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Which VCs have backed the most new unicorns in Europe this year?

A record number of European unicorns were minted in 2021, but which VCs were involved in the most?

By Kai Nicol-Schwarz

Accel's European partners

Europe has minted nearly four times as many unicorns this year as it did last year, according to Dealroom figures, as major global investors pile in and megarounds become the norm. 

Among the 78 companies new to the unicorn club this year, speedy grocery startup Gorillas made the valuation in just nine months. Others, like fintech Saltpay, battery tech company BritishVolt and crypto startup Sorare hit the mark 22 months after setting up shop. 

But behind every unicorn are deal-hungry VCs vying to cash in on the next big tech success story. So which ones are the best at spotting companies on the $1bn trajectory? 

Using data pulled from Dealroom on December 15, we found out which investors saw the most portfolio companies turn into unicorns in 2021.* Here are the top 10.

1/ SoftBank

The world’s biggest tech investor tops the list. In the past four years SoftBank has splashed out $84bn on startups across the globe, and has backed companies collectively worth more than $1tn.

But it hasn’t all been plain sailing. SoftBank faced an uphill struggle as it sought to raise its Vision II Fund a couple of years ago, in part due to the fallout from WeWork heading down the pan. Monzo’s Tom Blomfield also revealed some cringeworthy tales — think barefooted execs and cigarettes in the office — from a meeting he had with the Japanese firm a few years ago.

Despite all that, SoftBank is firmly back at the top as 2021 draws to a close. It saw nine European portfolio companies transform into unicorns this year, including solar energy startup Enpal, crypto fantasy football game Sorare and AI-driven drug discovery company Exscientia. 

Headquarters: Tokyo

2021 unicorns (Europe): 9

And they are? Enpal, Swile, Exscientia, Agile Robots, Sorare, Solarisbank, GoStudent, Forto, Oda

Portfolio unicorns (Europe): 33

Total portfolio unicorns: 188

Future unicorns (Europe): 12

Global deal count last 12 months: 316

Geographic focus: Global

Sectors interested in: Enterprise software, fintech, healthtech

Size of latest fund: $108bn, July 2019

2/Balderton 

London-based Balderton is known for backing companies such as Revolut and Depop and had an outstanding year in terms of unicorns in its portfolio.

Balderton has historically been known as one of Europe’s most prolific Series A investors but has transitioned to a multistage strategy, launching its first later-stage fund earlier this year. The firm has also historically invested opportunistically at the seed stage. (Revolt was a late-seed/early Series A deal.)

While we calculated this ranking based on companies founded in 2010 or later, two Balderton companies founded earlier than that date also reached unicorn status this year: Truecaller and Vestiaire Collective.

Headquarters: London

2021 unicorns (Europe): 8

And they are? JOKR, Contentful, Sophia Genetics, Aircall, Depop, Zego, Matillion, Lendable

Portfolio unicorns (Europe): 13

Total portfolio unicorns: 15

Future unicorns (Europe): 25

Geographic focus: Europe

Sectors interested in: Sector agnostic

Size of latest fund: $600m, Nov, 2021 (early stage)

3/Tiger Global Management

It would be an understatement to say the New York-based VC has made a splash in Europe in 2021. Its aggressive, shoot-first investment style has sent shivers down the spines of more established players in the region, and Tiger’s been rewarded for its boldness with eight unicorn valuations this year. 

The firm is known for its hands-off approach — it never takes board seats or control positions in the companies it invests in and the investment team doesn’t provide much direct support post-deal. 

It counts billion-dollar fintechs MoonPay, Saltpay and Qonto among its 2021 unicorn crop. It also jumped into the speedy grocery sector with investments in Turkey’s Getir and Finland’s Wolt — which was acquired for €7bn last month.

Headquarters: New York

2021 unicorns (Europe): 8

And they are? Mambu, Wolt, Qonto, MoonPay, TrueLayer, Contentful, Saltpay, Getir

Portfolio unicorns (Europe): 17

Total portfolio unicorns: 238

Future unicorns (Europe): 9

Global deal count last 12 months: 360

Geographic focus: Mostly US, but invests globally

Sectors interested in: Enterprise software, fintech and food

Size of latest fund: $6.7bn, April 2021 and $606m, July 2021 

4/ DST Global

The late-stage investor has offices all over the world and keeps a star-studded unicorn stable. It backed the world’s two most valuable fintechs — Stripe and Klarna — as well as neobank Revolut and Asian behemoths ByteDance and Alibaba. 

