Unicorns are magical creatures. They are a metaphoric symbol of all things magical, so we earthlings are amazed even with its thought. Well, the same goes for unicorn startups!
The startup world is a lively one, with lots of advancements, new challenges and a strong flow of ideas one could also consider the world of startups are magical too.
We would like to clarify the unicorn startup definition before we get to our unicorn startups in the UK list. What actually is this unicorn startup phrase we have been hearing a lot of with big celebrations and praises? Defining a unicorn startup is easy but becoming one is usually a painful process. Aileen Lee, the founder of Cowboy Ventures used the term “unicorn” for startups that got $1B or more valuation in her post on TechCrunch called the “Welcome to the Unicorn Club: Learning From Million Dollar Startups”
The idea is simple, a unicorn has one horn that is the equivalent of a startup having a $1B value —that is around £708K— in public and private markets! Here we have the unicorn startup list in the UK — may it be an inspiration to new billion-dollar ideas.
How Do You Start a Unicorn Startup?
Well, we all have great ideas, but they’re not easy to implement or make money from them most of the time. Unicorn companies and startups may seem magical, but they’re all built on a lot of hard work. Having a company that reaches enormous sizes and takes place in billion-dollar segments to put its name on the list of unicorn startups is hard work even while reading this sentence! But let’s put aside the whining and see what we can do to have our next best idea to be the next unicorn startup in the UK! So, here are some qualities you should have to gain momentum with your startup.
- Be a pioneer! Whatever industry you’re in, whatever industry you’re serving, bring your unique spark to your work. Do an innovative workflow using new methods.
- Think of the long run. Don’t base your startup on one innovation or product. You should plan ahead and always share what the future looks like for your customers, investors, and yourself!
- Stay in line with what’s new. Always refresh your systems and definitely take place within the digital world. Make sure to use mass media, facilitate communication and the latest technological improvements and trends.
Always easier said than done. Unicorns are rare creatures even in fairy tales and myths. Also, they appear in certain circumstances, and not everybody can go near them, let alone see them. You can probably see the parallel here. Without further ado, here’s our unicorn startup list in the UK. May it be an inspiration to new billion-dollar ideas!
Benevolent is a perfect example of using the latest technology to save human lives. They use AI and machine learning to predict and pinpoint what is causing diseases and finding how to better the condition with medicine that is uniquely a perfect fit for each individual. The best part is that they not only use machines for this process. They also have valuable scientists that hypothesise and validate new ways to treat diseases and personalise drugs for the patient. The future is in AI, and with Benevolent, our health is in safe hands within the AI world!
Oxford Nanopore Technologies
An amazing technology unicorn startup that was founded in 2005 and just 10 years later got its billion-dollar valuation. With their new generation sensing technology that uses nanopores embedded into high-tech electronics, the Oxford Nanopore Technologies enables anyone to perform precise molecular analyses. They offer sequencing technology to combine scalability from portable to ultra-high-throughput formats with real-time data delivery and the ability to elucidate rich biological data through the analysis of short to ultra-long fragments of native DNA or RNA.
Founded by Martin and James in 2007 when they were fed up with the industrially brewed lagers and ales that dominated the UK beer market, the two founders set foot on a journey that would become a unicorn startup. Brewdog became a unicorn startup in 2013, 6 years after being founded. They never lost their startup spirit and always reinvented themselves. During the global pandemic, they announced that they had become the world’s first carbon-negative brewery! After 13 years, they now have 2000 employees globally, 4 states of the art breweries in Ellon, Columbus, Berlin, Brisbane, and 100 bars.
Talking about technology? Oaknorth is the industry’s first machine learning-powered, data-driven technology that gives commercial lenders a forward-looking, 360-degree view of their borrowers. From Relationship Managers to Portfolio and Risk Managers, all people in the finance sector is now able to engage with their clients, make better credit decisions, anticipate challenges and propose solutions. Built over five years by an engineering and credit science team of over 250 people, OakNorth Bank is in the top 1% of UK banks that are developed in terms of RORE and efficiency.
