A unicorn is a privately-held startup company with a valuation of more than $1b (currently equivalent to £720m). Although initially classified as unicorns due to their rarity, the number of unicorns is increasing dramatically every year.
The number of privately-held companies joining the unicorn club has jumped from three new unicorns in 2014 to seven in 2020. And despite the economic volatility brought about by the pandemic, this trend has continued into 2021, with 11 new companies reaching unicorn status in the first half of the year.
With most of the year spent at home, it’s not surprising that many of the newest unicorn startups are internet-based—a trend which has been driven by a near 10-fold increase in tech sector investment over the past decade. This has contributed to a major increase in the number of tech startups reaching unicorn status in the UK.
Here, we meet the 11 newest members of the UK’s unicorn herd. Visit our free report on unicorn companies for more detail on each of the UK’s billion-dollar startups.
Date of Unicorn Transaction: 1st January 2021
Lendable quietly reached unicorn status early this year. According to analysis by Sifted, an internal transaction saw unnamed early investors and employees cash in around £30m in shares, while the firm’s institutional investors increased their stake. Lendable’s unicorn status is all the more impressive, given that it’s raised just £4m in private equity to date.
Backed by business angels, as well as Balderton Capital, Bridford Investments and other venture capital funds, Lendable’s peer-to-peer lending platform is designed for personal loans. Notably, the company is able to facilitate loans to those with less-than-perfect credit scores. The fintech platform’s success partly lies in its excellent customer reviews; according to the review engine Feefo.com, the company has a 100% approval rating on services and response times. Lendable entered the AG Elevate accelerator in March 2018 and has so far appeared on the Deloitte Fast 50 twice, in 2019 and 2020, and the Fast Track Tech Track in 2020.
Date of Unicorn Transaction: 19th January 2021
PPRO Group reached unicorn status in January, after raising $180m (£130m) from backers, including Eurazeo Growth, Sprints Capital and Wellington Management. The latest round, which is their fifth to date, comes just six months after the company raised $50m (£36.1m) from Sprints Capitals, Citi Ventures and HPE Growth. It has so far secured more than £242m in these funding rounds.
The PPRO Group enables merchants to offer their customers the widest possible range of local payment types and services in markets worldwide, through an integrated payments platform. Although the company is currently operating at a loss, its latest reported turnover was more than £30.8m. And despite the pandemic, PPRO experienced rapid growth last year, doubling its year-on-year transactions volumes in the final quarter of 2020, and expanding its global team by 60%.
Date of Unicorn Transaction: 8th March 2021
Challenger bank Starling Bank joined the unicorn club after it raised £272m, at a valuation of £1.1b. Led by Fidelity Management & Research Company, the funding will support the expansion of Starling’s lending in the UK, as well as helping the bank launch in Europe. The female-led fintech startup, which was set up by former IT executive and digital banking pioneer Anne Boden, launched in 2017. It markets itself as a fairer, smarter and more human alternative to the banks of the past.
Having featured on the 2018 and 2019 FinTech50 lists, and the 2020 LinkedIn Top Startups UK, Starling Bank made its first monthly profit of £800k in October 2020. Aided by the COVID-19 pandemic—which accelerated the take-up of digital banking and financial services—Starling’s monthly profit had almost doubled by March 2020, to £1.5m.
Date of Unicorn Transaction: 10th March 2021
Zego joined the unicorn club in March, after securing $150m (£108m) in a Series C round, led by venture capital group DST Global. This pushed Zego’s valuation past the $1.1b funding mark, making it the first UK insurtech firm to reach unicorn status. Zego provides pay-as-you-go courier and food delivery insurance for drivers, believing that traditional insurance—which is expensive to buy and time-consuming to understand—holds businesses back.
Since being founded in 2016, Zego has provided more than 17m insurance policies, for over 20k vehicles, and has featured on the 2018 InsurTech Impact 25, as well as the FinTech50 and Startups 100 in 2019. So far, the company has secured £168m, across seven fundraisings, and has a client portfolio that includes big names like UberEats and Deliveroo.
Date of Unicorn Transaction: 16th March 2021
With an operating profit of £183k and an annual turnover of £24.7m, patent analytics platform PatSnap reached unicorn status in March this year—through a $300m (£217m) funding round, led by SoftBank Vision Fund II and Tencent Investment. PatSnap develops web-based software through which subscribers can access information on intellectual property (IP) patents. The SaaS company, with offices from London to Singapore, was set up with the goal of allowing customers to increase productivity and innovate more effectively. It does this by combining millions of R&D and IP datasets so customers can connect the dots.
With more than 10k customers, in more than 40 different countries around the globe, PatSnap is a global leader in connected innovation intelligence. Since being founded in 2007, PatSnap has secured £251m, across four funding rounds, with backers including Sequoia Capital China, Vertex Ventures South East Asia and India, and Summit Partners. It was also featured on the 2018 Fast Track Tech Track 100.
