ECountries runs out of cash

ECountries Ltd., the business-to-business publishing and online marketplace, may be forced to close down because of lack of cash less than five months after its launch.

Staff at its London base were told on Wednesday that the company was running out of money. Editor in Chief Michael Elliott could only tell The Standard: "I can't comment, we'll have something to say tomorrow."

ECountries is a blend of global news, analysis and research backed up by a marketplace that offers expertise and contacts for companies wishing to trade or expand internationally. Its business model is to earn revenues from advertising, partnerships, syndication and sales of research reports, with brokers' fees for matchmaking companies with services expected to account for the bulk of earnings.

The company officially launched on Sept. 25 and announced an agreement with ABCNews.com to supply its Global Agenda news analysis pieces and profiles for each country.

ECountries was founded by Donal Smith and Jonathan Schmidt, former directors of the Financial Times Group. It was conceived as a business-to-business online marketplace rather than as a news site. Elliott added editorial muscle by taking the plunge into the dot-com world after being editor of Newsweek International for seven years. He is a former Washington bureau chief for the Economist.

The company's backers are a consortium of venture capital firms led by Europe's largest, 3I, and including Elderstreet. First-round funding raised US$7 million, followed by another $3 million in a second round. A final round worth $3 million had been expected.

A spokeswoman at 3I said on Wednesday that there had been discussions with eCountries and that it had been mutually agreed that the business was no longer viable.

The Irish Development Agency had announced in December that it would invest an undisclosed sum in eCountries, with the company creating more than 40 new jobs in Dublin over the next two years. About 30 people are employed in London, with other offices in New York and Hong Kong.

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