UK tech sector catches up with US and China at $1trn valuation

29 Mar 2022

Tower Bridge in London. Image: © Dario/Stock.adobe.com

London has the highest concentration of high-value start-ups in the UK but new unicorns are expected to emerge from the regions.

An analysis by Dealroom for the UK’s Digital Economy Council has valued the UK tech ecosystem at $1trn.

The UK is only the third nation in the world, after the US and China, to reach this landmark valuation following a period of stellar growth.

Future Human

Valued at less than $500bn in 2018, the UK tech sector has more than doubled its worth in just three years. The most significant growth in that time was a 42pc jump in valuation to $942bn in 2020, following increased investment in tech during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The explosion in VC investment started by the pandemic amid the overwhelming demand for digital services for healthcare, education and food delivery has helped spur on this growth, but the foundations were laid long before 2020,” explained Dealroom founder and CEO Yoram Wijngaarde.

“As companies and investors grapple with the global challenges of 2022 – from the Russian Ukraine war to the ongoing supply chain crisis and the cost of living rises – it’ll be interesting to see how tech ecosystems like the UK’s adapt and adjust.”

Driven by decacorns

The growth in the UK tech ecosystem has also impacted high-value start-ups at an individual level. A number of the country’s unicorns, or start-ups valued at $1bn or more, have levelled up to become decacorns with a valuation of at least $10bn.

The UK’s list of 13 decacorns is dominated by fintech, featuring a mix of market disruptors such as digital bank Revolut and trading app eToro, payments providers WorldPay and Checkout.com, and more traditional businesses that have been successful in digitising such as insurance provider Admiral.

Some of these high-value start-ups have intentionally moved their operations to the UK to support their growth, such as fintech-as-a-service brand Rapyd (which started in Israel) and wealth management fintech FNZ (which started in New Zealand).

Many of the UK’s decacorns have gone on to complete an IPO. In 2021, Wise and Deliveroo both listed on the London Stock Exchange, but semiconductor designer Arm is said to be eyeing up a US IPO following the collapse of an acquisition deal from Nvidia.

Completing the list of UK decacorns are market intelligence firm Markit, grocery service Ocado and data centre operator Global Switch.

Dealroom’s analysis finds the UK has about 14 companies valued between $5bn and $10bn that are expected to become the next decacorns, including cybersecurity company Snyk, electric vehicle maker Arrival and virtual events platform Hopin.

Most of the UK’s decacorns are concentrated in London, though Dealroom suggests there are now 44 unicorns and 100 ‘futurecorns’ spread across the country.

Northern Ireland’s record investment

In this period of growth for the UK tech sector, Northern Ireland saw record tech investment in digital start-ups and scale-ups.

Northern Ireland start-ups raised £37m in funding in 2021, according to Dealroom figures, and another record-breaking year could be on the cards with £10m raised so far in 2022. This includes a $6.6m seed funding round for fashion tech from Responsible and $3.4m for healthcare training platform MedAll, both of which are based in Belfast.

“We’re a clear example that you can build a globally impactful business from the UK,” said MedAll CEO Dr Phil McElnay. “In one year, over 1,000 healthcare organisations from more than 20 countries have used [MedAll] to deliver thousands of training courses.”

The UK’s digital minister Chris Philp welcomed the news of the Dealroom valuation. “Our tech industry has gone from strength to strength, overtaking the rest of Europe and entering the history books as the third country ever to reach this milestone,” he said.

“We’re working hard to make the UK the best place in the world to found, grow or float tech businesses – whether they’re early-stage start-ups or global innovators – ensuring they have the best talent, investment and regulation to thrive.”

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Elaine Burke is the editor of Silicon Republic

editorial@siliconrepublic.com