Date of Unicorn Transaction: 11th March 2021
Touchlight Genetics—which reached unicorn status just under a year after the UK’s first lockdown—develops a novel DNA replication technique which can be applied to the production of vaccines. Through a £42m funding round, led by Bridford Investments, it became the UK’s first synthetic biology unicorn. The round builds upon Touchlight’s existing funding strategy, focused on a network of business angels, family offices, and specialist healthcare investors.
Since being founded in 2008, Touchlight has developed, patented, scaled and evidenced a revolutionary platform to enable the next generation of genetic medicines and DNA industries. The company’s growth was driven by exceptional demand in all areas of genetic medicine, including mRNA and viral vectors for COVID-19 vaccines. Touchlight Genetics has raised £56m, across 10 funding rounds, and received five grants, worth a combined £728k, as well as attending the Mayor’s International Business Programme. In May 2021, we named Touchlight as one of the 23 Hottest Tech Startups in the UK.
Date of Unicorn Transaction: 24th March 2021
An early pioneer of infrastructure for the Bitcoin community, cryptocurrency firm Blockchain.com reached unicorn status in March 2021. Its latest funding round, led by DST Global, Lightspeed Venture Partners and VY Capital, raised £218m, at a reported valuation of $5.2b (£3.75b). In total, the company has raised £355m, across four funding rounds. Its impressive track record saw it appear in The FinTech50 two years running, in 2015 and 2016. It was later listed in LinkedIn’s Top Start Ups UK 2018.
With a Blockchain Explorer that enables anyone to examine transactions and study the blockchain, and an API that enables companies to build on Bitcoin, Blockchain.com has provided the most popular and widely-used crypto wallet. With a global team of around 800 employees, the Hackney-based company believes a lean team of world-class visionaries can create products that empower customers and drive the business to new heights.
Date of Unicorn Transaction: 30th April 2021
Fellow fintech SaltPay quietly reached the $1b mark in April 2021, after raising £358m in only its second funding round to date. Backers include Base Partners, Hedosophia and Tiger Global Management. The e-commerce firm believes that small businesses are the foundation of vibrant and dynamic societies, but are all too often neglected by big service providers. For this reason, SaltPay set out to build a different payment company, by developing payment processing and point-of-sale technology for merchants.
SaltPay’s products are designed to support private companies at each stage of growth, by providing an ecosystem of services to automate operations and grow profits. Based in the City of London, but operating across Europe and Africa, SaltPay boasts a diverse team of more than 500 people.
Bought By Many
Date of Unicorn Transaction: 1st June 2021
Insurtech company Bought By Many reached unicorn status in June this year, following a $350m funding round, taking it to a valuation of more than $2b (£1.44b). To date, the firm has raised over £357m, across eight funding rounds, and gone through two accelerator programmes. It attended Tech Nation’s Upscale programme in January 2018 and then, the following April, Future Fifty. The company appeared on 2016’s FinTech50 and, in 2017, featured on the Top 100 list of Britain’s Fastest Growing Businesses.
Despite the economic turbulence of the pandemic, Bought By Many has doubled its remote working team over the last year. It now employs more than 265 people, which it hopes to double again in the next 12 months. Since starting in 2012, the firm’s rapid growth has seen co-founders Steven Mendel (CEO) and Guy Farley (CTO) build a team that spans three UK offices, acquire the UK’s leading provider of insurance for exotic pets, and launch ManyPets insurance in Sweden. In 2020, it was also voted the Best Pet Insurance Provider at the Insurance Choice Awards.
Date of Unicorn Transaction: 16th June 2021
One of the top artificial intelligence firms in the UK, Tractable was another one of the many tech companies to reach unicorn status this year. It reported a valuation of over $1b in June 2021, following a $50m (£36.1m) Series D round. The Islington-based insurtech develops software designed to analyse photos of damage from car accidents and natural disasters for data-based cost estimations. Working with the world’s leading insurers in over 10 countries, its artificial intelligence software assesses damage to any car, whether in Europe, North America or Asia.
Tractable attended the Future Fifty accelerator in April 2019, and ranked on the FinTech50 list in 2019 and 2020. Founded in 2014, it has a world-class R&D team with over 30 years of combined research experience. Its automation-based insurance solution is built on five years of dedicated development work undertaken by a team of Oxbridge-trained researchers. With offices in New York City and Tokyo, Tractable has so far raised $55m (£39.7m), from Georgian Partners, Insight Partners and other top-tier investors.
Date of Unicorn Transaction: 18th June 2021
Content creation platform OnlyFans is one of the UK’s newest unicorn companies, having hit the $1b mark in June this year, with backing from undisclosed investors. OnlyFans allows creators to monetise their social following and develop authentic relationships with their fanbase. Founded in 2016, OnlyFans has since paid out over $2b in creator earnings, and established itself as the go-to platform for over 70m registered users and over 1m creators worldwide.
It has a notable user-base, including Cardi B, pro tennis star Adi Spiegelman, rugby player Chris Robshaw, and RuPaul’s Drag Race winner Shea Coulee. Unsurprisingly, the internet content service boomed throughout lockdown, with revenue growing by 554% last year, taking it up to an operating profit of £53m, and a turnover of more than £283m.
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