15 June 2022
By Will Davis
Unicorns are private companies with a valuation of more than $1b (currently around £830m). Unicorn companies were initially classified as such because of their rarity, but the number of unicorns operating in the UK continues to grow each year. The term was first derived in a 2013 TechCrunch article by Aileen Lee, a female angel investor and the founder of VC fund Cowboy Ventures.
The number of privately-held startups joining the UK’s unicorn club has increased from just three companies in 2014 to 25 throughout 2021. This trend has slowed slightly amidst the economic volatility of the pandemic recovery and ongoing conflict in Ukraine, with only four new unicorn companies in the UK so far in 2022. Having said that, we expect to see several more companies join the herd before the year is out.
Fintech, which included digital financial services and banking, was the big winner for new unicorn startups in 2021. Consistently the top-performing startup sector in the UK, it’s no surprise that fintech has continued to grow throughout the pandemic, with COVID restrictions and lockdowns accelerating the switch to digital finance for many. Indeed, 11 fintech companies reached a billion-dollar valuation in the UK during 2021, joining the likes of Revolut, Checkout.com, OakNorth and Starling Bank.
Here, we meet the newest unicorns in the United Kingdom, all of which have reached unicorn status over the last 12 months. More information on each of the UK’s billion-dollar startups, from healthcare ventures to robotics to cybersecurity firms, can be found in our free report on unicorn companies.
Download the data on every unicorn company in the UK.
Technology company Causeway provides construction and engineering businesses with the software to design, build and maintain their systems. Causeway is headquartered in Buckinghamshire but has additional offices across England, in Middlesbrough, Maidstone and Birkenhead, and international offices in France and India. The software solutions offered by the unicorn company include design and cost management, financial management, supply chain management, and enterprise content management. In December 2021, Causeway was named on the TussellTech 200 list of fastest-growing tech companies in the UK.
Causeway achieved unicorn status in June 2021, reaching a valuation of £1.32b following its £120m equity round with Five Arrows Principal Investments (FAPI), the European corporate private equity arm of Rothschild & Co. The fundraising was intended to back Causeway’s R&D spending, accelerate its growth, further develop its platform and to support acquisitions. Causeway subsequently acquired SpecifiedBy, a building products information platform, in October 2021 and then Yotta, which provides test and measurement automation solutions, in May 2022. In total, the company has made eight acquisitions to date.
Britishvolt designs and manufactures lithium-ion batteries for use in electric vehicles. In January 2022, the UK Government awarded Britishvolt with a £100m innovation grant, through the Automotive Transformation Fund, as it aims to make the UK a world leader in electric car production. The company is currently building a gigafactory in Northumberland, with plans to create 3k jobs in the immediate term and the potential for another 5k in the future—the most significant employment generator in the region since Nissan’s plant was constructed in the 1980s.
Britishvolt reached unicorn status in August 2021, having secured a £606k funding round with Carbon Transition, Cathexis Venture II, Glencore and NG Bailey, at a post-money valuation of £776m. The greentech company has raised a total of £1.81b in equity investment so far, across five funding rounds. This includes a £1.70b round with abrdn and Tritax, secured in January 2022. It has also announced a partnership with Aston Martin to build batteries for high-performance engines, as well as further plans for factories, including a battery recycling plant in Kent and a scale-up facility in the West Midlands.
Westminster-based Zepz develops an online platform that allows individuals to send money to family and friends living in other countries. The fintech company has recently acquired US startup Sendwave and undergone a rebrand, renaming itself from WorldRemit. It has over 5.7m customers, across 130 countries, with offices in the United States, Poland, and the Philippines.
Back in 2020, its WorldRemit Transfer Tracker mobile app was launched in 90 countries, designed to help recipients track their remittances. The app includes a “track my money” feature created for the 1.7b people worldwide who don’t have access to a bank account or a mobile money account or rely on cash pick-up agents.
Zepz reported a post-money valuation of £3.57b in August 2021, after securing a £214m funding round with investors including Accel, Farallon Capital Management, Technology Crossover Venturesand Leapfrog Ventures. In total, the company has raised £497m since its founding in 2010, across 9 funding rounds. It has also featured in several high-growth lists, including the London Tech 50 (in both 2019 and 2020) and has attended Tech Nation’s Future Fifty accelerator programme.
London-based insurtech startup Marshmallow uses big data and artificial intelligence to offer competitive rates to young drivers and those with low credit scores. The company quadrupled its customer base to more than 50k last year and increased its workforce to 100 employees. Since the start of 2022, according to Marshmallow’s LinkedIn profile, its employee count has more than doubled to around 230 people.
