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Golden year for startups: London may be heading for a post-pandemic unicorn boom


The last 15 months has provided every aspect of society with an unprecedented challenge, not least to small firms and founders.

The response of this section of business, however, has been nothing short of inspiring, with nearly 800,000 new firms incorporated in 2020.

The response of the investors who back them has been equally stirring, new figures showing that small firms received a record breaking £8.8bn worth of equity investment last year.

This combination of entrepreneurial ambition and investor appetite has led many to look to the future and what the impact will be over the next few years.


Since 2012, the average time it took from founding to unicorn status was a little under four years, which points to a potential boom in the number of unicorns in the UK in around 2024. 

But with a return to normal fast approaching, is this trend set to continue or run out of steam?

New research from suggests that this may be just the start. A study carried out by private equity firm IW Capital paints a picture of a nation ready to start up and support small businesses over the next few years and beyond.

The survey found that 16 per cent of investors will look to back startups and small firms in 2021, while 13 per cent of Brits plan to start a business before the end of this year.

Meanwhile, 58 per cent of Brits plan to shop more with small businesses and startups in 2021 and one in five of UK workers who work at a small business have won large clients and grown as a business through Covid.

Moreover, 66 per cent of Brits say that their trust in small businesses and service providers has grown during the pandemic.

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The data indicates that 2021 could be an even bigger year for startups and SMEs in the UK than last year, with £4.5bn of equity investment in the first three months of this year alone.

“The past year or so has signalled a step-change in the way we view startups in the UK, with trust in large firms dwindling and the trust for entrepreneurs and self starters growing rapidly,” commented Luke Davis, CEO of IW Capital.

“We all know someone who has taken the plunge into business as a result of furlough and lockdown and I don’t doubt that many have started on a path toward unicorn status,” Davis told City A.M.

“This desire to startup and go it alone looks set to continue in 2021 and beyond as the desire to support small firms grows from the point of view of both consumers and investors, as our research shows,” he continued.

“The 20s could well be the decade of the startup and the unicorn, perhaps it will be a few years before we see the true impact of this, but encouraging entrepreneurship and investment should be at the heart of the UK’s economic recovery. Extending schemes such as the Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS) could be a great way to boost this, as several companies receiving investment through EIS have now gone on to achieve unicorn status,” Davis concluded.

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