The UK has become a beacon for start-up and tech sector success in recent years, and this has led to a number of ‘unicorn’ businesses being created.
A ‘unicorn’ is a start-up company that reaches a valuation in excess of $1bn (around £760m). The term originates from the rarity of a start-up reaching this value.
However, over the last decade, there has been a rise in the number of unicorns, despite the fact that most UK start-ups either sell or fold before they have a chance to reach this valuation.
British businesses have often been labelled as being unable or afraid of scaling to these heights – but these businesses have shown how it is done.
With the help of Beauhurst, Business Leader profiles the 14 UK unicorn businesses.
London-based BenevolentAI is a specialist in developing artificial intelligence developments for the medical and neuroscience markets. Their mission is to change the way in which medicine is developed and then delivered to the global market, through the use of smart technology. The company’s ‘Benevolent Platform’ is a machine learning tool that has revolutionised drug discovery and distribution. It analyses biomedical information in order to contextualise the readings from the neuroscience and medical developments.
Date of $1bn valuation: July 2015
Scottish multinational brewery and pub chain was founded in 2007, and has grown to become one of the UK’s flagship food and drinks businesses. The company focuses around a variety of beer styles – ale, stout, India Pale Ale (IPA) and lager – all of which are available in supermarkets or their chain of bars. They have become known for their award-winning range and often-outrageous promotional campaigns.
Date of $1bn valuation: April 2017
The latest British unicorn, checkout.com joined the list earlier this month. Like many of its fellow British unicorns, Checkout.com operates within the Fintech space and develops a range of software for businesses to process online payments in multiple currencies. The Isle of Man-based company first turned a profit in 2015 – just three years after incorporation.
Date of $1bn valuation: May 2019
Despite its ominous name, the Cambridge-based artificial intelligence cyber defence company using high tech machine learning to offer an industry leading system and analytics to prevent cyber-attacks. Despite being only six years old, the company has 30 offices around the world across five continents – with over 850 employees. Darktrace tech is used to autonomously check a company’s digital processes and protect them against the dangers of the latest tech innovations including cloud and Internet of Things (IoT) innovations.
Date of $1bn valuation: September 2018
The beloved food delivery service that has seemingly become a part of everyday life for people in major cities across the world – Deliveroo has revolutionised the food sector. Using its fleet of cyclists and gig/sharing economy benefits, the company has reportedly created over 7000 new jobs within the sector and boosted the UK economy by over £500m.
Date of $1bn valuation: September 2017
Bristol-based Graphcore is another UK unicorn that specialises in artificial intelligence and machine learning applications. Despite only launching three years ago, the company has experienced exponential growth within its market. Graphcore creates semiconductors and microprocessors that include advanced machine learning tools. It has received hundreds of millions of pounds of funding from the likes of Microsoft, BMW, Samsung and Dell.
Date of $1bn valuation: December 2018
Improbable World’s Limited is a global video games and cloud computing giant who first burst onto the world stage by closing a $502m series B funding round from high profile tech investors – the fifth largest VC round in history. They have become known as the standard-bearer for the next wave of transformative technology relating to virtual worlds and video games. Their ‘SpatialOS’ programme has changed cloud computing and how it works within the video games market.
Date of $1bn valuation: May 2017
Prominent challenger bank Monzo hit the unicorn status within four years, as the UK is in the midst of a fintech revolution. Known for its ‘coral’ coloured bank cards, the company has become very popular with millennials and are responsible for 15-20% of all new accounts opening in the UK. Monzo has had a series of very successful funding rounds which have led to its unicorn status, and although it faces strong competition from Revolut, they are sent to continue their expansion in the UK banking sector. Their app-based model has proven very successful, and was the cornerstone behind their record raise of £1m in just 96 seconds.
Date of $1bn valuation: October 2018
Many of the companies that have achieved unicorn status have come from the fintech sector, and OakNorth was the first of the challenger banks to achieve this status. OakNorth was co-founded by Rishi Khosla, and has been the driving force behind it ever since. Although they have had many successful funding rounds, OakNorth broke even before its first year of operation and has been operating in profit ever since. The company focuses on multi-million pound loans to entrepreneurial ventures.
Date of $1bn valuation: October 2017
The tech-enabled energy provider is unique in this list as it has largely not relied on any large VC or PE funding to achieve its unicorn status. In recent years, its turnover has soared from around the $400m mark and has rapidly rose towards to billion dollar mark. Earlier this year, Japanese car firm Mitsubishi bought a 20% stake in the company for £200m – which pushed it over the finish line. This is impressive considering the backdrop of tighter regulations, price cap controversies and monetary fund issues for firms within the sector in recent years.
Date of $1bn valuation: February 2019
Oxford Nanopore Technologies
Oxford Nanopore Technologies has disrupted the paradigm of biological analysis by making high performance and revolutionary DNA and RNA sequence technology that is easily accessible and understandable. Used in over 80 countries, Oxford Nanopore’s technology is used for a variety of different purposes. These include large scale human genomics, cancer research, microbiology, plant science and environmental research. The companies unicorn status was partly down to a series of funding rounds that totalled £451m.
Date of $1bn valuation: July 2015
Another app-focused challenger bank, Revolut has also rode the wave of fintech success in the UK. Last year, the company closed its latest funding round of $250m, and in doing so, reached a valuation of around $1.7bn. Revolut offers its two million customers (and rapidly rising) pre-paid cards, an app and cheap foreign exchange rates. The company has now expanded into North America, Asia and Australia.
Date of $1bn valuation: April 2018
The Hut Group
Manchester-based online beauty retailer, The Hut Group, is an international e-commerce giant, which operates over 100 websites selling fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) direct to consumers. The company’s sales have predominantly been from overseas, although they do have a strong history in the UK retail sector. The Hut Group has made many acquisitions since it was founded in 2004, and has grown to have over 4000 employees.
Date of $1bn valuation: February 2016
One of the most well-known fintech giants across the world, TransferWise has successfully disrupted the traditional banking market through their own international money transfer market. The London-headquartered firm has changed the way in which businesses and individuals send money across the world. Since it was founded in 2011, the business has experienced exponential growth through its low-cost platform that allows multi-currency transfers through independent accounts. The concept allows international transfers, where the broker received a very small commission, whereas major banks charged a lot more – all meaning that the user saves money for international business.
Date of $1bn valuation: May 2016