Success Attracts Success
Are unicorns herd animals? The number of billion dollar startups in Berlin is increasing steadily.
The days of Berlin being “poor but sexy” are long gone. Investments in the German capital are growing year by year, and more young companies are attracting ever bigger funding rounds.
In their startup barometer, Ernst & Young had already revealed that in 2021 over €10B investment capital had gone to Berlin startups, that’s 60% of all investment capital in Germany that year. For more details, see our article Best Chances to Raise Money in Berlin.
Another study by EY, the ‘EY Venture Capital Study’, confirms that “2021 was the year of the Unicorns”. Deals are getting bigger and the deal cycle is accelerating. Unicorns are typically very fast on their feet – such startups can gain their billion dollar valuation within a year of founding. A different report by Atomico had already revealed that speedy unicorns like the Berlin turf.
The EY study clearly confirms that within Germany, Berlin is the favorite stomping ground of this particular breed of highly invested startup. Five of the “six new ventures [that] joined the top 10 list” of accumulated funding in 2021 are from Berlin:
- Gorillas – the on-demand grocery delivery company was established in 2020 and “received funding of $45M in 2020 and $1.2B in 2021, making it the fastest start-up ever to reach Unicorn status in Germany in October 2021”, says the study.
- Flink – the ‘Quick commerce’ company established at the end of 2020 hardly needed a year and now has German retail company Rewe Group as investor and strategic partner.
- SellerX – this is one of the Berlin aggregators that buys and builds up small companies selling products via Amazon marketplace. See below.
- Trade Republic – the online banking broker was founded in 2015 and was backed early on by Creandum, Founders Fund (Peter Thiel), and Project A Ventures.
- wefox – sells digital insurance policies through ‘digitally-enabled’ insurance advisors; backed by Salesforce among others, and recently completed their series D round with a sum of $400M, putting the company’s valuation at $4.5B.
So older unicorns in Berlin are also still receiving fresh fodder in the form of backing. Number one on the EY list of total accumulated funding volume is N26. The online banking company was founded in 2013 in Munich but moved headquarters to Berlin a while ago. It heads EY’s ranking of “Top 100 start-ups located in Germany (based on total accumulated funding volume until December 2021)”. If they continue to receive more backing, the EY study predicts a transformation: “With the latest post-money valuation of $9B, N26 is very close to becoming the next German Decacorn.”
Looking at EY’s ranking, almost two thirds of the top funded startups in Germany are located in Berlin. Names that might seem familiar include
- CoachHub (more on them below)
- Ada Health
- Pitch (see also below)
- Vivid Money
- and Outfittery
Of these, the first three are bona fide unicorns. What about the others? Some of them have growth potential and count as ‘soonicorns’.
Soonicorns – “Future Unicorn Potential”
In yet another report, Sifted and Sapphire Ventures “compiled the first annual ranking of 100 VC-backed, business-to-business companies”. So this “ranking of top-performing companies” in Europe does not include startups addressing consumers, nor necessarily companies that are performing well in terms of sales, just in terms of finding funding.
Sifted also admits to “a subjective look” by their judging panel. “We think the companies at the top of this list stand the best chance of breaking into the unicorn paddock in the near future,” says the report. Here are some of the top Berlin companies:
- Pitch is number one in the ranking: “Berlin-based presentation software Pitch takes the top spot” in Sifted’s “2022 Soonicorn highlights”.
- CoachHub, the coaching tool for companies, is the most well-funded company among Sifted’s 100, having raised $332M.
- Bryter, the “no-code company helping businesses automate responses to recurring requests”
- Billie, the BNPL fintech that “offers small ‘buy now, pay later’-style loans to businesses”
- Moss is a “platform for companies to keep tabs on their spending”
- Y42 is a “tool to integrate, orchestrate and visualize company data”
- Leapsome is a “performance management tool to help leaders manage their teams”
To get more funding, such startups need venture capital. Next to established VCs in Berlin, there is also some new money in town for seed and early stage funding:
- Greenfield One Fund III
- FoodLabs FoodTech Fund
- Earlybird Uni-X
- APX Fund I
- DX Ventures Fund
- PropTech1 Ventures Fund
The following new funds are for multistage funding, so also of interest to startups with some rounds already under their belts:
- World Fund Climate Change Fund
- Global Fintech Leaders BIT
- Zintinus Fund
EY says “Berlin remains the hub for software and analytics alongside to mobility, fintech and e-commerce.” Looking at the entire spread of unicorns in Berlin, the sectors in which they operate are diverse.
The tourism and online travel booking platform GetYourGuide was founded in 2009 in Zurich but is meanwhile headquartered in Berlin. It joined the herd of unicorns in 2019 when it raised another $484M.
Also in the travel industry is Omnio, the booking platform and app that puts “all your travel options in one place”.
And there’s the modern content management solution contentful, who can also be quite pleased with themselves.
The many benefits of Berlin, such as the diversity of sectors, the large talent pool, international flair and high quality of life, mean that companies with their headquarters elsewhere set up offices here. See the startup and scaleup map of Berlin, filtered according to valuation of over €1B.
When Unicorns Pass On
Whether M&A, IPO or SPAC – unicorns typically go through another transformation after their founders exit.
An IPO with a lot of horsepower was when Auto1 Group went public. The company was founded in 2012 and now operates one of Europe’s largest marketplaces for used cars. The offering took place in February 2021 and with Auto1 Group valued at $14B. “Auto1 plans to use the IPO proceeds to finance its expansion strategy under the ‘Autohero’ brand,” says EY.
Other prominent Berlin IPOs include Delivery Hero, Zalando, startup builder Rocket Internet, and HelloFresh, who have since expanded massively in the US. More recently biotech pharmaceuticals company Atai Life Sciences, backed by billionaire investor and PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel, IPO’d successfully.
Then there’s the so-called SPAC deal. Such Special Purpose Acquisition Companies lurk in Wall Street and elsewhere looking to buy up tech startups in a process that is less complicated than a standard IPO. Berliners HomeToGo founded in 2014 and operate a digital marketplace for vacation homes and apartments in Europe, America, Australia and the Asia Pacific region. In September 2021, HomeToGo went through a merger with Lakestar SPAC I. At the time HomeToGo’s valuation was $1.4B and the company received approximately $300M in additional capital through the deal.
We wrap up with an encouraging appraisal by VC Earlybird’s Philipp Semmer and Nina Rinke, quoted in the EY report. “We are seeing larger and later exits …, indicating that founders and their investors are not looking for the quick exit anymore but instead have the ambition and aspiration to think big and build significant companies.”
It seems Berlin is certainly a great place to both get started and to grow.
Text: Olaf Bryan Wielk, ideenmanufaktur
Header image: © unsplash