Improbable is the next generation of gaming and has so much to offer to the virtual world. This unicorn was founded in 2012 by Herman Narula and Rob Whitehead, both Cambridge University computer science graduates who loved games and wanted to create a bigger gaming world where multi-players were in much better circumstances in the technological world.
Though they are a London based startup, they have offices all around the world and have 800+ people with amazing credits within the gaming world. They became a unicorn after receiving over $600m in funding from some of the most reputable investors in the world, including the SoftBank Vision Fund, Andreessen Horowitz, Horizons Ventures, and NetEase.
Darktrace was founded in 2013 by mathematicians and cyber experts with government intelligence backgrounds and is the first company to apply AI to the challenge of cybersecurity. This Cambridge based startup is a world leader in self-learning AI, having created the first, at-scale deployment of artificial intelligence for the enterprise with over 4,700 customers worldwide. Using its self-learning AI to detect and neutralize cyber threats across diverse digital estates, including the cloud networks, IoT, and industrial control systems.
Graphcore is a perfect AI-based solution that enables developers to run current machine learning models faster in large-scale computations. More importantly, it lets AI researchers undertake entirely new types of work that are not possible using other technologies, to drive the next great breakthroughs in general machine intelligence. This unicorn startup has created a new processor, the Intelligence Processing Unit (IPU), specifically designed for artificial intelligence with a special architecture that makes it a billion-dollar worth company!
Ovo is a collection of companies that provides services within the utilities, energy, gas and electricity, technology, renewable energy, electric vehicles, and battery storage sectors. Their mission is to drive progress towards net zero carbon living with the vision to power human progress with clean affordable energy for everyone. They were founded in 2008 and have been giving great service to the people and the earth ever since.
We are all too busy to spare time for cooking —let alone the cleaning up after! Gousto is the perfect solution for today’s busy world that will satisfy our dining needs with home cooking. With this unicorn startup, you can choose recipes you’d like to cook and get all the measured ingredients delivered to your house. With their $32.3M funding, this London-based startup is rated 5 out of 5 by The Sunday Telegraph and “Best Buy” by Independent.
Gymshark is a community and apparel selling platform. Their community consists of athletes, artists, and visionaries that stretch all the way across the globe. They are one of the fastest-growing and most recognisable fitness apparel and accessories brands, supported by over 5 million highly engaged social media followers and customers in hundreds of countries. With $267.1M private equity, they are a unicorn startup that is for the ambitious and active.
Marshmallow is the UK’s first black-owned unicorn. The company raised approximately £61.5M in a funding round in September 2021.
Identical twins Oliver and Alexander Kent-Braham, along with David Goaté, founded Marshmallow in 2017 to provide affordable insurance to everyone. Their business uses big data and artificial intelligence to calculate risks and offer personalised insurance solutions to its customers. It allowed the company to grow at a rapid rate in the first half of 2021. As a result, Marshmallow doubled its sales and tripled the team member number within the period.
Just Eat is one of the most popular food and grocery delivery apps in the UK, along with over ten other countries on four continents. Originally founded in Denmark by Jesper Buch, Per Meldgaard, and Henrik Østergaard, Just Eat became a unicorn after moving its operations base to the UK. Also, the company had an exit. It managed to raise over £75M in various funding rounds and has over £700M annual revenue.
Another giant in the food and grocery delivery industry, Deliveroo, was founded by Will Shu and Greg Orlowski in 2013. The company raised over £1B since its incorporation and became a unicorn in 2017.
Deliveroo is one of the fastest-growing tech companies in the UK—but also in the world. It operates in hundreds of cities in tens of countries worldwide. The business invests significant resources in technology to serve better to their customers, and its unique algorithm called “Frank” is the distinguishing feature in the delivery app market.
Half British, half American, data privacy management startup OneTrust is among the fastest-growing companies in its field. London is one of the co-headquarters along with the main office in Atlanta, Georgia. Kabir Barday founded the startup in 2016 that got its $1B valuation, thus, the unicorn status, in 2019.
