Bristol is the sixth most active city in the UK by number of high-growth technology companies—behind London, Edinburgh, Cambridge, Manchester, and Glasgow—and fifth by total equity investment raised into these tech companies since 2011.
Technology is at the centre of Bristol’s startup scene: 216 of Bristol’s 596 tracked high-growth companies are in the tech sector. These 216 companies have raised £804m since 2011, employ over 3,600 people, and report a combined revenue turnover of £220m.
Bristol is home to many notable high-growth tech successes, including semiconductor unicorn company Graphcore, acquired biotech spinout Ziylo, and haptic technology startup Ultraleap. The ecosystem is also heavily intertwined with the University of Bristol: 33 ambitious tech companies have been spun out of the institution since 2011. SETsquared—a business incubator launched by the University of Bristol—also plays a key role in the ecosystem, currently providing incubation services to over 80 ventures.
Compared to the UK tech sector average, Bristol has a very low proportion of established companies (4% versus 8%), a higher proportion of seed stage companies (42% versus 37%), and a higher death rate (21% versus 17%). It’s a particularly young ecosystem.
Top investors into Bristol’s technology sector
There are several Bristol-based funders that are actively involved in the city’s blooming tech scene. Bristol Private Equity Club leads with 17 rounds invested into high-growth private tech startups since its first investment back in 2016. WebStart Bristol follows with 12 investments, then University of Bristol Enterprise Fund with 11.
Here are the top funders by number of announced equity deals invested into Bristol-based tech companies since 2011:
Bristol Private Equity Club is an equity investment angel network that typically invests between £150k and £500k. Jerry Barnes, founder of Bristol Private Equity Club, says the club seeks out “Bristol businesses that have scalability and can make a real difference to the way we live our lives in the future.”
University of Bristol Enterprise Fund is an equity fund collaboration between Parkwalk and The University of Bristol Research and Enterprise Development Division. It most commonly invests in medical device startups spun out from the University of Bristol, such as Ceryx Medical and Mogrify. As for VC investors, Amadeus Capital Partners are standout funders with £403m invested across nine rounds. Draper Esprit follows with £279m across seven.
This month, Harry Destecrioix—Co-Founder of Ziylo—announced a £15m EIS Fund to back Deep Tech and science-based startups in Bristol. Destecrioix cited the importance of an ecosystem in determining the success of science-based ventures in particular.
Equity investment into Bristol tech startups
Investment has been trending upwards over time, with a particularly strong year for Bristol tech startups in 2018, in terms of the total amount invested (aided by Graphcore’s £158m unicorn round), and a high volume of deals in 2019. Overall, since 2011, there have been 142 announced equity investments into Bristol-based tech companies.
Whilst there’s been a sharp fall in the number of deals invested during 2020 compared to 2019, the value of deals has risen since then.
Today, we’re focussing on the tech-based businesses that have raised announced equity investment in the last 12 months. We’ve ranked the top ten.
Top 10 technology startups in Bristol
Sector: Chips and processors
Funds raised in last 12 months: £116m
Graphcore has developed a semiconductor processing chip, optimised for running machine learning and artificial intelligence tasks faster. Its technology accelerates these applications both in servers and in the Cloud. It also provides an open source, machine learning framework in C++ and Python available to all developers to use and improve.
The company was founded in 2016 and only moved from development to commercial production in 2019, but already supplies chips to large-scale partners such as Microsoft and Dell Technologies. Both of these partners are also investors into Graphcore.
Graphcore has raised £365m across six rounds, reaching an impressive pre-money valuation of £1.13b this year. It raised £116m in February 2020, contributed by Ahren Innovation Capital, Amadeus Capital Partners, Baillie Gifford, Mayfair Equity Partners, Merian Chrysalis Investment Company, M&G Investments, and Sofina.
Rumours have been circulating of a Graphcore float as early as 2022, and potentially on the US Nasdaq exchange rather than the London Stock Exchange (like The Hut Group’s recent £4.5b float). This move is expected to value the company at at least $2b, but could rise to $10b (£7.5b).
