2024 is likely to be another tough year for UK tech.
Britain’s technology secretary Michelle Donelan told Sifted last month that the UK should aim to match US levels of VC investment as a share of GDP by 2030, which would involve pumping £5bn per year more into British startups.
It comes amid huge incentives for British startups — and European startups more generally — to relocate to the US, where subsidies via the US Chips Act and Inflation Reduction Act, as well as the general availability of VC funding, are a lucrative carrot.
The UK remains a strong hub for entrepreneurship, particularly in areas like fintech. But the number of new VC funds raised fell from 67 in 2022 to 46 in 2023. In France, VCs closed 29 new funds up from 26 a year earlier.
And what about unicorns? Well, the UK minted two $1bn+ startups in 2023 — Synthesia and Quantexa, both AI companies, a far cry from the 12 in 2022 and 16 in 2021. Could 2024 be better? Below, Sifted takes a look at 16 British startups that are on track for unicorn status.
What: Buys business invoices for cash upfront
Latest valuation: $900m
London-based Stenn helps businesses that trade around the world to quickly access cash from as-yet unpaid invoices. Companies "sell" their invoices to Stenn for cash up front without affecting the credit rating of the business. The company last raised $50m from PE firm Centerbridge Partners at a $900m valuation in 2022.
What: Audience research and data platform for marketing teams
GWI is an audience data platform that it says helps customers keep ahead of consumer trends. It raised a $180m Series B in February 2022, led by investment firm Permira.
What: Employee group insurance, benefits and rewards
YuLife is an employee benefits engagement platform which encourages users to prioritise their wellbeing. Those that do earn rewards, which can be used on climate-friendly projects like tree planting or meal donations; companies can track their carbon impact through those contributions. YuLife raised a $120m Series C in July 2022, bringing its total funding to around $207m. Investors include LocalGlobe, Anthemis, Creandum, MMC Ventures, Notion Capital, Target Global and Eurazeo.
What: A single card for multiple bank accounts
Latest valuation: $781m
London-based Curve lets customers consolidate several bank accounts into a single card, managed on one app. The company also has a Buy now, pay later service, backed by a $1bn loan facility.
What: A platform for consumers to invest in public markets
Latest valuation: $715m
PrimaryBid’s platform gives retail investors in the UK access to public company fundraises and IPOs at the same time as institutional players. It takes no commission on investments made but charges companies for access to investors. It’s secured around $253m in funding so far, boosted by its $190m Series C in February 2022, led by Molten Ventures and SoftBank.
6/ 10x Banking
What: Operating and infrastructure software for banks
Latest valuation: $700m
Founded by former Barclays CEO Antony Jenkins, 10x Banking offers an operating system for banks to speed up operations and update legacy technology. In July 2021, it raised $187m from investors including BlackRock and Nationwide, bringing its total funding to around $252m.
What: ClearScore offers free credit scores, reports and current account spending analysis
Latest valuation: $700m
ClearScore makes its money from financial companies, who pay the startup to recommend them to clients using the service.
What: A fashion marketplace where users can create a customised shopping feed of products
Latest valuation: $700m
Lyst uses a proprietary data engine to allow customers to buy products from brands and shops that it partners with. It is backed by investors including certain funds managed by Fidelity International, C4 Ventures, Draper Esprit, Steadfast Financial, Balderton Capital and LVMH.
What: Delivering tailored dog meals based on variables such as breed, gender, age and weight.
Latest valuation: $660m
In 2023, Butternut Box raised £280m in another sign of pet startup resilience in a sedate funding environment — at least outside of AI. UK-based Butternut box uses high-quality, grain-free ingredients, such as beef flavoured with rosemary, cooked with cauliflower and sweet potato, or sustainably caught fish with carrots, sweet potatoes, green beans and split lentils. Once it has been prepared, it is frozen and then delivered to clients in insulated boxes.
What: A digital bank for freelancers, small businesses and scaling startups
Latest valuation: $650m
Tide business accounts have no monthly fees and are FCSA-protected, as accounts are provided by ClearBank, offering a fully regulated banking infrastructure.
What: A marketplace for beauty and wellness appointments with local businesses
Latest valuation: $750m
Fresha allows consumers to discover, book and pay for beauty and wellness appointments with local businesses via its marketplace, while businesses and professionals offering these services use its platform to manage their entire operations with its software and fintech product.
What: Form3 helps banks and regulated fintechs move money faster using cloud payments architecture
Latest valuation: $640—960m
Form3 provides a technology platform for financial institutions like banks and point-of-sale companies to process payments and transactions.
13/ Blend Network
What: A property lending marketplace that offers loan options for experienced property developers
Latest valuation: $634—950m
Blend Network is a property lending marketplace that offers loan options for experienced property developers, with the cash generated through an investment management platform for institutional and retail investors to co-invest in real estate lending.
What: Quell Therapeutics develops T-regulatory cell therapies for a range of solid organ transplant and autoimmune conditions
Latest valuation: $624—936m
In 2023, Quell Therapeutics announced an $85m partnership with AstraZeneca to develop treatment for autoimmune diseases, including Type 1 Diabetes and Inflammatory Bowel Disease. The pharma giant has pledged to invest $2bn more into the startup in the coming years.
15/ Artios Pharma
What: Developing cancer treatments that target DNA Damage Response pathways to selectively kill cancer cells
Latest valuation: $612—918m
Artios is a DNA Damage Response company with a pipeline of novel cancer therapies in development.
What: Event discovery and ticketing platform
Latest valuation: $610m
DICE raised $122 in VC investment from SoftBank’s Vision Fund and Future Shape back in 2021, and that year acquired music live-streaming platform Boiler Room. Although it managed to weather the Covid-19 storm — when venues across Europe were closed — the UK-based ticketing app made redundancies in 2023.