Marshmallow reached unicorn status in September 2021, receiving £61.7m in an equity fundraising with the likes of Investec and Passion Capital. This funding round saw the company report a $1.25b unicorn valuation. That same year, it attended the Future Fifty accelerator, and featured in the Lazard T100 European Venture Growth Index and BusinessCloud InsurTech 50 high-growth lists. Founded in 2017, the company has raised £90.1m in equity investment so far, across five funding rounds.
Matillion provides analytics and reporting software, as well as data integration and transformation tools for cloud data warehouses. Western Union, FOX, Sony, Slack, National Grid, and Cisco are among the Manchester-based tech startup’s most notable clients. In September 2021, Matillion achieved unicorn status with a £109m funding round, led by General Atlantic. At the time, the fast-growing startup company announced a valuation of $1.5b.
Matillion has raised a total of £226m worth of equity investment, across five fundraisings, and attended Future Fifty between 2020 and 2022. Now employing over 500 people, the company has appeared in numerous high-growth lists, including the Lazard T100 European Venture Growth Index in 2021, the FT 1000 in 2022, and the Northern Tech 100 for four consecutive years.
TrueLayer creates APIs that connect mobile apps and other websites to bank infrastructure, allowing them to access standardised account data. While based in London, TrueLayer has additional offices in Dublin, Milan, and Sydney. Its open banking platform is used by businesses of all sizes in Europe and Australia, to power their payments, access financial insights, and onboard customers. The company joined the UK unicorn club in September 2021, announcing a post-money valuation of more than $1b.
The round that saw TrueLayer reach unicorn status was a £95.2m megadeal, led by New York-based Tiger Global and with participation from existing investor Stripe, less than six months after its previous funding round. Across 10 fundraisings, TrueLayer has raised £227m in total equity investment. The company has also attended the Mayor’s International Business Programme and featured in high-growth lists such as the BusinessCloud Fintech 50 and the WealthTech 100.
London-based fintech Zopa operates a challenger bank and mobile app, offering personal loans, credit cards, and car finance. It now has over 500 employees and around half a million clients in the UK. Previously a peer-to-peer lender, the company has been focusing solely on Zopa Bank since late 2021. It has also announced plans to float on a public stock exchange by the end of 2022.
Zopa’s IPO plans follow its entry to the UK unicorn club in October 2021, when it announced a £220m fundraise (the company’s largest funding round to date), led by Japanese VC SoftBank Vision Fund. Zopa cited a post-money valuation of around £750m. This was its thirteenth equity funding round and took the total amount invested in the company to £516m.
Founded in 2018, London fintech Zilch develops a mobile app designed to provide users with zero-interest staggered payments for online shopping. The UK’s answer to Klarna, the buy now pay later (BNPL) company has grown its customer base to 1m in just 13 months. Zilch believes that its direct-to-consumer model allows it to build relationships with customers and scale significantly faster than its competitors.
Zilch reached unicorn status In November 2021, as the company closed its £81m Series C funding round, with a billion-dollar valuation. The round was backed by investors including Ventura Capital and Gauss Ventures. Zilch has raised a total of £250m in equity investment so far, across six fundraisings, and acquired US financial services firm NepFin in August last year.
Fellow fintech unicorn Thought Machine develops the retail banking software Vault. The cloud-based end-to-end operating system allows banks to manage various financial products centrally. Since its founding in 2015, Thought Machine has raised £398m in equity investment, across seven funding rounds. And in addition to its London headquarters, the company has opened offices in New York and Singapore.
In November 2021, Thought Machine announced the close of a £150m funding round, giving the company a post-money valuation of over $1b and thus unicorn status. Thought Machine has since doubled its valuation (to $2.7b) with its Series D funding round in May 2022. This latest deal was worth £128m and saw participation from Lloyds Banking Group, alongside several foreign investors, such as Temasek, Eurazeo, ING Ventures, Intesa Sanpaolo and Morgan Stanley.
London-based e-commerce firm Motorway operates an online marketplace where private car sellers can receive offers from a variety of dealers to make the selling process as simple as possible for them. People who want to sell their car quickly can have it inspected, using AI-based computer vision on the Motorway app, before professional dealers bid on it.
In November 2021, a busy month for new unicorn companies, Motorway reached its billion-dollar valuation via a £143m funding round. Venture capitalists Index Ventures and ICONIQ Growth led the fundraising, while existing investors Latitude, Unbound and BMWi Ventures also participated.