OneTrust provides tools, software, and other required technologies to companies and enterprises for data privacy management. Its customers include various organisations from Air Canada to London’s very own Natural History Museum.
Wise (Former TransferWise)
The most favourite international—and domestic—money transfer app worldwide, London-based Wise is a game-changer FinTech startup.
Kristo Kaarmann and Taavet Hinrikus founded Wise in 2011 in Estonia, and the company has been thriving since then. It raised nearly £1B in several funding rounds and is valued at $5B currently. Recently, Wise announced that the Co-founder, Taavet Hinrikus, is to sell some of his company shares, reported Reuters.
London is one of the leading cities in FinTech, and the next unicorns on our list, Revolut, Monzo, Checkout.com, and SumUp, are just a fragment of the great startups in the industry.
Nikolay Storonsky and Vlad Yatsenko founded Revolut in 2015. The company reached unicorn status in 2018 with a $1.8B valuation, and it raised over £1.2B in various funding rounds since its incorporation. Revolut offers mobile banking, card payments, money remittance, and foreign exchange solutions to its customers.
Similar to Revolut, Monzo was founded in 2015 and had its unicorn status in 2018. Its five founders, Gary Dolman, Jason Bates, Jonas Huckestein, Paul Rippon, and Tom Blomfield, started the digital-only banking company. Quickly, it became one of the most popular neo banks in the UK.
Monzo raised £50M funds in a Series G funding round in February 2021, just after the Co-founder and CEO, Tom Blomfield, announced his departure from the company. In total, Monzo received over £450M in funds in six years.
Next on the list, Checkout.com is an online payment solutions platform that improves users’ checkout experience. The FinTech unicorn uses APIs so that its customers can easily integrate several digital payment and banking methods such as credit and debit cards, online banking, PayPal, Apple Pay, and more.
Guillaume Pousaz founded Checkout.com in 2012, and the company managed to raise over £600M in just three funding rounds. The business became a unicorn in 2019; in 2021, it unlocked “Europe’s top unicorn” achievement with a $15B valuation.
SumUp offers one of the easiest ways—maybe the easiest—for your business to accept card payments. From buskers to retail shops, SumUp’s products help businesses in various sizes.
Jan Deepen, Marc-Alexander Christ, Petter Made, and Stefan Jeschonnek started SumUp in 2012, and the company reached unicorn status in 2019. SumUp has acquired six companies so far and raised over £1B funds.
Ali Parsa founded Babylon in 2013, intending to provide more accessible and affordable healthcare for everyone with the help of AI.
Babylon is among the UK’s top HealthTech and AI companies that got its unicorn status in 2019 with over a $2B valuation. The company raised around £454M in funds at the same round it became a unicorn. The investment is the largest fundraise in Europe and the US digital health industry, according to Babylon’s claim. Recently, it went public in October 2021 on New York Stock Exchange.
CMR Surgical is a HealthTech startup from Cambridge, founded by Luke Hares, Mark Slack, and Martin Frost. Its surgical robots increase the efficiency and accuracy of surgeons in critical operations.
The startup became a unicorn in October 2019 and raised over £700M in funds. The name of the robot the company designed is Versius, and Galaxy Care Hospital in India used it the first time worldwide after CMR Surgical got its unicorn status.
Arik Shtilman, Arkady Karpman, and Omer Priel founded Rapyd, a payments platform that inserts fintech services into any app, in 2016. The company reached unicorn status in 2019 with over $8B (approximately £6B) valuation and raised over $700M (~£570M) in funds to date.
Businesses in over 70 countries can accept payments and send money using Rapyd’s services. Rapyd is another example of how the UK—specifically London—is a great nesting place for fintech companies to become unicorns.
Snyk is a security provider for developers to build software with confidence. In 2015, Assaf Hefetz, Danny Grander, Guy Podjarny, and Jacob Tarango founded Snyk to offer a more secure development platform for coders, software developers and alike.
Although the founders laid the company’s foundations in the USA, it is registered to Companies House in the UK, enough for Snyk to be regarded as a UK unicorn.
