming

List date: 2001

Details: When Sportingbet joined AIM in 2001 it did so by moving from the Ofex market – raising £18m in the process to invest in growing global operations through acquisitions. After nine years on the junior exchange, Sportingbet signified how far it had come by moving to the Main Market.

From £100m in revenues and losses when it listed, Sportingbet used the market to post revenues in the billions, and profit in the millions, before being snapped up by William Hill in 2013. Its former boss, Nigel Payne, has come full circle by announcing that his new online bingo business Stride Gaming will be using AIM to raise a £10m war-chest for acquisitions.

(7) Blinkx

Sector: Online video

List date: 2007

Details: Created by leveraging technology formed at Autonomy, which was sold to Hewlett-Packard for around £7.4bn in 2011, Blinkx is a prime example of a technology business which has used AIM to shine. Led by Suranga Chandratillake until his resignation from the CEO role in 2012, Blinkx was an early mover in the online video space and hit the heady heights of 227p a share in 2013 before increased competition and profit warnings saw it plummet back down to 2010 levels.

All too often technology businesses in the UK have grown by either taking on vast sums of investment from venture capital firms, or sold out to bigger overseas buyers. Blinkx, however, has shown that technology can be built, sold and improved upon while on a junior exchange and serves as a beacon for anyone considering the move.

(8) James Halstead

Sector: Manufacturing

List date: 2002

Details: James Halstead is an example of a business which chose to abandon the pricier, and stricter, Main Market for the smaller company-orientated AIM. Back then it was posting a profit of £5.4m and turnover of £44.9m. Four-fold growth has been secured over 13 years between then and now, showing that companies can grow faster by being listed on the smaller market.

(9) Playtech

Sector: Online gaming

List date: 2006

Details: Founded by enigmatic entrepreneur Teddy Sagi, who has been buying up parts of Camden Town left, right and centre, Playtech was one of the biggest post-bubble tech stock IPOs when it raised £265.2m in 2006.

In July 2012, Playtech moved its listing to the Main Market from AIM, giving it a spot in the FTSE 250 Index. Having used its AIM listing as a way to raise money for numerous acquisitions, Playtech has remained interested in M&A while on the Main Market and has grown steadily to its current share price of over 800p.

(10) Abcam

Sector: Life sciences

List date: 2005

Details: As a business which has been with AIM for half of its lifetime, Abcam is an example of another sector to have flourished on the junior exchange – life sciences. There are now 50 pharmaceutical and biotechnology businesses listed on AIM, often the result of spin-out research from academic institutions.

As something spun out of the University of Cambridge, Abcam markets antibodies via an online catalogue and has used AIM to close a number of important acquisitions to boost growth.

If there are any of your favourite AIM companies that we’ve left off, or if you disagree with any of the choices made, then please let us know in the comment box below.