Motorway has featured in numerous high-growth lists, including the Deloitte Fast 50, FT 1000 and BusinessCloud 100 eCommerce Trailblazers. More than 100k cars have been sold through the company’s platform so far (averaging 8k per month), and it’s grown its network of car dealers to 4k platform users. Over the next 12 months, Motorway plans to expand its team from 250 employees to more than 350.
The Bank of London was launched in 2017 by Anthony Watson, the founder of digital asset firm Uphold and activist for LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs. The Bank of London develops banking technology and operates a global clearing, agency and transaction bank. It is the sixth principal clearing bank in the UK and only the second to be created in the last 250 years. Despite its name and headquarters in London, the company has opened additional offices in New York and plans to expand to around 3k employees in the next five years.
In December 2021, The Bank of London became the first pre-revenue bank to attain unicorn status. Following a £67.8m fundraising with Mangrove Capital Partners, 14W and ForgeLight, the company claims to have reached a $1.1b valuation. The round took The Bank of London’s total equity investment to date to £90.5m, across three funding rounds.
Kicking off 2022 as the first unicorn company of the year was GoCardless, a leading fintech in the payment processing space. GoCardless was founded by Matt Robinson, Hiroki Takeguchi, and Tom Blomfled (co-founder of Monzo). Together, they created a platform that allows businesses to make and receive direct debit payments online. Over 70k companies currently use the GoCardless platform, ranging from multinational corporations to SMEs, with an average of $30b in payments being processed each year. Whilst headquartered in the United Kingdom, the company also has offices in Australia, France, Germany, and the United States.
In February 2022, GoCardless announced a £142m funding round that took the company to $2.1m unicorn valuation. The round was led by Permira, a regular backer of payments and financial software companies (including Klarna, Clearwater Analytics, and Carta), with participation from BlackRock Private Equity Partners. GoCardless has raised a total of £303m in equity investment so far, across eight fundraisings.
Gaming startup Tripledot Studios develops a variety of mobile games. The London-based company has around 25m monthly active users and owes its success to a series of simple puzzle games, with Wooduku and Solitaire being its flagship titles. One of the studio’s differentiators is that it uses data-driven decision making to create titles aimed at players who are more likely to engage with monetisation mechanisms. Since its founding in 2017, Tripledot has grown to a second base in Minsk and additional teams in St. Petersburg and Barcelona.
Tripledot has expanded rapidly in the last two years, along with the rest of the casual mobile games market, achieving unicorn status in February 2022. Having secured a £85.7m funding round led by venture capital firm 20VC, the company announced a valuation of $1.4b. The fundraising was intended to fund further R&D and the acquisition of other gaming studios. Tripledot went on to acquire US startup Live Play Mobile in March 2022.
Fintech company Paddle offers a full-service payments solution for fellow software-as-a-service (SaaS) businesses. It creates software to help developers sell their digital products like apps, games, and other software. The services include everything from payment management, VAT and currency exchange to customer support and analysis tools. Paddle has grown to an impressive scale since its inception in 2012, employing over 250 people and serving 3k+ SaaS companies in 245 countries, with offices in both New York City and London.
Paddle reached unicorn status in May 2022, after securing a £163m fundraising which took the company valuation to $1.4b. The round was led by KKR and saw participation from follow-on investors FTV Capital, 83North, Notion Capital, Kindred Capital VC and SVB (Silicon Valley Bank). Not long after, Paddle made its first acquisition, buying US-based business intelligence platform ProfitWell.
The newest member of the UK unicorn club is currently Multiverse, the London-based edtech startup founded by Euan Blair (son of former PM Tony Blair). Multiverse (previously WhiteHat) operates an online recruitment board that uses AI-based technology to link non-graduate apprentices with employers. Apprentices are offered tuition-based training with a specific focus on tech-based roles that require digital skills, like software engineering, digital marketing and data analysis. The company states that around 50% of its apprenticeship candidates are from underrepresented minority backgrounds.
Multiverse has raised a total of £319m worth of equity investment since its founding in 2016, across five funding rounds. It has also appeared in the Deloitte Fast 50 and Startups 100 high-growth lists, and attended Tech Nation’s Upscale accelerator programme. Having raised £175m in its most recent equity funding round, in June 2022, the company reached unicorn status with a valuation of $1.7b. This latest fundraising will be used to accelerate Multiverse’s expansion in the US and broaden its range of learning programmes.
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