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Simon Brickles - PLUS Market

EntrepreneurCountry Global Wednesday, 16 December 2009.

Simon Brickles knows the markets. He was one of the brains behind the London Stock Exchange’s (LSE) Alternative Investment Market (AIM) and, in 2007, launched PLUS Markets, the junior stock exchange primarily for growing companies.

I say ‘primarily’ because those familiar with trading on PLUS will know there’s a number of large companies, including Arsenal Football Club and some of the UK’s largest breweries, trading on the platform. But as Brickles explains, the market’s real USP attracts smaller companies looking to raise finance and retail investors who want a simple and liquid method of investment.

“The first thing to say,” says Brickles, “is that PLUS is a full stock exchange, not merely a trading platform. But as we offer companies a more straightforward listing and our regulations, while strict and sound, are not as heavy handed as other exchanges we are a natural place for smaller, growing companies to be.

“We are, in fact, the natural choice for entrepreneurs and their investors.”

And if you were in possession of the preconception that PLUS is a small exchange you’d be wrong. With more than 200 companies currently listed PLUS has around £10bn of trades passing through it each month. The other beauty of it is that retail investors can also trade in AIM or even the largest FTSE100 companies via PLUS as well as the companies listed on its own exchange. It’s the exchange for the man or woman in the street, if you like.

Just two years after its launch, the first new Stock Exchange to be founded in the UK in more than 200 years, Brickles has silenced the critics, some of whom look down on the platform as a passing fad and an inferior product to the “grown up” exchanges.

“I’ve run AIM and I now run PLUS,” he says. “I believe AIM is right for some companies and PLUS is right for others. If your business is looking to raise up to £5m then PLUS is a better place for you to be. If you’re looking for £20m or £50m then I’d still say AIM is your best bet. But what we offer is an inexpensive way of raising funds.

“Let’s be honest - the likes of Lord Myners and Lord Mandelson haven’t done much to help smaller companies. Entrepreneurs are not getting any money from their banks and, despite the theory, venture capital companies and private equity groups are not throwing the cash around either. So the best way to raise money in this economic climate is to do so through equity, and that’s exactly where PLUS comes in.

“Equally, there is a wall of money out there, from the Middle East for example, that looks at a high gold price and low returns from the banks. The small and growing companies offer investors a much healthier return and that’s where these people are looking.”

As for when these tough financial times will come to an end, Brickles believes the medium term will witness a return to stock market listings and PLUS is sure to benefit from that.

“I don’t know precisely when the economy will turn, no one really does,” says Brickles. “But I am confident that next year the environment will be right for companies to consider coming to the markets.”

One regular criticism thrown Brickles’ way is that PLUS is not as soundly regulated as the likes of AIM and the LSE. Nothing could be further from the truth.

“We’ve been vetted by the FSA and all the regulatory bodies. We make life easier and less expensive than the other exchanges and have sensible rules in place. For example, you don’t have to have six non-executive directors to float on PLUS. We realise companies and investors are seeking to make good returns on a listing and we have strong, sound and sensible rules in place for them to achieve their goal.”

Brickles does admit he’s experienced the downs, as well as the ups, of building a successful business, but is reassuringly confident about PLUS’s future success.

“I’ve been through it in my career,” he says. “And I am constantly in awe of entrepreneurs that fight through the tough times and get past them, building big companies from small beginnings. Unless you’ve had those tough times it’s hard to learn and build great businesses. Without people like that our economy would be much the poorer. We need entrepreneurs for a successful economy and, at PLUS, we offer many of the nation’s best a home.”

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