Network Simplicity, Carmanah and SCS Solars Part of Ongoing Activity

Tuesday, October 14, 2003

B.C.'s technology community kept up the merger and acquisition pace last week.

Three new transactions involved Richmond's Network Simplicity Software Inc., Victoria's Carmanah Technologies Corp. (CMH: TSX Venture) and Vancouver's SCS Solars Computing Systems Inc. (SCS: TSX Venture).

These latest developments follow recent bigger deals, including the US$23 million sale of ActiveState Corp. and the blockbuster US$820 million acquisition of Crystal Decisions Inc. by France's Business Objects SA.

Some onlookers feel that the recent spate of activity indicates a broader shift in the tech markets. "To me, that's a sign that the market's bottomed out," said Jim Heppell, president and CEO of Vancouver's Catalyst Corporate Finance Lawyers.

Heppell said the involvement of venture capitalists and larger firms in recent deals indicates these professionals believe technology firms are fairly valued for investments or acquisitions.

"That usually occurs at the beginning of a turn in the market...and that's where we're at right now," he said.

Last Tuesday, Forgent Networks, an Austin, Texas-based software company, announced the purchase of Network Simplicity for about US$3.5 million in cash.

James Dean, Network Simplicity's president and CEO, declined to comment for this article.

Michael Noonan, Forgent's director of investor relations, said Dean started Network Simplicity in 1994. The local company offers applications for the scheduling needs of small- to mid-sized businesses, whereas Forgent focuses on large enterprise customers.

"James is a great entrepreneur and has built a very nice company," Noonan said. "We can bring some extra marketing muscle to the equation."

Network Simplicity has about 10 employees, who will be retained. More hires could be on the way, Noonan said. Forgent has 95 staffers.

The local Network Simplicity office will also be maintained, and Dean becomes a Forgent vice-president.

A day earlier, two other deals were announced. Carmanah, the solar-powered LED lighting firm, bought Calgary's AVVA Technologies Inc. in an all-share deal valued at about $3.9 million.

Art Aylesworth, Carmanah's CEO, said his firm would gain from AVVA's focus on LED signage.

"We sense there's a lot of growth on top of the revenue that we bought," Aylesworth added from Zurich, where he was meeting investors.

AVVA's 25 staffers will boost Carmanah's employee total to 80. Aylesworth said some positions would be shifted but there would not be layoffs.

The transaction marked Carmanah's first acquisition in 2003. However, more buys could be on the horizon as the solar lighting space is populated by many small players.

Aylesworth said Carmanah's rough plan is to make one acquisition per year.

Rounding out the activity was SCS Solars, which bought Portland's Accovia USA for an undisclosed amount. The sale is based on a mix of cash, commissions and royalties.

SCS offers applications for the travel industry. Accovia specializes in software for travel tour operators, and adds about 35 small- to mid-sized operators to SCS Solars' client base.

"It gives us a footprint in the United States, which is one of our goals," said Rick Ridding, SCS president and director.

Accovia's eight employees join the 20 staffers at SCS, who are split between the Vancouver headquarters and Toronto, where the company's development centre is based. Heppell said he couldn't answer whether the latest flurry of deals is a precursor to more local transactions or a market "blip."

However, he added that M&A work at the Catalyst law firm involving technology and life sciences companies had increased over the past 18 months.