BRITAIN’S OWN UNICORNS LEAD THE CHARGE
Our billion-dollar tech companies have the skills, ambition and staying power to back up their huge valuations, reports Rhys Owen
No longer confined to mythology, eight privately owned “unicorns” – small, fast- growing technology firms with valuations of more than $1bn – have been identified in Britain, and five of them can be found on the 15th annual Sunday Times Hiscox Tech Track 100.
Spanning fashion, retailing, fantasy sports, Travel, advertising and finance technology, the five have on average increased their sales by 191% a year over the past three years, compared with an 86% average annual growth across by whole of the Tech Track 100, which ranks Britain’s fastest-growing private technology, media and telecoms firms.
The five unicorns are commerce technology developer and No1 company, Ve Interactive, fantasy sports site Fanduel (No 3). peer-to-peer lending platform Funding Circle (No4), fashion retail website Farfetch.com (No 17), and travel search engine Skyscanner (No 51).
Edinburg-based Fanduel has grown to its billion dollar status by focusing on a huge market – North American sports fans – while Farfetch.com has attracted its valuation by enabling online shoppers to buy from 300 fashion boutiques around the world. This international reach is a common theme In this year’s Tech Track 100, with a fifth of the league table making most of their sales overseas, Including games retailer Green Man Naming (No 23) and mobile phone
designer Bullit Group.
Tech Track 100, which ranks Britain’s fastest-growing private technology, media and telecoms companies by sales, is produced by Fast Track, the Oxford firm that researches Britain’s top private companies and organises invitation-only dinners for their owners and directors to network and meet the programme’s sponsors.
(No 12). On page 2 Sean Duffy of Barclays looks at how Green Man Gaming has man-aged its rapid growth. The ability to raise external capital can make or break a tech business entering a new market. In July, Oxfordshire’s Immunocore (No 9) completed the largest equity financing for a private life sciences company in Europe so far, raising £205m to help it develop cancer treatments. In total 40 companies on the league table have received external equity funding. As BDO’s Julian Frost discusses on page 4, crowdfunding in particular has become a new source of cash. While London continues to dominate the tech scene, with 52 companies based there, 10 firms are located in northern England, including Manchester’s Neuven (No 2) which develops staff administration software.
IT services and software have re-emerged as the dominant Industries In the sector, with 38 companies featured. There are also nine hi-tech manufacturers, such as Seiche (No 61), which develops acoustic systems for detecting marine 1., and gaming machine maker Reflex Games (No 45).
The rapid sales growth that all 100 companies have in common brings its men challenges. On page 6, Simon Calves of BGF recalls the demands of being boss of Tech Track 100 alumnus Love film. The online DVD rental business has featured four times in the 15 years since the league table was launched. Looking back to its first year. 2001, a year after the dotcom crash, the combined sales of the Tech Track 100 were £414m — compared with 02.4. today. The top 100 companies then employed 5,000 people.
This year the total is over 13,000. Since 2001, 39 featured companies have gone on to float In stock markets — firms such as Zoopla, Sophos and Ocado, all now valued at more than 1bn. This year’s cohort may replicate their success. Just over half are appearing for the second year in a row, while Edinburgh-based travel search engine Skyscanner features a for the sixth consecutive year. At a time when there is concern over a potential tech bubble, such sustained performances demonstrate the sector s robust health.
Identity document authentication
IDscan uses artificial intelligence to read and validate identity documents such as passports for clients including Barclays and EE. The company —founded by managing director Tamlyn Thompson in 2006 — says it wants to become “the Paypal of identity”. Sales hit the roof this year and, with regulations increasingly requiring companies to check customers’ identity, it is investing in research and development. IDscan has offices in Turkey, Lithuania and South Africa, and is planning expansion in Australia.