This year, the VC doubled down on Europe — as global investors made waves in the region like never before — and was involved in the funding of eight new European unicorns, compared to just two previously. DST Global was in the frame for Gorillas’ supersonic rise to unicorn status, backed another speedy grocery unicorn in Wolt and jumped on the crypto bandwagon with Blockchain.com and Bitpanda.

But success doesn’t come without its failures — sometimes rather hefty ones. DST was the biggest loser when the UK’s formerly fastest growing startup Bulb collapsed earlier this year, and saw its £60m stake evaporate overnight.

Headquarters: Silicon Valley

2021 unicorns (Europe): 8

And they are? Wolt, Qonto, Gorillas, Bitpanda, GoStudent, Alan, Blockchain, Zego

Portfolio unicorns (Europe): 17

Total portfolio unicorns: 89

Future unicorns (Europe): 6

Global deal count last 12 months: 70

Geographic focus: Global

Sectors interested in: Fintech, food, enterprise software

Size of latest fund: $1.7bn, August 2015

5/ Eurazeo 

Yann du Rusquec, partner at Eurazeo Growth and Benoist Grossman, CEO Eurazeo Investment Manager and managing partner, venture and growth.
Yann du Rusquec, partner at Eurazeo Growth and Benoist Grossmann, CEO Eurazeo Investment Manager and managing partner, venture and growth.

The highest ranked European VC on this list, Eurazeo raised its third growth fund this summer, with more than €1.6bn in the pot. It’s also one of a small group of publicly traded private equity and VC companies in Europe and manages over €27bn in private equity assets across buyout, venture and growth strategies.

The Parisian VC has made some notable exits in the past, scoring a 4x return on its investment into fashion giant Farfetch while another portfolio unicorn — Swedish fintech Tink — was acquired by Visa for €1.8bn in June, just 18 months after the firm joined its cap table. 

Headquarters: Paris

2021 unicorns (Europe): 7

And they are? Thought Machine, Swile, Sorare, Sophia Genetics, ManoMano, Tink, Back Market

Portfolio unicorns (Europe): 22

Total portfolio unicorns: 34

Future unicorns (Europe): 35

Global deal count last 12 months: 66

Geographic focus: Europe and US

Sectors interested in: Health, enterprise software, transportation 

Size of latest fund: €1.6bn (growth focussed), July 2021

6/ Accel

Accel's European partners
Accel’s European partners

Accel has been investing in tech startups for nearly four decades — and has grown deep pockets during that time. In June, the Californian VC announced the close of three new funds totalling over $3bn which it’ll use to invest at early, growth and mature stages. But the lion’s share of the money belongs to its growth fund — a hefty $1.75bn. 

The firm bagged the number one spot on Sifted’s top Series A investors earlier this year, and Accel invested in nearly half of its 2021 unicorn crop — Sorare, BrowserStack and Shift Technology — at that stage. 

Headquarters: California

2021 unicorns (Europe): 7

And they are? Lydia, Personio, Sorare, BrowserStack, Sennder, Trade Republic, Shift Technology

Portfolio unicorns (Europe): 27

Total portfolio unicorns: 141

Future unicorns (Europe): 19

Global deal count last 12 months: 213

Geographic focus: Global

Top sectors: Enterprise software, fintech, media 

Size of latest fund: $1.75bn growth fund, $650m early-stage fund covering Europe and Israel and $650m early-stage fund covering the US , June 2021

7/ Tencent

2021 saw the Chinese giant increase its investments in overseas startups by more than seven times, as Beijing regulation cracked down on tech groups. In September, the FT reported that Tencent had struck a record 16 deals in Europe during the course of 2021, well over the four overseas deals done globally by the conglomerate during 2020. 

Although known for its focus on gaming, Tencent was involved in major deals for some of Europe’s hottest startup real estate in 2021. It’s no coincidence that one of these deals was France’s fintech Lydia as it vies to become Europe’s first superapp — something that Tencent’s experience with WeChat could well come in handy with.

Headquarters: Shenzhen

2021 unicorns (Europe): 7

And they are? Lydia, Qonto, Gorillas, TrueLayer, Lunar, GoStudent, Scalable Capital

Portfolio unicorns (Europe): 14

Total portfolio unicorns: 114

Future unicorns (Europe): 12

Global deal count last 12 months: 120

Geographic focus: Global

Sectors interested in: Gaming, fintech, media

8/ General Atlantic

The New York-based firm has been up and running for more than 40 years — investing a whopping $49bn in over 430 companies. Last month, GA closed its sixth growth vehicle, an $7.8bn equity fund. It’ll look to bolster its significant portfolio with companies from the consumer, financial services, healthcare, life sciences and technology sectors.

