Online panel and research technology firm Toluna is to be taken private, in a deal valuing the company at £161m ($259m). Toluna's third-largest shareholder, family-owned Belgian company Verlinvest will fund the acquisition from its own assets and has formed a company called ITWP to complete it.
Toluna founder and CEO Frédéric-Charles Petit will become a director of ITWP and will continue to lead the firm's management team. ITWP says it has 'no current intention to change the location of ToLuna Group's places of business' and ToLuna's board is supporting the bid.
Verlinvest first took a stake in ToLuna in support of the Greenfield Online bid in 2009. It currently holds a 14.45% stake, behind Eurovestech, with a 29.5% share, and 29% shareholder Invesco Asset Management Ltd, both of whom support the deal and will keep shareholdings.
The offer price of 320p per share represents a 30.6% premium on ToLuna's closing price on Friday, and comprises 102p in cash, 116 shares of ITWP and 102p in loan notes: shareholders can choose the proportion of each they receive.
Toluna has continued to grow rapidly throughout the downturn and recovery, and seems to have succeeded in assimilating the troubled survey division of Greenfield Online, which it acquired from temporary owners Microsoft in June 2009. In September, Toluna reported a 164% increase in revenues to £36.2m for the six months ended 30 June 2010.
Frédéric de Mevius, founder and MD of Verlinvest and a Non-Executive Director of Toluna, describes it as 'a unique firm with a well-respected brand and excellent prospects' and says his team 'believes that the business will continue to develop under the strategies being pursued by Frédéric-Charles Petit.' Verlinvest says it plans to expand Toluna's in the Asia Pacific region and elsewhere - it already has seventeen offices spread across Asia, Europe and North America.
Petit says the acquisition is 'a great growth and long term investment opportunity for the group, which will benefit from significant new investment and an increased focus on technology-driven tools and solutions. We will accelerate the development of Toluna's online offering to allow more clients to gain insights from access to Toluna's unique global panel. I am also very pleased that Eurovestech and Invesco will continue to be supportive shareholders following the acquisition.'
In addition to being the largest of the specialist panel providers, with a strong emphasis on panelist engagement via its social voting communities, Toluna offers a range of other products. These include the creation, hosting and management of online communities via its SaaS solution PanelPortal; DIY online research tool QuickSurveys; IVR and Mobile survey capabilities; and an online ad campaign assessment service, BrandSpector.
The markets have thus far reacted positively to the news, with Toluna shares up 27% 311.5p and Eurovestech up 19.6% at 16.75p as of noon GMT today.
Corporate web site: www.tolunapro.com .
All articles 2006-19 written and edited by Mel Crowther and/or Nick Thomas.