Explore the ScaleUp Annual Review 2023

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UK Unicorns

The ScaleUp Institute has undertaken an overarching review of the various analyses of UK unicorns – all the companies born in the UK and valued at over $1bn since 1998. We also included a few that were born elsewhere but who moved to the UK at an early stage and whose growth journey has been in the UK. To gain a unique perspective on the unicorn landscape, we looked at both the long-term historical trends and the current position at the end of 2022. 

Several key patterns and trends were revealed.

Since 1998 the UK has created 157 unicorns of which 63 had valuations greater than $1bn at the end of 2022. Combined, they have generated £43.5bn in turnover; employ 193,752 people and by the time they reached the $1bn valuation they had raised £32.4bn in investment. 

Though the majority of these unicorns are now more than 10 years old, more than half (53%) reached unicorn status before that age – the key period in reaching unicorn status is between five to 10 years old. Unicorns have significant scaling episodes with average growth rates being 67 per cent.

London is the primary hub for unicorns, but there are significant presences in the South East, East of England, and North West regions. Finance, particularly fintech, life sciences and the creative industries are the leading sectors. University spinouts account for 19 of the UK’s unicorns. Nearly four in ten (39%) of UK unicorn founders are international or have dual nationality, while 14 have at least one female co-founder. This is a diverse and multinational ecosystem. 

This is reflected in the global nature of UK unicorns. Eight in ten (79%) export and/or have an international presence, particularly in the EU and the US. 

Nearly half (43%) of the UK’s unicorns have gone public, with 38 listing on the London Stock Exchange and 25 in the US. However since 2018 there has been a significant shift towards the US – since 2018 the majority of UK unicorns have listed there.

This shift is occurring across all sectors and is particularly notable in life sciences – seven life sciences unicorns have listed in the US since 2018 compared to one in the UK during the same period. There is a “SPAC effect” at play here: seven of the 13 UK unicorns to list in the US in 2021 were via SPAC mergers.

Equally striking is the significant levels of international investment at every stage of the investment ladder, mainly from US investors. International investors’ predominance over UK investors increases significantly from series-C rounds onwards. Although almost half (48%) of the investors at pre-seed and seed level are UK investors, this percentage drops to one in four (26%) by Series-D rounds and above. This emphasises both the early stage risk appetite of international players as well as their depth in follow-on funding.