Credit: David Guerra Terol/Flickr

Europe's tech sector is finally beginning to pull its weight

The number of 'unicorn' $1bn valuations has soared in the past year - and London is leading the way.

by Jack Torrance
Last Updated: 19 Jun 2015

European techies have long gazed across the Atlantic, jealously coveting the booming success of the American technoloy sector, the explosive growth of which has struggled to find its way to these shores. Silicon Valley may still be the global capital of startups but there are signs that Europe is beginning to pull its weight.

Research out today from investors GP Bullhound found that the continent produced 13 ‘unicorns’ – tech companies valued at more than $1bn – in 2014. That compares to an average of three each year since 2000. New additions this year include French ridesharing startup BlaBlaCar, Germany’s Rocket Internet and Dutch payments firm Adyen.

But it’s Britain that dominates the list. Since 2000 the UK has churned out a total of 17 unicorns, including property website Zoopla, takeaway site Just Eat and online fashion retailer Asos. This year’s list includes money transfer service Transferwise, peer-to-peer lending site Funding Circle (both valued at $1bn) and retail tech firm Powa (valued at $2.7bn). In the past 15 years more billion-dollar startups have come out of Britain than its next-nearest European competitors Sweden, Germany and Russia put together.

‘The UK has raced ahead as the undisputed home of unicorns in Europe, with London producing the vast majority of Britain’s billion dollar tech companies,’ said Manish Madhvani, co-founder and managing partner at GP Bullhound.  ‘Growth is accelerating because we have created an environment capable of sustaining high levels of investment across a range of tech sectors.’

That’s backed up by other research put out today by EY, showing that London’s tech sector as a whole is raking in vast amounts of cash. Between 2005 and 2014 it attracted 1,009 foreign direct investment projects, 16.9% of the European total and way more than second-placed Paris (281), Dublin (162) and Madrid (139). Britain's long-time problem, of course, is that its tech founders are often all-too-eager to sell up before their businesses become true giants. The research coincides with the start of London Technology Week, a series of events aimed at promoting tech in the capital.

‘With our unrivalled mix of investors, talent and creativity it is hardly surprising that tech businesses and entrepreneurs are clamouring to be part of the incredible London tech story,’ said London mayor Boris Johnson. ‘This sector has flourished beyond recognition in the last five years, creating thousands of jobs and outpacing the rest of the economy.’

Europe is still unlikely to see startup success on the scale of Silicon Valley any time soon (and could be beaten to the bunch by Asia’s exploding economies) but it’s always good news to see that digital entrepreneurship is flourishing.

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