I wrote a blogpost last fall (November 2020) predicting who would be Norway’s first unicorn. Now two of the nine startups I highlighted have become unicorns. This is a great achievement by both companies. Congratulations and hats off to Oda and Cognite!
But who was first?
TCV recently invested $ 150 million in Cognite at a $ 1.6 billion post-money valuation. The mega-round was announced on May 19th. However, the closing of the round was notified to Oslo Stock Exchange by Aker ASA in the morning of June 3rd, just before the markets opened. Aker owns more than 50% of Cognite and is itself a listed company, thus Aker had to inform the markets at the time of closing. This means the investment closed early June 3rd, or maybe on June 2nd, but then Aker was late in informing the market. So I think we’ll have to go with June 3rd as the date Cognite became a unicorn. (UPDATE: After this story was first published, I was informed by Cognite that their round actually closed on June 2nd, and that Aker’s announcement was sent to the Oslo Stock Exchange the day after as it was considered a non-mandatory announcement.)
Oda just announced a secondary transaction, on the back of its $ 265 million Softbank/Prosus-led round in April. The secondary transaction values the company at $ 1.2 billion, up by $ 0.3 billion in just two months. The transaction closed on June 2nd , the same day Cognite’s mega-deal closed. It looks like Oda and Cognite became Norway’s first unicorns on the same day!
Anyway, who came first gives some bragging rights, but is less important in the larger picture. What really mattes is that Norway now has two unicorns, i.e. solid proof that great tech companies are being built here. This is immensely important to the ecosystem, as success fosters success. It will attract more talent and capital to new ventures. More employees will have experienced “what great looks like”, and will take that learning to new companies. Oda and Cognite are joining a number of other companies that are proof of the same trend, notably Autostore and Kahoot!. They have both reached unicorn valuations, but Autostore is too old and Kahoot! is publicly listed, so they don’t fully fit the unicorn bill. BTW, there are also some lists — like Dealroom — that don’t include companies that crossed the $ 1 billion line as a subsidiary, and that would exclude Cognite.
So who will be the next Norwegian unicorn?
The seven remaining companies on my list from last time are still strong contenders. As a short recap, they were Boost.ai, Neat, PortalOne, reMarkable, Sanity, Tibber and Whereby. Several of these have seen great operational progress and announced significant funding rounds since November ’20, but I will save that for later. However, there are at least two more companies that should be on the list, and probably should have been the last time:
- Easee has experienced phenomenal growth since inception in 2018 with its smart EV-chargers. Revenue in 2020 came in at $ 46 million and the company is profitable. 2021 revenue is expected to end north of $ 190 million. Norway’s progressive EV-policies are giving Easee and others a head-start in the EV-charger space, and Easee’s tight cooperation with Tibber seems to be paying off. It will be interesting to see how defendable the position is over time, but Easee seems like a solid unicorn bet given its enormous momentum.
- Superside is another company with fantastic momentum. The YC-alumni delivers design services as a subscription, mostly to US-based enterprise customers such as Amazon and Facebook. Superside’s design talent pool is distributed in lower-cost locations, which means Superside can deliver high quality design at lower cost with quicker turnaround time than local agencies. Founder and CEO Fredrik Thomassen expects revenue to exceed $ 25 million for 2021, up from around $ 10 million in 2020. Superside is a super-impressive company that is right on track to join the unicorn ranks.
There are a few companies I included in the “too old” category the last time that deserves to be mentioned again. But first, remember my definition of a unicorn company is pretty strict, i.e. companies that are younger than 13 years old. Aileen Lee’s original list was actually even stricter, as she only included companies founded since January 2003 when the list was published in November 2013, so companies that were a bit less than 11 years old at the time. The term was picked up by others, and simplified by many to include all privately held companies valued at more than $ 1 billion. CB Insights publishes one of the key unicorn lists, and they include SpaceX founded in 2002, and even Epic Games founded in 1991! This makes little sense to me, as “unicorn” is originally a venture capital term applied to fast growing start-ups. Venture capital funds typically have durations of 10–15 years, so that is the relevant timeframe to get to a $ 1 billion valuation. If you are too old, you are not a start-up anymore and there should be some cut-off based on age. Thus I will stick to my somewhat strict definition (but if I were Autostore I would give CB Insights a call to get on their list!) The following two companies are also strong contenders to be included by CB Insights:
- Signicat was started in Trondheim in 2006 and it clearly on track to reach unicorn valuation. Signicat provides a digital identity platform across Europe. The company was acquired by Nordic Capital in April 2019, and reached revenue of $ 30 million that year. Recently, Signicat stated that they are aiming at revenues of $ 70 million for 2021. Very strong performance indeed.
- The same goes for Gelato. The company was incorporated in 2007, although preceded by Optimalprint, which I believe got going in 2006. Gelato provides a global on-demand printing platform. The company had some years of slower growth in the 2016–18 period, but seems to have picked up the pace and recently announced that they are on track to reach $ 120 million of revenue for 2021. Gelato is backed by Dawn Capital with Norwegian Haakon Øverli on the investment team.
Another unicorn with Norwegian roots I did not mention in my last post is Sportradar, the global leader in collecting and analyzing sports data. The company was started in Trondheim in 2000 by Petter Fornæss and Tore Steinkjer as Market Monitor AS, and quickly got German native Carsten Koerl onboard as a large investor and CEO. In 2007, Sportradar AG was incorporated with Petter Fornæss, Ivar Arnesen og Carsten Koerl as founders, rolling up Market Monitor in the process. In 2012 EQT made their initial investment in the company. They have since been joined by TCV (yes, same firm that invested in Cognite recently) and CPPIB. The company is headquartered in St. Gallen, Switzerland, and listed as a Swiss unicorn by CB Insights. Sportradar has about 2 200 employees, of which around 200 are working out of offices in Trondheim and Oslo.
Forgerock is another company founded in Norway and flipped abroad. A quick update: Forgerock seems to go the Kahoot! route, i.e. never getting a unicorn valuation as a privately held company before going public. In May Bloomberg reported that Forgerock is working with Morgan Stanley for a possible IPO in Q3 ’21 at an expected valuation around $ 3–4 billion. Well done to Lasse Andresen & co!
To conclude, some short lists:
Norwegian-started privately held tech companies with unicorn valuations:
Listed Norwegian tech start-ups with unicorn valuation (only including those less than 13 years old)
My bet: All three lists will grow significantly over the next few years.
For full disclosure: Alliance Venture was an early investor in Oda, Sanity, Boost.ai and Superside. All four are active portfolio companies.