Tech Track 100 – top tech, media and telecom businesses in the UK
A striking theme to emerge from this year’s Sunday Times Hiscox Tech Track 100 – Britain’s 100 private tech, media and telecoms (TMT) companies with the fastest-growing sales over the last three years – is the prominence of the serial entrepreneur. More than a third (37) of the 100 companies in this year’s league table were founded by entrepreneurs who have previous experience when it comes to launching tech start-ups.
Take UKCloud – a Tech Track 100 listing for the second year running – co-founded by Simon Hansford who can count two previous successful businesses under his belt, including the IT services provider Attenda which featured in the first-ever Tech Track 100 in 2001. Find out more about UKCloud one year on since topping last year’s Tech Track 100 list.
Other serial entrepreneurs proving that there is no substitute for experience include Starleaf (No. 36 on the Tech Track listing), a video conferencing provider, whose co-founders previously sold former Tech Track 100 entrant Codian for $270m. Marketing software developer Performance Horizon’s (No. 54) genes also come from proven entrepreneurial stock with not just one but two serial entrepreneurs – Malcolm Cowley and Paul Fellows – who previously worked together on the online marketing business Buy.at, which featured on 2007’s Tech Track 100, before selling the business to AOL for $125m in 2008.
Top 10 Tech Track 100 companies 2017
- Wonderbly – personalised children’s books
- Smarkets – betting exchange
- Darktrace – cyber security developer
- Hunter Macdonald – IT consultancy
- TransferWise – currency transfer provider
- Festicket – festival booking services
- Oakbrook – consumer finance provider
- SuperAwesome – children’s advertising services
- The LADBible Group – online entertainment community
- Receipt Bank – bookkeeping automation services
A boom sector
The combined talent of these serial entrepreneurs together with those starting out on their first venture is having a hugely positive effect on the financial health of the tech start-up scene. Total sales for this year’s listed Tech Track 100 companies – the majority of which are based in London (57) and the South East (12) with the North West being the next biggest concentration (8) – increased by an average of 99% a year over three years to £2.9bn (from £482m). Nearly two thirds (60) made an operating profit in their latest year and ten companies had a profit margin of more than 20%. I can see why businesses in this sector attract investment when there’s potential to make returns like these.
I think it’s encouraging to see where that investment is coming from. A record 68 of the companies listed on Tech Track 100 have secured equity investment from venture capital/private equity firms or business angels, which is the highest number in the 17 years that the Tech Track 100 has been running. Particular successes include cyber security developer Darktrace (No. 3) which has raised more than $180m and LoveCrafts (No. 24) at £44m. It seems there is no lack of willing investors prepared to back a great tech idea despite the fact that of the 40 companies that reported a loss, 35 are backed by venture capital or private equity firms. There seem to be plenty of investors prepared to be patient with the expectation of a longer-term pay-off.
Darktrace also stands out as one of the 21 software companies on the league table, making software the biggest sector whether it’s products to protect against internet and data crime – a hugely important area given the proliferation of the cyber threat – or cloud computing services from businesses like Cloud Technology Solutions (No. 50) and Giacom (No. 69).
Another compelling theme to emerge this year – and I think one that should be noted as the UK’s politicians shape our future trading relationship with the EU and beyond – is just how many of the Tech Track 100 are trading overseas. Eighty report that some of their revenue was generated overseas. Educational computer developer Kano (No. 45) for example has shipped over 150,000 of its computer kits to 86 countries.
Wonderbly, which develops personalised children’s books, is the top-ranking Tech Track company this year, having grown sales 294% to £25.9m, and exports to 200 countries. Export success stories like these surely point to tech as a vital sector to develop in a post-Brexit UK.
The manufacturing sector is also another area that is being targeted for growth by the country’s policymakers and the Tech Track 100 illustrates that UK manufacturing innovation in tech is alive and well. There are 11 high-tech manufacturers listed including Geo (No. 60), which designs and manufactures smart, connected devices to help people monitor and manage energy use in their homes. And if you thought the UK was behind in the space race, you’ve obviously not investigated Clyde Space which makes up to 12 flight-ready miniature satellites every month from its base near the River Clyde in Glasgow – building on the region’s shipbuilding heritage to a spaceship-building future.
Time for a stock market flotation?
For many of the businesses listed on Tech Track 100, this is of course only a stepping stone in their progress as several look ahead to a possible stock market flotation. With candidates including Ratesetter (No. 62), Farfetch (No. 52), and LendInvest (No. 37), it looks like we might all have a chance to invest in some of the UK’s hottest tech start-ups in the near future.