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July 08, 2006

Will this East India Company exploit someone too?

Recent months have seen quite a few IPO filings in the US markets by "blank check" or Special Purpose Acquistion Companies (SPACs) which aim to acquire a business in India with the proceeds. BusinessWeek has an article on one such company with the interesting name of East India Company Acquisition Corp.

East India Company, promoted by Dr. Dipak Nandi (Chairman) and Kary Shankar (CEO), is planning to raise $36 million. It counts Saurabh Srivastava, founder of IIS Infotech (acquired by UK-based Xansa) and a prominent venture capitalist in India, among its four directors. (Srivastava is also an advisor to another blank check company, Global Services Partners Acquisition Corp., promoted by outsourcing consulting firm Tholons), which recently raised $34 million on the US OTC exchange.

The BusinessWeek article however has a negative slant on East India Company and choses to focus on the ethics of the company not revealing a prior litigation involving Dr. Nandi in the prospectus. This despite the fact that the legal experts the article itself quotes clearly say that such disclosure is not required as long as the person involved has not been convicted. Plus, the other risk factors and issues that BW has chosen to highlight from the IPO prospectus seem to be quite standard for such issues.

Here are some extracts from the article:
The company's prospectus filed with the SEC reveals a number of factors that could give potential purchasers cause for concern. Among them: The top executives, Chairman Dipak Nandi and CEO Kary Shankar, say they won't be spending any more than 10 hours a week on the venture. Nandi will use investors' money to pay $7,500 in rent per month for two years (for a total of $180,000) to one of his own affiliated companies.

...Nandi does have some prominent political connections. East India has retained as its legal adviser Nalini Chidambaram, the wife of Indian Finance Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram. Nandi has also made several contributions to members of the Democratic party, including New York Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton and Charles Schumer.

Of course, whether East India is a good investment is another question. Neither Nandi nor Shankar have been involved in any similar investments before...Massachusetts investment strategist Peter Cohan says he would be hesitant to invest in any blank check IPOs and that unless the people backing it have a spectacular investment record he would stay away.

Arun Natarajan is the Founder of Venture Intelligence India, which tracks venture capital activity in India and Indian-founded companies worldwide. View sample issues of Venture Intelligence India newsletters and reports.