Cazoo raised over £1B in several funding rounds to date and became a unicorn in June 2020—just after 18 months of its foundation and six months after its launch date.
Saying that Hopin is a child of the pandemic wouldn’t be an overstatement. Founded in June 2019, virtual events platform Hopin was one of the fastest-growing businesses in the UK during the pandemic. It reached unicorn status in August 2021 with over a $7.75B (£5.77B) valuation.
Johnny Boufarhat founded Hopin just months before the COVID pandemic hit the globe. With the extreme increase in demand for video conferencing software, Boufarhat saw the opportunity and took advantage of it. The platform offers scalable video conferencing solutions from 1:1 meetings to large virtual expos.
Lendable is a lending platform, as its name gave it away. Founded by Jakob Schwarz, Martin Kissinger, Paul Pamment, and Victoria van Lennep in 2014, London-based FinTech reached unicorn status in March 2021.
The startup, raised almost £1B to date in several funding rounds, offers alternative lending methods to banks.
If you run an international trade company, PPRO, one of London’s other FinTech unicorns, provides the payment infrastructure you need.
Philipp Bock, Philipp Nieland, and Tobias Schreyer found PPRO in 2006, and the startup reached unicorn status in 2021 in a round in which it raised £132M in funds. The company’s growth in late 2020 played a crucial role in becoming a unicorn. It doubled its transaction volumes in Q4 of 2020, and its global team grew by 60% throughout the year.
London has an abundance of successful FinTechs—especially neobanks—such as Revolut, Monzo, Monese, and of course, Starling Bank. Also, its founder, Anne Boden, is one of the most influential women business leaders in the UK startups ecosystem. Her startup reached unicorn status in March 2021, becoming the 10th unicorn FinTech in the country.
Founded in 2014, Starling Bank has over 2.1 million users. Even though the user number is relatively lower than its competitors, Starling Bank managed to win Britain’s Best Bank title at the British Banking Awards four years in a row.
Zego is a London-based InsurTech startup that provides auto insurance solutions from self-employed drivers to big companies with large fleets.
Harry Franks, Sten Saar and Stuart Kelly found Zegon in 2016 to offer personalised auto insurance solutions to businesses of various sizes. It became the first UK InsurTech unicorn in March 2021.
Out of Hampton, Shropshire, Touchlight Genetics revolutionises medicine with dbDNA™ technology. At a time when developing mRNA vaccines becomes increasingly important, HealthTech’s significance is widely accepted and understood more than ever.
Jonny Ohlson started Touchlight Genetics in 2007 and managed to secure “the first synthetic biology unicorn of the UK” title for his startup in March 2021.
Initially from Singapore, PatSnap also has a headquarters in London. With hundreds of team members centred in the UK, we can say that PatSnap is a unicorn from her majesty’s lands.
Guan Dian, Jeffrey Tiong and Ray Chohan formed the company in 2007 in Singapore. As the company expanded its reach globally, in 2015, the UK became one of the four headquarters worldwide, and it reached unicorn status in March 2021. PatSnap offers intelligent market research and competitor analysis solutions to 10,000 clients in 50 countries.
“Blockchain” has been a buzzword for over a decade, and we owe that mainly to Benjamin Reeves, Nicolas Cary and Peter Smith, who started Blockchain.com in 2011.
The London-based company is another unicorn that reached the status in March 2021 with over £3B of valuation. Blockchain.com is the only UK crypto unicorn startup globally as of January 2022.
Ali Mazanderani and Eduardo Pontes started SaltPay, a London-based FinTech company, in 2019, and it became a unicorn in April 2021.
SaltPay offers payment solutions to SMEs for them to build financially stronger businesses. As a FinTech from London, SlatPay is another example of how London is a wonderful city for startups that offers innovative solutions in the FinTech industry.
What makes an idea great in every industry starts with spotting the missing link, and if you put your heart and soul into that idea—and with a bit of luck, of course—there’s a chance for rare success. Don’t forget that these companies are called “unicorns” for a reason.