Will Davis, 19 October 2022
Stealth mode startups have become a regular occurrence in the high-growth ecosystem but, as their name suggests, they’re secretive in nature and thus not widely known. Plenty of early-stage businesses also raise funding in stealth mode—around 70% of UK equity deals aren’t announced to the public, while more than three-quarters of fundraisings under £500k go unannounced. We dive into the world of stealth mode startups to find out why, and discover 10 high-growth UK companies that are raising unannounced rounds.
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Typically, a stealth mode startup aims to hide everything it’s doing from the public. Common disguises include: operating under a secret name, assigning code names to new products, running a basic website that keeps a company’s employees and location a secret, or operating a strict PR policy and requiring employees to sign non-disclosure agreements (NDAs).
Other types of stealth mode startups include in-company stealth mode. This is where information is withheld internally as well as externally, usually when a company only wants to conceal one area of the business (for instance an area that’s developing a new product or functionality). Typically, this type of stealth mode is reserved for large companies who can dedicate extra resources to it, such as when Apple launches a new iPhone or iOS, for maximum public and media interest upon release.
And then there’s businesses that may or may not have a public presence but are exclusively raising investment in stealth mode. This means they’re not releasing any information about funding rounds to the press or on their website and social media.
Companies operating in stealth mode are becoming increasingly popular, especially among early-stage startup founders. Here are a few of the draws to being a stealth mode startup:
If a company needs time to work on a new project or new technology, it can better safeguard its IP (intellectual property) by operating in stealth mode.
A company’s competition has less time to respond when information isn’t made public until the last moment.
Operating in stealth mode allows a company greater control over their PR and what prospective stakeholders see. This enables them to work on areas like strategy and product development without outside interference.
Operating in stealth mode can still pose a problem for some startups:
It can be harder for startups to source funding from investors if they aren’t already an established name. Having said that, VC funds are often on the lookout for ‘the next big thing’ and usually opt to take risks on early-stage businesses that are new to the scene, where there’s potential for greater returns on investment.
The process of gauging customer or subscriber feedback and finding the right product market fit can be difficult when the public is much less/not involved.
When exiting stealth mode, companies have to work harder to attract publicity than those that have slowly built up a following throughout their development. These days, however, social media channels like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn mean it’s easier to generate buzz when the time is right.
Businesses usually like to shout about new funding rounds, to showcase and celebrate their growth, and maximise joint PR opportunities with investors, as well as to attract new talent and additional investment opportunities down the line. Meanwhile, certain funding rounds will need to be publicly disclosed, as with crowdfunding. But for some startups, raising in silence may be a better option, even if they’re not operating in stealth mode.
For instance, unannounced fundraisings are often precursors to more significant events (such as a larger follow-on round or an IPO). So a company may choose to keep its initial funding round under wraps, ahead of the big announcement. A stealth round could also be a ‘down round’, in which shares are sold for a lower price than in their previous funding round. To avoid creating a negative impression of themselves, companies may keep these down rounds quiet until their valuations increase.
Beauhurst is the only data provider to have comprehensive and structured coverage of all unannounced equity deals in the UK. Since we started back in 2011, we’ve uncovered more than 40k unannounced investments into ambitious businesses across the country.
How do we do it? We track SH01 forms submitted to Companies House when companies issue new shares. Our algorithm sorts through this potential minefield, flagging filings that indicate a genuine investment, with our in-house Data team then investigating and verifying if a new investment has been made.
Below, we’ve ranked the 10 companies that secured the biggest unannounced fundraisings in 2022 so far. These businesses are all currently raising in stealth mode, having never announced an equity round to the press.
Sector: Financial services
HQ: East Midlands
Amount raised: £60.5m
Wren Sterling offers financial advice to businesses, aiming to improve their return on investment from employee benefits, ensure they’re properly protected, and help business owners prepare for their financial futures. The Nottingham-based firm spun-out of insurance company Towergate in March 2015, undergoing an £8.64m MBO with Palatine Private Equity.
The company has made five acquisitions of other financial planning services firms: T D Armstrong in 2019, Frobisher Capital in 2020, and White Wells Investments, Sentinel Private Clients and Rothesay Intelligent Financial Services in 2021. It also underwent a secondary MBO in December 2021. In total, Wren Sterling has raised £60.6m in equity investment, across two unannounced funding rounds. The majority (£60.5m) of this was secured in January 2022.
Amount raised: £54.7m
Ellipses Pharma operates a drug development company, with a focus on cancer treatments. The London-based pharmaceutical startup is acquiring in-licensing rights to potential clinical candidates from universities, other biotech and pharmaceutical companies, and cancer research organisations across the world.
Since its founding in April 2015, Ellipses Pharma has raised £97.9m in equity funding, across four stealth rounds. Its most recent unannounced fundraising was completed in July 2022, and brought in £54.7m of growth capital.