Graphcore has over 400 employees in offices in Bristol, London, Cambridge, Oslo, Beijing, Hsinchu, Seoul, and across the US.
2. LettUs Grow
Sector: Cleantech, vertical farming
Funds raised in last 12 months: £2.35m
LettUs Grow develops technology that allows food to be grown without the need for soil, designed to reduce food waste and the carbon footprint of growing produce. The company has developed software that analyses crop performance data and manages energy control to automate lighting, irrigation, and temperature most efficiently. Charles Guy founded the startup to address growing concerns around global food security and climate change.
The company has raised £2.87m across three equity rounds, along with £667k through five grants. Investors into the company include Clearly Social Angels (CSA), Longwall Ventures, University of Bristol Enterprise Fund, and Bethnal Green Ventures. Innovate UK awarded LettUs Grow with four of its grants, and Postcode Lottery Green Challenge awarded its fifth.
The company will use its latest investment to build a new aeroponic research centre, grow its sales pipeline, scale its technology, and accelerate its product to market. It has also been onboarding staff throughout COVID-19 on the back of this £2.35m equity fundraising, and now employs almost 30 staff.
This year, LettUs Grow partnered with Octopus Energy to use its Vertical Power tariff—a scheme that offers 100% green electricity to indoor agriculture companies at a reduced energy cost. And last year, it won the Shell Enterprise Development Award.
Sector: Automotive, Cleantech
Funds raised in last 12 months: £2.07m
G-Volution is a cleantech startup that has developed a dual-fuel system for automobiles. Its technology allows two or more fuels to combust simultaneously—for example, diesel and a lower carbon fuel like natural gas. Chris Smith founded the company in 2005 to aid the world in transitioning towards a zero-carbon economy.
The company has raised £4.45m across six rounds, along with £1.83m from seven grants. G-Volution raised its most recent investment in June this year, totalling £2.07m. The company is operating largely in stealth mode, with only one named investor: Start Up and Early Stage Capital Fund.
G-Volution is currently working with the UK rail industry to decarbonise the rail sector, and has won the “Tech Innovation Award” at the Argus LPG Awards of Excellence 2020 for its work.
4. XCD HR
Funds raised in last 12 months: £2.0m
XCD HR sells human resource management software to corporate clients. It’s an all-in-one SaaS platform for HR and payroll, targeted towards large-scale companies with over 250 employees. The platform is entirely cloud-based, built on the Salesforce cloud platform. It automates processes, delivers reports and analytics, and handles data in GDPR compliant manner.
Founded in 2010, XCD HR raised its first equity investment this month, in December 2020. The round totalled £2.00m, and was a mixture of equity and loan investment from BGF Growth Capital—BGF being the most active investor into UK high-growth companies, with £1.89b invested into 305 companies to date. The investment will go towards accelerating expansion, increasing sales and marketing budgets, and identifying strategic acquisitions.
The platform is used by 30,000 users in 35 countries, and employs just over 100 people. Clients—such as Braun, Peterborough City Council, and Enstar—span commercial, public, and non-profit sectors.
5. Blu Wireless
Sector: Internet and networking hardware
Funds raised in last 12 months: £1.82m
Blu Wireless Technology Blu Wireless has developed 5G mmWave wireless system solutions that are driving technological change to meet global connectivity needs. The company works together with key telecoms partners and customers to provide complete silicon and system product designs, serving fibre-like speeds to a range of industries such as mobility, 5G backhaul, perimeter security, public safety, and smart cities.
The company has raised £35m since inception, via a mix of debt and equity, and has benefited from a number of development grants. Investors into Blu Wireless are as follows: Angel CoFund, Calculus Capital, Guinness EIS Fund, Perscitus, London Business Angels, Qi3 Ventures, Wren Capital, ARM Holdings, Kendall Capital, and MGL Capital.
Blu Wireless has been featured on numerous high-growth lists, including the Top 100 Britain’s Fastest Growing Businesses in 2018, and was involved in two UK Government DCMS projects as part of the 5G Testbeds and Trials programme. The company is currently playing an important role delivering a 5G network in Liverpool, which will be a blueprint for the rest of the UK. It has also partnered with FirstGroup to deliver the first 5G infrastructure to the UK rail system. It now has over 90 employees and continues to expand.
