A unicorn startup is a private company that has achieved a valuation of more than $1b. In the UK, 43 startups have so far achieved this billion-dollar valuation (the conversion fluctuates around £730m).
With an increasing number of UK startups hitting unicorn status each year, the challenge now is predicting which companies will be next to cross the billion-dollar line. Determined to maintain their market share, many of these so-called “soonicorns” have rivals already in the unicorn club.
Though they’ve journeyed through the startup ecosystem with different business models and varying levels of venture capital, the companies in this list have each demonstrated strong growth and high potential. Valuations used here are based on post-money numbers unless stated otherwise.
The soonest of the soonicorns could be Bulb, Exscientia and WorldRemit which already have incredibly high valuations and seemingly just a small gap to close. From the energy, pharmaceuticals and fintech industries, respectively, these three would be at home as members of the unicorn herd.
Likely to graduate from the soonicorn club most imminently, renewable energy startup Bulb has a track record of extremely rapid growth, transforming its valuation from £1.5m in October 2016 to £411m in June 2018. It has shown no signs of slowing down since then, boosting its turnover from £183m in 2018 to a staggering £1.5b in 2020.
With confirmation of a billion-dollar valuation in its next funding round, Bulb will be able to join close competitor OVO as a member of the unicorn club. Alternatively, with such success in turnover growth, Bulb may choose not to seek further external capital; we might have to wait until the business decides to IPO to confirm its unicorn status.
Exscientia’s growth in valuation is exceptional, increasing 322% in just under a year, from £186m in May 2020 to £784m in April 2021 (according to our calculations). This post-money valuation means the pharmatech company is technically already crossing the billion-dollar mark; one more funding round should confirm the pre-money valuation that the company needs to officially claim unicorn status.
Spun out from the University of Dundee in 2012, the innovative pharmatech company applies artificial intelligence (AI) to the discovery of new and better drugs for patients. Exscientia’s growth has particularly rocketed in the last 18 months, fueled by four funding rounds (worth £240m) and two grants (worth £4.3m), in that time. While three-quarters of current UK unicorns are London-based, Exscientia’s headquarters are located in Oxford, meaning Exscientia’s imminent arrival in the herd will assist in representing impressive growth capability beyond the Capital.
A significant proportion of the UK’s current unicorns were once fintech startups that set out to disrupt the financial industry, from challenger banks and online payment systems, to blockchain and cryptocurrency businesses. Similarly, WorldRemit offers a platform to send money abroad to family and friends, securely and conveniently.
WorldRemit has demonstrated phenomenal business growth, increasing its pre-money valuation tenfold from £40.6m in March 2014 to £405m in December 2017. The company reported turnover of £122m in 2019 and was valued at £596m post-money in its June 2019 investment round. When WorldRemit reaches unicorn status, it will join the growing list of fintech giants in the herd, including Revolut, Checkout.com, Starling Bank and Monzo.
Incorporated in July 2018, Zilch Technology is still a very young company, but one with huge potential to join the herd of unicorns, having designed a mobile app that offers zero-interest staggered payments for online shopping. Major rival Klarna, which also provides a ‘buy now, pay later’ product, has not only reached unicorn status but also became a ‘decacorn’ last year (meaning its valuation is more than $10b). Despite being much smaller and younger, Zilch may well be on track to follow in Klarna’s footsteps.
Zilch became a ‘minicorn’ (a startup with a valuation of $1m) in 2019, then skyrocketed to a valuation of £403m in April 2021. The company went on to raise a further £79.9m of equity and loan investment in July 2021. Such enormous growth, along with the success of Swedish-founded Klarna and Australian firm Afterpay, demonstrate that the ‘buy now, pay later’ model has a massive role to play in the e-commerce market. In spite of the fierce competition, Zilch certainly has the capacity to progress from soonicorn to unicorn in the future.
Another fintech vying for a spot in the unicorn club is Curve, which aims to simplify the way people save and spend money. Its technology enables users to combine their existing debit and credit cards into a single card and phone app. And since launching in 2015, Curve has shown itself to be popular with investors, raising £141m so far, across eight fundraisings.
Curve’s investors include business angels, several different funds, and three rounds via crowdfunding platform Crowdcube—the latest of which was the largest ever raise on the platform (£9.9m in just 54 hours!). The company’s valuations have climbed steadily from £37.9m in July 2017 to £176m in September 2019, and most recently to £382m in January and £504m in May 2021. Continuing at this rate of 32% growth in four months, Curve could be on track to become a unicorn roughly six months from now.
Quantexa uses artificial intelligence and big data software to develop technology that has the ability to analyse data within a network and flag illegal activity. The company has shown its high-growth ambitions several times over, attending the Future Fifty and Microsoft for Startups accelerator programmes, as well as being featured in six high-growth lists, including the Deloitte Fast 50 and Fast Track Tech Track 100.
To date, Quantexa has secured five rounds of equity and loan fundraising, worth a total of £182m. It’s earned its place as a soonicorn due its impressive post-money valuation growth, from £228m in July 2020 to £579m in July 2021—an increase of 154% in just one year.
Incorporated in 2016, Tripledot Studios is just five years old but is already on an incredible growth journey. The studio develops a range of mobile app games and raised its first two rounds of equity funding in June and November 2018, with the latter of these coming with a valuation of £25.2m. It secured a further £56.8m in April 2021, placing its post-money valuation at £303m and its growth at 1,102% in just two and a half years.
At this same hugely impressive rate of growth, Tripledot Studios could reach unicorn status by early next year. On top of this, in 2020, the company reported that it was operating at a profit of £2.69m—a feat which several soonicorns, and even most unicorns, are unable to claim.
Headquartered in London, Truphone is a global mobile network, offering services through either a physical SIM card or an innovative eSIM. Since 2010, the company has raised 10 rounds of equity investment, the most recent being a £30m raise in April 2020, coming with a £440m post-money valuation. Truphone has already earned 20% scaleup status, meaning it’s grown at least 20%, on average, for the last three years.
Turnover reported by Truphone is also steadily rising year-on-year, and rose 41% overall between 2016 and 2019, from £31.3m to £44.2m. With its £30m investment round last year geared for further development of its eSIM software, the mobile network will hope to continue its steady expansion, with the potential to eventually reach the coveted billion-dollar valuation.
Bloom & Wild
Bloom & Wild is no stranger to innovation, as one of the first companies to bring together the florist and e-commerce industries, as well as its novel letterbox packaging. Customers place orders either through the website or mobile app and fresh buds are delivered, allowing recipients to enjoy flowers for longer. One of Europe’s leading online flower companies, it’s expanded to eight countries so far, and acquired Dutch rival bloomon in April 2021.
Bloom & Wild has repeatedly demonstrated its penchant for growth, pushing its valuation 413% between its last two equity raises in 2018 and 2021, on the back of three accelerator attendances across 2016 and 2017: Future Fifty, Upscale and the Mayor’s International Business Programme. The company was most recently valued at £363m in January 2021, after a £75m funding round.
ComplyAdvantage is a fintech security company. It uses artificial intelligence, machine learning and Big Data to provide a database of information on individuals and organisations associated with money laundering and other financial crime. With financial businesses as its main client base, the company offers a solution for AML compliance and risk reduction.
ComplyAdvantage’s growth has particularly ramped up in the last three years, raising investment in 2019, 2020 and 2021, with post-money valuations of £112m, then £300m, and most recently £349m. The company has also been quickly scaling up its headcount, reporting 31 employees in 2018 and 235 in 2020—a 658% increase. If ComplyAdvantage continues on the same trajectory, it may reach unicorn status in just a few years time.
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