London: Once the stuff of legend in Europe, unicorns are becoming easier to find on the continent.
A study by British investment banking group GP Bullhound shows that a bumper crop of billion-dollar technology companies has been produced in the region since April 2014, with 13 groups achieving the valuation. The figures point to strong growth in the region’s start-up scene, which is beginning to develop mature tech groups of a size that only Silicon Valley has been able to consistently produce.
One reason for the change is that fledgling tech groups in Europe have begun to attract higher levels of investment than was previously available. Between April 2014 and April 2015, European tech groups completed 46 “large” fund-raising rounds of $30 million or more, worth a combined total of $5.65 billion. This compares with 30 large fund-raising rounds worth a total of $2.9 billion the year earlier.
In an example of this newfound fund-raising power, Spotify, the Swedish music streaming service, raised $526 million, giving it a valuation of $8.5 billion. Investors included Nordic mobile operator TeliaSonera, British asset manager Baillie Gifford, Canadian hedge fund Senvest Capital and investment bank Goldman Sachs.
Venture capitalists said money was flowing into Europe because there was evidence that significant tech companies were being built there. Hussein Kanji, a partner at Hoxton Ventures, said that, in the past, tech start-ups had struggled to obtain the multimillion dollar cheques that were common in California, but rare in Europe.
“You were selling a vision, as much as you were showing success on the ground,” he said. “Previously, there was no Klarna, no TransferWise, no Just Eat.”
However, since April 2014, there have only been seven successful “exits” for European groups in which a company had achieved a sale or IPO worth $1 billion or more. This included the sale of the Mojang, the Swedish maker of Minecraft, to Microsoft for $2.5 billion in September last year, and the IPOs of Germany investment group Rocket internet and UK companies Markit and Zoopla.
Since April 2014, 13 companies joined the group of billion-dollar tech companies in Europe, with three dropping off the list. The average value of Europe’s new entrants was $3 billion. Rocket internet was the most valuable new addition. The German start-up conglomerate launched its long-awaited IPO in October 2014, which at the time gave it a market value of 6.7 billion euros.
Overall, 40 European groups have achieved billion-dollar valuations since 2000. Skype, the video calls company founded in 2003 and sold to Microsoft for $8.5 billion in 2011, and Spotify, the music streaming service, were the most valuable companies built since the start of the century.
These mature technology groups have been lucrative to the venture capitalists and investors that backed them at an early stage. The data suggests that these 40 tech groups have provided, on average, a 54 times return on the capital originally invested.
The UK has produced the highest number of billion-dollar tech companies since 2000. Its strengths have included producing mature “fintech” companies such as money transfer group TransferWise, payments company Skrill and online loans group Wonga.
Local entrepreneurs say that London, in particular, has proven to be a good place to build these companies. Tech start-ups can tap into the city’s status as a global financial centre and find experienced executives who can help build their business and navigate financial regulations.
But other countries punch well above their weight. Sweden produces more billion-dollar tech companies per capita than any country in Europe. Finland has become a global leader in the games industry, creating two large mobile gaming companies based in Helsinki: Supercell, maker of ‘Clash of Clans’ and Rovio, maker of ‘Angry Birds’.
The continent’s largest market, Germany, is showing signs of catching up. The country has produced three of its four ‘unicorns’ in the past year.
— Financial Times