As London Tech Week kicks off this week, the spotlight is on the UK’s world-renowned tech scene, with 2.1 million people now employed in the sector. To coincide with this, Tech Nation has revealed that the UK is leading the herd when it comes to tech unicorns.

A unicorn refers to a startup that is valued over $1bn, or £784m. The term was coined back in 2013 by Aileen Lee to denote the rarity of a successful venture. However, according to Tech Nation, the UK is home to more tech unicorns than any other European country.

Some 13 new unicorns emerged from the UK over the last year, the equivalent of more than one a month, behind only the US and China in terms of fast-growing tech companies. This takes the number of billion-dollar tech companies to 72, representing more than a third of Europe’s fastest-growing tech companies. Since 2012, the country has produced as many unicorns as Israel, Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden combined.

A bright future for UK tech

Digital Secretary Jeremy Wright believes that the future is bright for British tech startups:

“As entrepreneurs and investors arrive in the capital for London Tech Week, we must celebrate the achievements of the UK’s booming tech industry which is attracting record levels of investment and employing millions of people up and down the country.

“These brilliant figures show we are currently punching high in the global pecking order and, thanks to our strong fundamentals of skills and talent, business environment and world-leading research, the future is extremely bright.

This firmly cements London as being at the heart of the European tech scene, producing 45, or 21% of Europe’s fast-growing unicorns worth $148bn combined. Outside of London, Cambridge, Oxford, Manchester, Leeds, Bristol and Edinburgh have all produced at least two unicorns.

This growth has been supported by £14bn of capital funding from the UK Government, the Business Growth Fund, UK Research and Innovation, the British Business Bank and its Industrial Strategy. Speaking at the opening of London Tech Week, prime minister Theresa May is expected to announce pledges of £1bn from tech companies to support UK tech.

New venture capital funds raised reached $3.5bn during 2018, and this shows little sign of stopping. The first five months of 2019 have seen several notable investment rounds,  included Greensill, Checkout.com and Starling Bank in the fintech sector and Deliveroo and Ovo Energy from other sectors. Looking to the future, Tech Nation has reported that there are 75 companies on the path to unicorn status, worth at least $250m.

Eileen Burbidge, chair of Tech Nation and partner Passion Capital believes that the fintech sector in particular shows promise for the future:

“There’s never been a better time to be working in the UK digital tech sector. We are really punching above our weight, as demonstrated by the fact that a third of Europe’s unicorns have been produced here and 30% of future unicorns are also based in the UK. I am delighted to see that in addition to tech overall, in quite a few sub-sectors such as fintech we are already global leaders with more fast-growing unicorns than cities like New York, Shanghai and Beijing.


Read more: Unicorns are far from mythical in London, where tech startups thrive.

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