Can the UK deliver more unicorns?

Contrary to popular belief, the UK punches well above its weight as an incubator for financial unicorns. But there’s more that could be done to help many start-ups achieve their true potential and hit that magic $1bn valuation.

by Jeremy Hazlehurst
Getty Images
Getty Images

If there is one thing that everybody knows about the British economy, it is that compared to the US, we are rubbish at building new businesses. Facebook, Amazon, Google, Tesla – the list of zeitgeist-defining, world-beating US companies goes on. Even Sweden built buy-now-pay-later service Klarna and music-streaming giant Spotify. Why can’t the UK create industry-disrupting behemoths? What’s wrong with us? And how can we do better?

In reality, this is a myth. The UK has created more than its fair share of unicorns – classed as privately held businesses with a valuation of more than $1bn – such as Betfair, Just Eat, Ocado, Cazoo, Deliveroo and BrewDog. Less well-known unicorns include internet security company Darktrace, gene-sequencing firm Oxford Nanopore, online security pioneer Snyk, machine-learning business Graphcore, computer game firm Improbable, and neobanks Monzo and Starling Bank.

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