HQ: South East
Amount raised: £50.9m
Contract Sentinel is a software-as-a-service (SaaS) company that operates a contracting platform for businesses. It uses cloud-native artificial intelligence and machine learning technology to centralise outsourcer and online service suppliers. The platform enables businesses to record, organise and collaborate on contracts, policies and agreements.
While Contract Sentinel is headquartered in Milton Keynes, it has opened additional offices in London and Dubai since its founding in 2002. The SaaS startup has raised more than £50.9m in equity investment so far, across three unannounced rounds. The vast majority of this was secured in July 2022, in a £50.9m stealth round.
Sector: Manufacturing and engineering
Amount raised: £25.7m
Clas-SiC Wafer Fab operates a Silicon Carbide (SiC) Wafer foundry, the first specialised open foundry in the world that produces SiC semiconductors for the power industry. SiC wafer and compound semiconductor technology is considered a key component for producing more portable and energy-efficient power systems.
The Scottish scaleup company was founded in June 2017, and currently employs over 50 staff at its factory and headquarters in Fife. It has been awarded four Innovate UK grants so far, totalling £1.66m, and has secured £29.2m in unannounced equity rounds. The second of its two funding rounds, worth £25.7m, was completed in June 2022.
Sector: Marketing services
Amount raised: £17.2m
303 London operates a digital marketing agency, focused on social media and influencer marketing. It offers a range of services, from campaign management to content creation, including influencer, paid social, paid search and email marketing. The London-based startup also provides visual content services such as photography, motion graphics, graphic design, branding, post-production and videography.
Founded in 2016, 303 London has secured one equity fundraising so far: it raised £17.2m in a stealth round in April 2022, at a post-money valuation of £43.1m. Most recently, 303 London has ventured into the podcast space, producing “Get In My Basket”, a weekly podcast providing news and insights for DTC brands.
Sector: Food and drink
HQ: South East
Amount raised: £15.8m
Established in 1997, Real Patisserie operates multiple bakeries around Brighton and Hove, producing a range of breads and pastries. It also sells baked goods to shops and restaurants at wholesale, throughout West Sussex and Hampshire, and offers both home delivery and professional catering services. The bakery has secured two unannounced fundraisings so far, worth £16.0m in equity investment. The latest of these was a £15.8m stealth mode in February 2022.
Sector: Research tools
Amount raised: £14.5m
Basecamp Research (also known as BaseDiscovery) develops software that enables scientists to gain insights into the environment. The London tech startup combines next-generation DNA analysis with environmental monitoring, to help users learn more about the planet’s biodiversity and find new solutions to environmental issues.
Since its founding in December 2019, Basecamp Research has secured three unannounced funding rounds, worth £19.6m in total equity investment. Its latest stealth round was completed in August 2022, and raised £14.5m. The company currently employs 17 people and has won a gold medal at the AWS software startup awards in the sustainability category.
HQ: South East
Amount raised: £12.5m
Pharmaceutical startup ThirtyFiveBio is an early-stage drug discovery company. It was established by entrepreneurs and members of the pharmaceutical industry to create novel modulators of the genetically validated GPCR GPR35, for the treatment of cancers of the digestive system.
The 14-person company was founded in January 2021 and is headquartered in the Milton Park science and technology centre, in Oxfordshire. ThirtyFiveBio has raised £20.0m in equity investment so far, across two unannounced funding rounds. The most recent of these was a £12.5m stealth round, completed in February 2022 at a post-money valuation of £27.5m.
Amount raised: £11.9m
HyperJar develops a budgeting app that provides wallet-based payment solutions. Users can divide their savings into mini bank accounts (‘jars’). The mobile app also offers a ‘Save Now, Pay Later’ incentive, whereby users can commit a jar to one of HyperJars’ retail partners, in exchange for 4.8% interest on their savings.
Founded in 2016 and based in Camden, the fast-growing fintech company now has over 340k users worldwide. And thanks to its dedicated parent management tools, the HyperJar app was named as one of the best banking solutions for under-18s. HyperJar has raised £24.7m in equity investment so far, across six stealth rounds. The company’s latest unannounced fundraising was a £11.9m deal in September 2022.
HQ: West Midlands
Amount raised: £11.7m
Fintech startup Monek provides a range of payment processing services, selling chip and pin machines and developing a payment processing platform. The company typically assists small and medium-sized businesses, helping them capture, process and deliver precise customer payment data.
Monek is headquartered in Lichfield, in the West Midlands, and claims to have over 10k customers worldwide. Founded in 2017, the company secured its first equity investment in May 2022; the £11.7m stealth mode fundraising was completed at a post-money valuation of £56.2m.
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