September 15, 2023

From spinout to soonicorn: 19 companies on the cusp of $1bn valuations

The university spinouts vying for unicorn status

Sadia Nowshin

6 min read

Source: Isar Aerospace

Academics commercialising their research and starting their own companies — known as spinning out — are hot property in Europe at the moment. Funds are popping up to back them and governments are getting involved, convinced the next big success will come from research-heavy areas like AI, quantum and biotech. 

But getting the spinout process right is far from plain sailing. Common complaints include the time it takes to spin out, universities taking too much ownership at the start and unrealistic royalty pledges hamstringing spinout founders down the line. According to University of Oxford research, less than 5% of university spinouts in the UK ever raise more than £25m.

That said, there are a number of university spinouts in Europe that have successfully raised a good chunk of capital. Nineteen of them are also on their way to a coveted $1bn-plus valuation — known as soonicorns — according to Dealroom data. To be considered for the list, startups had to have been founded since 2005, raised a round since 2020 and have a valuation of at least $500m. All funding figures have been taken from Dealroom. 


The UK dominates, with 8 out of the 19 hailing from the country. All of them, however, do come from the Golden Triangle of Oxford, Cambridge and London. 


Here are Europe’s spinout soonicorns

DNA Script

HQ: France
Spinout from: Institut Pasteur
Valuation: $825m 

DNA Script is building a countertop automated nucleic acid synthesis machine for companies that work with molecular biology, allowing them to speed up the creation of DNA or RNA strands and achieve same-day synthesis. It spun out of Institut Pasteur in 2015, and has since raised around $312m — its most recent round was a Series C extension of $35m in 2022, bringing the total Series C round to $200m. It’s been backed by the likes of Bpifrance, Kurma Partners and EQT Life Sciences.  

Quell Therapeutics

Spinout from: University College London
Valuation: $780m

After spinning out from UCL in 2019, Quell Therapeutics has been developing a way to engineer cell therapies for organ transplant and autoimmune conditions, which includes reducing the chance of organ transplant rejections. It has raised around $321m, and most recently saw AstraZeneca invest $85m in June 2023. 

Isar Aerospace

HQ: Germany
Spinout from: Technical University Munich
Valuation: $660-990m 

German spinout Isar Aerospace is building a launch rocket to get small- and medium-sized satellites into space, and has drummed up around $353m from investors ahead of its planned test launch this year. In March 2023, it closed a $165m Series C from investors including Earlybird, HV Capital and Lakestar. 


HQ: Germany
Spinout from: Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich
Valuation: $660m

eGym’s platform offers gymtech and software features to health and fitness facilities, from smart gym equipment to mobile app packages. Investors including Bayern Kapital and Affinity Partners chipped into its €207m Series F round in July this year, boosting its total funding so far to $380m. 

Brevo (formerly Sendinblue)

HQ: France
Spinout from: Free University of Berlin
Valuation: $601-901m

Brevo helps companies automate marketing campaigns across platforms, and has drummed up around €168m ($185m) from investors so far. It’s been a few years since it last raised, having closed its Series B in 2020. BlackRock and France’s Bpifrance participated in that round. 

IQM Quantum Computers

HQ: Finland
Spinout from: Aalto University
Valuation: $563-845m

Superconducting quantum computer maker IQM spun out in 2018, and has since bagged $220.5m ($243m) in investment. It raised over half of that (€128m) in 2018, from investors including Tencent, EIC Fund and Bayern Kapital. This year, it launched its IQM Spark, which equips universities and research labs with a quantum computer and learning experiences. 

Oxa (formerly Oxbotica)

Spinout from: University of Oxford
Valuation: $560-840m

Driverless vehicle company Oxa aims to be able to make any vehicle autonomous, and has raised around $231m since spinning out in 2014. Its biggest round by far was closed at the start of 2023, when it secured $140m in Series C funding.  


Spinout from: Aalto University
Valuation: $560-840m

ICEYE offers SAR imaging — a kind of radar that can create 2D or 3D images of landscapes from satellites — for any location on Earth, offering real-time monitoring of things like floods and other catastrophes to help with rapid decision making. It’s the second soonicorn to come out of Aalto University and has raised $302m since 2015 — investors in its 2022 $136m Series D included Molten Ventures, True Ventures and Seraphim Space. 


HQ: Germany
Spinout from: Technical University of Munich
Valuation: $520-780m 

Munich-based Kinexon makes digital twins for physical locations to enable analysis and automation of processes — it can be used in industry to map out and control factory floors, and in sports, to produce live data and player tracking during games. It’s been 11 years since it spun out, in which time it’s received around $145m in funding, €15m ($16.1m) of which was debt. 


Bright Peak Therapeutics

HQ: Switzerland
Spinout from: Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich (ETH Zurich)
Valuation: $428-642m

Protein engineering company Bright Peak Therapeutics is developing novel multifunctional immunotherapies to treat cancer and autoimmune diseases. It has raised $142m in funding so far, since spinning out in 2017. 

Bit bio

Spinout from: University of Cambridge
Valuation: $365-548m

Bit bio is developing a platform to help companies produce consistent batches of any human cell, and manufacture them at scale. Since its 2016 spinout year, it has secured around $145m in funding from investors including Tencent and BlueYard Capital. 


Spinout from: University of Oxford
Valuation: $400-600m

Digital identity verification service Onfido, which spun out of the University of Oxford in 2010, has raised around $211m from investors including SoftBank, Talis Capital and Wise — and Plural — founder Taavet Hinrikus. 

Osler Diagnostics

Spinout from: University of Oxford
Valuation: $392-588m

Osler is developing a handheld diagnostic device that can test for a range of conditions from a drop of blood, with the aim of equipping global healthcare with lab-grade diagnostics. It has raised around £144.7m ($181m) since 2016, and last closed a £74.2m Series C in November 2022. 

Evox Therapeutics

Spinout from: University of Oxford
Valuation: $365-548m

Evox Therapeutics engineers exosomes to create new treatments for life-threatening rare diseases, and has raised around $155m since spinning out in 2016. 


Spinout from: Imperial College London
Valuation: $360-540m

Since spinning out in 2006, Nexeon — which produces silicon anodes for lithium-ion batteries — has seen investors chip in around $337m.


HQ: Belgium
Spinout from: Vrije Universiteit Brussel
Valuation: $352-528m

Precirix develops targeted radiopharmaceutical therapies to treat cancer, and has raised around $130m since it spunout in 2014. Investors in its 2022 €80m Series B include Forbion Capital Partners, Jeito Capital and Inkef. 


HQ: France
Spinout from: CEA (The French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission)
Valuation: $352-528m

Aledia is making brighter and more efficient microLED displays for AR and VR. It’s raised around $169m since its 2021 spin out, plus €30m ($32m) in debt funding taken last year. 

Biomodal (formerly Cambridge Epigenetix)

HQ: United Kingdom
Spinout from: University of Cambridge
Valuation: $352-528m

Biomodal helps biotech and pharma companies capture genetic and epigenetic information and analyse DNA samples in more detail — Sequoia Capital, Third Point Ventures and New Science Ventures are among the investors to contribute to the $145m it has raised so far.


HQ: Germany
Spinout from: Dresden University of Technology
Valuation: $336-504m

Wandelbots offers a robotics operating system to help companies automate shop floors. It’s raised around $122m so far, from investors including Insight Partners, EQT Ventures and M12 (formerly Microsoft Ventures). 

Sadia Nowshin

Sadia Nowshin is a reporter at Sifted covering foodtech, biotech and startup life. Follow her on X and LinkedIn