UK sets unicorn record, creating more than France and Germany combined in 2021

A digital render of a unicorn riding out of a smartphone, symbolising thriving startups in the tech industry
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

The UK has created a record number of unicorns during 2021, surpassing the number created by France and Germany combined, according to a fresh report from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).

More than two unicorns - a tech company worth at least $1 billion (roughly £758 million) - were created every month, on average, throughout the year with standouts such as Depop, Motorway, and Starling Bank among the 29 total companies reaching the prestige status.

The UK now has a total of 115 unicorns, which means 25% of all of them were created in 2021 alone. What's more, the current geographical spread of unicorns across the UK shows how tech hubs are thriving outside of London.

A total of 30% of all the UK's unicorns created in 2021 were based outside of London and 35% of all 115 unicorns are outside of the M25 too. Cambridge is the leading regional tech hub in the UK only narrowly beating Manchester which sits in second place in the government's Levelling up Power Tech League 2021.

  1. Cambridge
  2. Manchester
  3. Oxford
  4. Edinburgh
  5. Bristol
  6. Leeds
  7. Birmingham
  8. Newcastle
  9. Cardiff
  10. Belfast

Cambridge claimed top spot thanks to a combination of strong venture capital (VC) funding, venture capital rounds, tech salaries, and number of unicorns and futurecorns - companies valued between $250 million and $1 billion, showing signs of reaching unicorn status one day.

The DCMS said Manchester was only narrowly beaten by Cambridge, which is well known for its regional tech hub status, with job opportunities in the North West city rising 164.6% this year.

Major tech companies such as Amazon, SAP, HCL, and more announced plans to build their presences in Manchester in 2021 and the government also announced its National Cyber Force will be based a short drive from GCHQ's Manchester offices too.

It was also a record year for UK tech in terms of investment which grew 2.3x in 2021, according to the DCMS, a rate which represents the best growth period for the UK since 2013/14 when it grew from $2 billion (£1.5 billion) to $4.6 billion (£3.5) billion.

The UK also attracted a significant chunk of the overall investment given to companies based in Europe this year. The UK won more than a third of all investments made to European tech companies in 2021, doubling Germany's figures and almost tripling those of France.


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"It’s been another record-breaking year for UK tech with innovative British startups helping solve some of the world’s biggest challenges," said Chris Philp, digital economy and tech minister.

"Capitalising on this fantastic investment across the country is a crucial part of our mission to level up, so we are supporting businesses with pro-innovation policies and helping people to get the skills they need to thrive in this dynamic industry," he added.

Greater investment has also led to more jobs and the skills gap widening ever further, according to DCMS' figures. Tech job vacancies have risen 50% over 2020's figures, with advertised tech vacancies hitting 160,887 in November.

Open tech job adverts represent 12% of the total job vacancies in the UK with software developers in particular demand as 9% of all tech jobs relate to the field. Developers are seemingly being tempted by increasing salaries as the average net annual remuneration package was a little over £64,000, a 12% increase on the average developer salary in 2020.

Connor Jones

Connor Jones has been at the forefront of global cyber security news coverage for the past few years, breaking developments on major stories such as LockBit’s ransomware attack on Royal Mail International, and many others. He has also made sporadic appearances on the ITPro Podcast discussing topics from home desk setups all the way to hacking systems using prosthetic limbs. He has a master’s degree in Magazine Journalism from the University of Sheffield, and has previously written for the likes of Red Bull Esports and UNILAD tech during his career that started in 2015.