FIRST ROUND(10)

When CNNMoney.com recently asked 12 leading US venture capitalists to name the worst business ideas they'd ever encountered, responses ranged from the disturbing (talking sneakers) to the unpleasant (secondhand toys for pets).

But perhaps the winner in the laugh-out-loud stakes was the business plan based on artificial horses that was submitted to Todd Dagres, general partner at Boston-based VC Spark Capital. He recalled: “The most amazing, ridiculous idea I ever saw was for an electronic thoroughbred horse. It would work like a mechanical bull…to teach people to ride race horses.”

At least it would have been the funniest submission had not PEI unearthed an apparently thriving (and self-funded) business in the UK based on very much the same concept. Fully 16 years ago, Cheshire-based Racewood Limited began selling and renting mechanical racehorse simulators to jockey training schools. Proficiency in using the simulators is now a compulsory part of assessments conducted by the British Jockey Club before they are prepared to issue riders with professional licences.

What is more, a series of new products has since rolled out of the Racewood stable. In 1995, its trotting and cantering simulators were launched; in 2000 came the polo simulator (which, says Racewood managing director Bill Green, is “played in a cage and has a moving floor delivering the ball either side of the horse”); and in 2005 the riding simulator, replete with walking, cantering and trotting modes. A jumping simulator goes into production next year.

Given that a punt on Racewood might have been richly rewarded, perhaps there's a VC out there who might be prepared to give some of the other ‘worst ideas’ on the CNN list a chance. The “side-ejecting ejection seat” may yet, perhaps, find its way to market.

QUOTABLE
“It is no criticism of KKR. Its offering sucked every last cent of money that would have been in the aftermarket.”

A banking source familiar with Doughty Hanson tells sister website PEO why the London-based buyout firm has reportedly imposed a hard cap of just under €1.5 billion on its new Euronextlisted vehicle, which has a target of €1 billion. KKR tripled the size of its own Euronext-listed vehicle on the eve of the offering.

“Proprietary deal flow is a misnomer these days. I don't think it exists really. If I find a target by trawling a database, the chances are that someone else has looked at it before me.”

Simon Wildig, a partner at UK private equity firm Close Brothers Private Equity, tells PEI that even in the mid-market, it's all but impossible to source deals on an exclusive basis.

“In the old days, they wanted foreign capital. Now, there is a conservatism in the sense that some worry they are giving away too much in terms of state assets.”

Bob Broadfoot of the Hong Kong-based Political and Economic Risk Consultancy tells Associated Press why investment from foreign sources seems to have slowed in China.