Tech unicorns increase tenfold in UK in 10 years

The number of tech unicorns in the UK has soared tenfold in the last decade and start-ups are bringing in more funding for growth than any other European country, according to new figures.

In 2010 there were just eight tech unicorns – companies worth more than one billion dollars – but by 2020 this had increased to 81, the Government’s Digital Economy Council and data company found.

Unicorns from a decade ago now include Betfair, Admiral Group and Ocado and analysts believe the UK has a further 132 businesses on the cusp of gaining the status, including Atom Bank, energy firm Bulb and flower business Bloom & Wild.

Funding from venture capital (VC) investors was also just 1.4 billion euros in 2010 but now sits at 13.6 billion euros in 2020 – despite the pandemic stifling global economies and business growth.

Two Ocado vans
Ocado was one of the eight tech unicorns in the UK in 2010 (Doug Peters/PA)

By comparison, Germany had just 31 unicorns in 2020 and VC funding for the next tech giants of 5.8 billion euros. France had 17 and VC funding of five billion euros. Israel saw 3.9 billion euros of investment via VCs.

Only China and the US have raised more funds and since 2015 total UK VC investment has been higher in every year than that in France, Germany and Israel.

Overseas investors from the US and Asia have been increasingly attracted to the UK’s fastest-growing companies, the report said.

The vast majority of the UK’s tech unicorns are based in London, but Cambridgeshire and Oxfordshire are pushing against the capital’s dominance, with 10 and 11 potential future unicorns respectively.

Autonomous vehicle business Oxbotica and Quantum Computing are both thought to be the most likely contenders for the unicorn status.

The North West has five “futurecorns” researchers said, including Matillion, a data firm that raised 100 million dollars (£70.7 million) in funding in February.

In Scotland there are four fast-growing scale-ups including Amphista Therapeutics in Motherwell, a biopharmaceutical company creating therapeutics that harness the body’s natural processes to remove disease-causing proteins.

Roslin Technologies in Edinburgh, which is developing ways to make the agriculture and animal health sectors more sustainable, is also highlighted in the report.

Invoice finance and back-office recruitment platform Sonovate is Wales’ only entry, having recently raised £110 million in its latest Series C funding round.

Stephen Kelly, chair of Tech Nation, said: “The rate of growth in the UK tech ecosystem in the last 10 years has been immense and we are confident that there is more to come.

“The UK now has an incredible 132 futurecorns, more than France and Germany combined, which demonstrates the extent to which the UK is leading Europe.”

Digital Secretary Oliver Dowden said: “These latest figures show the UK’s tech scene is booming and I’m delighted to see so many of our stellar scale-ups racing to becoming the next one billion dollar businesses.

“This Government is unashamedly pro-tech and we’re investing heavily in world-class digital infrastructure and skills to back talent across the country and bring about a golden age of UK tech.”