The tech investors still hunting for unicorns during lockdown

Linda J. Dodson

But Kanji remains optimistic that the UK’s strongest start-ups will weather the storm. “The upper echelon of these start-ups is still competitive – people still bid up on these things,” he says. “As long as there’s one other person who thinks there’s something big and is willing to pay up, prices tend to converge on that number.”

The impact of the expected recession on the start-up sector is unclear. Some of the world’s largest technology companies emerged after previous crises, but financial hardship is likely on the way for the fledgling, so-called “seed” start-ups.

The British Business Bank said in a report published last week that the 2008 financial crisis had the largest impact on seed businesses, with the number and value of deals dropping.

Despite these concerns, venture capitalists are more intent than ever on finding so-called “unicorns”. Helgason says he has taken to going on socially distanced walks with start-up founders as a way to continue in-person relationships during lockdown.

The pandemic has also given funds the time to fine tune their secretive databases, which hoover up information on people and start-ups around the world and then output a list of potential investment opportunities. EQT Ventures, a Swedish fund with an office in London, swears by its artificial intelligence system “Motherbrain” that it uses to hunt down deals.

Hoxton, too, has built its own tracking system that Kniaz is currently operating from his shed. The tool tracks people and companies, watching for signs that start-ups are growing quickly.

“If a company starts to get really hot in Romania, I want to make sure I see it – preferably without spending half my time in Romania,” he says. “I thought of all the ways we’ve ever missed companies or didn’t see them fast enough and figured out what are the best signals I can harvest.”

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