Last year’s cohort shows UK unicorns are real deal

THE first cohort of the Leap 100 is coming to an end. Although there wasn’t a graduating ceremony, leading business experts voted Crowdcube the winner of the prestigious City A.M. Explosive Growth Company of the Year Awards, chosen from the companies in the Leap 100.

This wasn’t the only award won by the 100 companies though. Original BTC, the lighting designer and manufacturer, and Séraphine, the maternity brand favoured by the Duchess of Cambridge, both won the Queen’s Awards for Enterprise.

Leap 100 companies have been the driving force of British growth, with the revolutionary fintech firms TransferWise and Funding Circle hitting unicorn status – that is, valued over $1bn (£700m). The latter is trying to get a few more out of the UK, recently building and dedicating a floor of its new headquarters in London to younger startups.

The ability to raise money is an indication of a quality business. Leap 100 companies got more than their fair share, with adtech firm Captify Media securing £8m in series B funding in June. The following month was a big one for the Leapers, with raising £38m to expand into Europe and Secret Escapes raising £38.7m to fuel its expansion into the US and Asia. In January of this year, Second Home, the idiosyncratic East London office space co-founded by Rohan Silva (the former adviser to the Prime Minister), raised £7.5m to help fund the expansion of its current premises and expand overseas, while equity crowdfunding platform VentureFounders received £1.8m investment. And last month, payments platform provider GoCardless raised £9.1m.

Fast-growing firms are attractive prospects for acquisitions by larger companies, and quite a few Leap founders exited during the year. Last April, Naked Wines sold to Majestic Wine for £70m – it proved a good buy with reports just in that the Majestic part of the business hit sales of £100m. In May, SABMiller bought London craft brewer Meantime for an unknown amount; Hide My Ass! was sold for £40m by the then 25-year-old Jack Cator; and Periscopix was bought by US performance marketing agency Merkle.

Unruly was sold to Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp in September for £58m and Urban Fresh Foods, makers of Bear fruit and snack bars, was sold to Lotus for £70m. This year, The Carlyle Group acquired a majority of TestPlant in January, Microsoft acquired London-based Swiftkey for £174m in January, and Japanese business

Outsourcing Inc acquired JBW Group in a deal valued at over £24m. Although the entrepreneurs have sold up, they haven’t sold out. Don’t be surprised if you see most of them founding and starting more successful companies in the coming years.

When they aren’t being bought or disrupting the business models of large businesses, the Leap 100 companies were partnering with them to drive mutual growth. For example, Leap 100’s Bouncepad partnered with Paypal to bring contactless payment technology to smaller businesses, and Charlotte Olympia has recently announced a partnership with beauty powerhouse MAC.

Not every Leap 100 company was a success though. One, Powa Technologies, went into administration. But this was the exception rather than the rule and it’s nothing to be ashamed of. As they say in the Valley: fail fast, fail often (although the presumption is that this ends with some success).

This article originally appeared in City A.M.