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What’s next for the UK ‘futurecorns’?

You might have already heard of some unicorn companies – privately-held companies with a value of at least $1bn – but what about the companies that are set to break the $1bn barrier next? Known as the ‘futurecorns’, Business Leader recently caught up with a couple of them to discuss their plans for achieving this milestone.

How much have the ‘futurecorns’ grown over the past year?

In order to predict that a company will reach a £1bn valuation, they need to have performed well over the past year and beyond. So, what exactly leads to a company being branded as the next unicorn company?

One company predicted to break the £1bn barrier is Bristol-based award-winning logistics service Huboo, and we spoke to Paul Dodd, Huboo’s Co-founder and CTO, about their recent growth.

He comments, “Our year-on-year revenue increased by 124% between January 2021 and January 2022. In addition, we increased warehouse space from 186,508 sq. ft to 378,469 sq. ft and expanded our team by 368 over the past 12 months.

“A combination of changing consumer habits from the pandemic and investment has enabled us to grow and enter new territories.”

Abingdon-based Gigaclear is an internet service provider and another ‘futurecorn’. The company’s CEO, Gareth Williams, explains how they’ve managed to grow so much over the past year.

He comments, “Gigaclear really hit the accelerator in 2021, breaking all of its previous network and customer growth records, and truly delivered on its mission to transform rural communities with brilliant full-fibre broadband.

“Revenue has increased by 40%, driven largely by selling into new network areas, including market towns, and increasing our penetration across our more mature networks. We’ve also seen an annual increase of 57% in the number of homes ‘ready for service’ – these are properties that are ready to be connected to our network. We’re currently approaching 60,000 customers, having grown our customer base by 50% in each of the past two years.

“The past year has seen us undergo a brand refresh, which included the launch of our first-ever TV ad campaign, and we’ve seen a leap in customer satisfaction which has, in part, contributed to our growth. Supporting this growth is a dynamic and hugely motivated Gigaclear team that’s 575 strong – up more than 20% on the same period last year. And, as the cost-of-living crisis bites, we’re generating a lot of interest in the marketplace for our offer of fast speeds at low prices.”

How will they achieve unicorn status and what are their plans for achieving it?

Being touted as the next company to achieve unicorn status is one thing, but actually achieving it requires a lot of hard work and commitment. So, how will the ‘futurecorns’ fulfil their destiny?

According to Paul Dodd, Huboo’s plans are centred around keeping their company culture intact.

He says, “To continue our phased role out across Europe, hiring local talent who will implement our human-centric model. As we grow it is important our culture remains at the heart of everything we do. Ensuring employees continue to feel empowered, supporting them to become even more efficient and better equipped to assist customers and clients, enhancing job satisfaction.

“We are also continually improving our eco credentials and helping clients do the same. We are looking forward to partnering with sustainable companies in our new territories to expand our partnership portfolio.”

So, when do Huboo expect to hit the £1bn milestone?

“We expect to achieve unicorn status in 2022 by growing in our existing markets – UK, Netherlands, Germany and Spain – whilst entering new territories and diversifying our product range,” concludes Dodd.

Gareth Williams and Gigaclear are expecting to reach unicorn status this year too.

Williams continues, “Using our last valuation round in 2019 and assuming no improvement in our share price, the company can be valued at c.£800 million today. In dollar terms, we’re as good as there. For us, the most effective way to achieve ‘unicorn status’ would be to continue investing in physical assets and supporting our team in order to grow our network as quickly as possible. We expect to achieve this milestone by year-end 2022.”

Whilst breaking the $1bn barrier is undoubtedly impressive, there’s no reason why companies must stop there. Companies like Apple, Microsoft and Amazon are already valued at more than $1 trillion, so the sky really is the limit. So, what are Gigaclear’s plans post-2022?

According to Williams, network expansion is their focus.

He comments, “We are committed to taking full-fibre broadband further and being the first alternative network provider in rural towns and villages, expanding primarily in the south.

“Unlike some other providers, we don’t overbuild on other networks. Our ambition is to reach 1.3 million homes and one way for us to achieve this is to continue to enhance our capabilities in deploying PON (passive optical networks) and PIA (passive infrastructure access) networks as well as investing in other systems that will enable us to deliver full-fibre more efficiently. We’re also adding our new Home Phone service, making our proposition even more attractive.”

How many unicorns are there currently in the UK?

As things stand, the UK is leading the way when it comes to new unicorn companies in Europe. In 2021, there were 85 new tech unicorns created in Europe, 41 of which came from the UK. Some of the new UK unicorns created in 2021 included the e-commerce platform Depop, the selling platform Motorway, and the challenger bank Starling Bank.

According to the European Unicorn & Soonicorn report, the UK and Ireland also produced the most valuable unicorns in Europe in 2021, making up more than 38% of the continent’s entire unicorn value and creating around 40,000 jobs in the process.

The report also says that the UK currently has 73 fast-growing start-ups that are likely to join the unicorn club (soonicorns). However, 48% of the funding for these businesses still comes from outside Europe – mostly from US-based investors – and only 4% of the UK’s unicorns and soonicorns are female-founded.

So, whilst the current state of unicorn companies in the UK provides plenty of reason for optimism, it does highlight a huge disparity between female and male-founded companies along with a lack of funding coming from within Europe. And if these gaps were addressed, just imagine how high the UK tech sector could soar.

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