IMM Private Equity (IMM PE) has decided to pull out of the bidding contest for an investment in T Map Mobility, leaving Affirma Capital and EastBridge Partners as the strongest candidates to win the race, industry sources said.
The three private equity firms and another few bidders were shortlisted last month for an investment in SK Telecom’s mobility arm. They have since been conducting a preliminary due diligence and have been given until February 25 to submit final offers.
IMM PE’s decision to withdraw may boost Affirma Capital’s prospects for winning the race, as some observers had expected a two-way battle between the firms. Affirma Capital has deep pockets with a proven track record and a strong overseas network.
EastBridge Partners is also considered a strong bidder. Based in Seoul, the firm was founded by STIC Investments’ former chief executive Kevin Lim, and has started to expand its exposure in information technology and parts sectors. Goldman Sachs alumnus Dongsuk Choi serves as chief executive officer. Portfolio companies include bearing maker CS Bearing and battery inspection equipment manufacturer Innometry.
SK Telecom, the parent company of T Map Mobility, and U.S. ride-hailing giant Uber announced a joint venture last October, which is expected to be operational in April. Uber agreed to put $100 million into the joint venture and $50 million into T Map Mobility in a deal that valued the mobility unit at 1 trillion won ($902.3 million). SK Telecom aims to increase the company’s worth to 4.5 trillion won by 2025.
T Map Mobility specifically asked the shortlisted bidders to use the 1 trillion won valuation as a reference, which means there is little room for price negotiation. This could be one of the reasons that IMM PE decided to pull out, industry watchers said. IMM PE also already has exposure to car-sharing platform SoCar.
T Map Mobility was split off from SK Telecom in December last year as part of a restructuring effort by the South Korean telco to step up its mobility ambitions. It reportedly wants to raise about 300 billion won for business expansion.
While potential buyers are optimistic about the growth potential of the mobility sector, they are unsure whether T Map Mobility will be able to dominate the overall market.
Kakao Mobility controls a dominant 80% share of the country’s taxi-hailing business. (Reporting by Si-eun Park)