Sector: Advertising and marketing services
Funds raised in last 12 months: £500k
upUgo is a digital marketing startup that offers a range of services, such as media management services and competitor research, digital PR, and social media. upUgo also develops GoRank, a white label search engine optimisation (SEO) SaaS solution. Luke Sartain founded upUgo in 2014 in the heart of Bristol’s city centre.
The company raised its first equity investment in April 2020. The fundraising, totalling £500k, was invested solely by business angel Hayden Rushton. The funds will be used for expansion into new markets, recruitment, and technological development—with plans to soon expand into the US. upUgo now has over 40 employees and over 1,000 clients.
Sector: Professional services, cloud platform
Funds raised in last 12 months: £445k
YellowDog has created a workload management platform that uses machine learning to source the most efficient cloud processing for each client’s requirements and workload. Founded in 2015, the platform caters particularly to companies with resource-intensive processes and large server requirements, like drug discovery or visual effects animation and rendering.
YellowDog’s platform utilises machine learning to manage workload and locates the best source of cloud computing for each user—cloud servers come in many different forms, with different costs, performances, and even carbon impacts. It seeks to rectify the difference between supply and demand of cloud computing power.
The company has raised £7.58m across ten rounds. Bloc Ventures, Bristol Private Equity Club, and Seedrs have all invested into the company. YellowDog raised its latest investment through Seedrs this year, totalling £445k from over 100 retail investors.
YellowDog has around 20 employees and serves many industries, including financial services, meteorology, biotechnology, animation, and aerospace. It works with key cloud partners such as Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud.
Sector: Nanomaterials, graphene
Funds raised in last 12 months: £425k
Anaphite produces metal oxide-graphene nanocomposites which react with light to clear pollution. The company has developed technology to incorporate this graphene into battery materials, aiming to accelerate sustainable energy growth in the battery sector. Graphene’s properties, such as high electrical and thermal conductivity, make it an energy-saving alternative to other materials.
The company has raised £865k across four funding rounds, and £384k through three grants from InnovateUK. Its latest fundraising round, totalling £425k, was led by Bristol Private Equity Club.
The company is using its recent funding to develop its graphene battery technology, to further prolong battery life and improve charging speed. It will also be put towards product development of graphene-powered gas sensors, which aim to detect hazardous gases and pollutants more sensitively and at a lower cost.
9. Condense Reality
Sector: Media, augmented reality
Funds raised in last 12 months: £350k
Condense Reality develops software that captures volumetric video through computer vision and deep learning AI technology. This means that users can capture three-dimensional space—the type that can be viewed at different angles through VR headsets or other 3D and augmented reality displays.
Volumetric video has traditionally required green screens and heavy processing and rendering times, while Condense Reality’s software allows for real-time recording and streaming. The company is partnered with organisations such as Nvidia and BT, and creates content for Microsoft HoloLens and Oculus.
This seed stage tech startup was founded in 2019 and raised its first fundraising earlier this year. The equity investment amounted to £350k, from RLC Ventures and SFC Capital, valuing the company at £1.12m pre-money. The investment is intended to accelerate R&D and commercialisation.
10. Kets Quantum Security
Location: Digital security, quantum computing
Funds raised in last 12 months: £223k
KETS Quantum Security develops technology that uses quantum key distribution and random number generation to increase digital security. As the processing power of computers improves, so will the required power of cyber security and encryption: the company protects systems and data through quantum-powered chips. These chips also enable quantum-secured communication through cryptographic keys.
The company was spun out from the University of Bristol in 2016 from its Quantum Engineering Technology Laboratories. It has attended two accelerators since then: CyberASAP (formerly known as the Innovation-to-Commercialisation of University Research), and Seraphim Space Camp.
KETS Quantum Security has raised £1.22m across two rounds, along with £1.18m through three grants from InnovateUK. Its two named investors are Quantonation and Kx Systems. The company works with Blue Chip organisations, in particular, in industries such as telecommunications, governments, defence, and finance.
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