UK has most billion-dollar 'unicorns' in Europe

Unicorns - billion-dollar technology startups - are more common in the UK than anywhere else in Europe, according to new research conducted by investment bank GP Bullhound.

Europe now has 40 unicorns, with the UK contributing 17, eight of which were founded in the last 12 months, largely due to the explosive growth of London's financial technology (or fintech) sector.

Unicorns are defined by technology companies which have achieved an IPO or valuation of $1bn (€889m) or more. They are referred to as such due to their rare nature.

The study cements London's status as Europe's tech hub and comes on the back of separate research which found that more technology startups chose to be based in London than in five other European capitals combined over the last 10 years.

UK-based unicorns include online retailers Asos, money lenders Wonga and property advisors Right Move. The total value of UK unicorns came to $40.4bn (€35.9bn).

However, Europe's two most-valuable unicorns - Skype and Spotify - are both based in Sweden, which has the second largest number with six such companies.

According to Oxford Economics figures, produced for promotional company London & Partners, technology is now the fastest growing sector in London, employing more than 200,000 people. The sector is predicted to contribute £18bn (€24.9bn) to the UK's economy this year.

The research also found that more than 1,000 technology startups based themselves in London between 2005 and 2014, more than the combined total of Paris, Dublin, Madrid, Amsterdam and Munich.

London's fintech sector accounted for almost one-third of Europe's unicorns. Fintech, where businesses use software to provide financial services, has experienced exponential rates of growth over the past few years.

Between 2013 and 2014, the value of global fintech investment rocketed by 201% to reach more than $12bn (€10.6bn). Europe had the highest level of growth with a 215% year-on-year increase.

The UK's technology industry is centred in Tech City UK, a publicly-funded industry group backing tech startups and functioning as Britain's equivalent of Silicon Valley. Amazon, Google and Facebook have all invested in the area, though all three companies retain US-based headquarters.

Despite the UK's impressive performance, the US remains the undisputed home of unicorns. Another 22 unicorns were born in the US in the last 12 months and the cumulative value of Europe's 40 unicorns - $120bn (€106.5bn) - is less than one-sixth of the value of US giants Apple, which is worth $737bn (€654bn).