It’s previously exited from some of the biggest global tech success stories — think Adyen, Uber, Airbnb and Alibaba — and spotted Klarna’s potential back in 2011, when it invested $155m alongside DST Global in the fintech’s Series C. 

This year, GA saw some of its bets on marketplaces bear fruit, as changing consumer habits post-Covid saw punters flock to online platforms like never before. It exited clothes marketplace Depop in an acquisition worth $1.6bn, and saw French gardening community platform ManoMano and refurbished goods marketplace Back Market hit $1bn valuations.

Headquarters: New York

2021 unicorns (Europe): 6

And they are? Hibob, Centessa Pharmaceuticals, Matillon, ManoMano, Depop, Back Market

Portfolio unicorns (Europe): 19

Total portfolio unicorns: 95

Future unicorns (Europe): 7

Global deal count last 12 months: 76

Geographic focus: Global

Sectors interested in: Fintech, enterprise software, health

Size of latest fund: $7.8bn, November 2021

9/ HV Capital

HV Capital team
HV Capital team

The Munich-based VC has a strong track record in backing European success stories, securing exits from food delivery scaleup Delivery Hero, marketplace Zalando and meal kit business HelloFresh. 

Its latest fund, raised in October 2020, saw HV Capital widen its scope to include more of a focus on new investments in startups that had already hit growth phase, and brought assets under management to an impressive $1.7bn. 

The fund also marked the VC’s shift towards increasingly backing B2B companies, and three of its five 2021 unicorns — fintech Solarisbank, logistics scaleup Sennder and portfolio management SaaS Scalable Capital — fell into that category. 

Headquarters: Munich

2021 unicorns (Europe): 6

And they are? Sennder, Depop, Scalable Capital, Solarisbank, Enpal, JOKR

Portfolio unicorns (Europe): 15

Total portfolio unicorns: 18

Future unicorns (Europe): 11

Global deal count last 12 months: 53

Geographic focus: Europe

Sectors interested in: Enterprise software, fintech, fashion

Size of latest fund: €535m, October 2020

10/ Coatue Management

Coatue has had a blistering year in the region, backing 20 startups — six of which became unicorns. 

For all the big money deals that the VC was involved in across 2021, it was two worth a combined $1.3bn that caught Sifted’s eye. Coatue announced both on a single day in October — N26’s massive $900m Series E and Deel’s $425m Series D — in a major statement of intent from the firm.

Coatue is known for its fast-paced investment style, an approach that might remind you of a certain compatriot — Tiger Global. There’s good reason for that, too, as founder Philippe Laffont previously worked there, and the firm is commonly referred to as “Tiger Cub”. 

Headquarters: New York

2021 unicorns (Europe): 6

And they are? Pleo, Wolt, MoonPay, Gorillas, GoStudent, Alan

Portfolio unicorns (Europe): 12

Total portfolio unicorns: 109

Future unicorns (Europe): 3

Global deal count last 12 months: 160

Geographic focus: US mostly, but invests globally

Sectors interested in: Fintech, enterprise software, transportation

Size of latest fund: $3.5bn, November 2020

11/ Index Ventures

Index Ventures team
Index Ventures team

Headquartered on either side of the Atlantic, the VC firm raised two new funds over the summer, with a combined valuation of $2.9bn. $900m of that is in a fund backing Series A and B companies — stages it got involved in all of its new unicorns in 2021 — and the remaining $2bn is part of a growth vehicle for later rounds.  

It came just a year after raising its last set of funds, and signals how quickly the market is moving right now as competition across Europe ramps up. 

Index backed all of its 2021 unicorns at the penultimate unicorn round or before. It invested in insurtech Alan and hospitality payment startup Swile at Series A, and car marketplace Motorway, HR management platform Personio and speedy grocery startup Rohlik at Series B.

Headquarters: London and San Francisco

2021 unicorns: 5

And they are? Motorway, Personio, Swile, Rohlik, Alan

Portfolio unicorns (Europe): 26

Total portfolio unicorns: 91

Future unicorns (Europe): 16

Global deal count last 12 months: 129

Geographic focus: US and Europe

Sectors interested in: Enterprise software, fintech, media

Size of latest fund: $900m, July 2021

*We’ve defined new unicorns as being founded in 2010 or later. Data taken from Dealroom on December 15 2021, and the unicorns could have exited or still be private. Where the number of 2021 unicorns was the same, VCs were ranked on the number of future unicorns in their portfolio — which Dealroom defines as a startup that’s raised since 2014 and is valued between $250-999m.

Kai Nicol-Schwarz is a reporter at Sifted. He covers healthtech and community journalism, and tweets from @NicolSchwarzK

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Zahir
Zahir

Solarisbank never raised money from Soft Bank