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8 Unicorns Grazing Across the European Union

You may think that humans as a species are the most prolific colonizers on the planet but maybe you’ve never heard of the “Argentine ants of southern Europe“. It’s a supercolony of ants that ranges over 6,000 kilometers (that’s 3,728 miles for you Yanks), from Italy to the Spanish Atlantic coast. This massive colony is made up of ants from Argentina that were introduced to Europe 80 years ago, and needless to say they’ve wasted little time in dominating the landscape. While Europe is being invaded by immigrant ants, another much smaller infestation that’s taking place is that of mythical unicorns. For those of you not in the know, a unicorn is a startup worth at least $1 billion, and there are 215 in total around the world. Here are the leading countries according to the brilliant minds over at CB Insights:

There are actually 16 unicorns grazing across Europe right now, and we got zee Germans out of the way after last week’s top 8 unicorns by funding. Now we’re going to tuck into the second half of CB Insights’ EU unicorn list which has a great mix of countries representing—Luxembourg even makes an appearance (the least populated of all E.U. countries). A cornucopia of technologies awaits, from banking to buying stuff. So let’s dig in.

Crowdsourced Carpooling

Though its name brings to mind the phrase ‘yadda yadda yadda’, BlaBlaCar is definitely not one to be skipped over. The French startup valued at $1.6 billion has become one of the world’s largest transportation companies in the new sharing economy, offering a platform for long-distance carpooling. Something of a matchmaking spin on Uber, BlaBlaCar connects people who need a ride with drivers heading out on roadtrips.

Credit: BlaBlaCar

Accel Ventures is one of 11 firms investing $334.98 million in BlaBlaCar since its 2006 founding. It now operates in 22 countries across Europe, Russia, Turkey, Mexico, Brazil and India with more than 40 million members participating. 

Advanced Investing

Denmark’s Saxo Bank, a licensed and regulated bank, develops technologies in online trading, including web and mobile platforms for trading multiple asset classes. Valued at $1.45 billion, Saxo has been around since 1992 and has taken in $118.65 million in funding. In the 25 years since its founding, the company has grown to over 1,500 employees servicing clients in more than 170 countries. It enables efficient financial trading in 28 languages, in any currency, across a variety of devices, as well as offering “Banking as a Service” to other financial institutions. Their award-winning platform operates behind the scenes at over 100 financial institutions that label the offering as their own, while Saxo works diligently behind the scenes, conversing with their thick Danish accents. 

Global Hosting at Lightning Speed

OVH, based in France, is the third largest internet hosting company in the world. Valued at $1.1 billion with $771.8 million in total funding, OVH offers hosting solutions for web, dedicated, and cloud platforms. As one would imagine at such a size, the company’s hosting stats are impressive: 18 million web apps hosted in 19 countries across 260,000 servers. Its fiber-optic global network boasts a 7.5 Tbps (that’s terabytes per second) capacity—super fast, in other words – and looks like this, multiplied:

Credit: OVH

Its recent acquisition of VMware’s vCloud Air is spurring expansion in the US, Europe, and India, with a workforce expected to reach 15,000 by 2025. With investors like JP Morgan and those Barbarians at the Gate guys, they have some deep pockets to continue growing by acquisition. 

Fast Fashion

Global Fashion Group (GFG), based in Luxembourg, launched in 2011. Valued at $1.1 billion and with $565.47 million in funding, the company works to bring online fashion to emerging markets. According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, right after sorting out food and water your next priority should be to not look like a tool. Now in 24 countries and with 10 million annual customers, GFG delivers fashion to almost every corner of the world by, basically, doing everything itself. The company controls its own infrastructure value chain – warehouses, customer care centers, and delivery fleets – allowing it to fulfill orders on over 3,000 brands quickly and easily.

It offers last-mile delivery (i.e., getting an object from a major port to its final destination, a huge problem in the supply chain world)  in over 300 cities, and even lets customers pay cash on delivery. A few of the brands sold include Tommy Hilfiger, TopShop, Aldo, and Mango.

Money Managers

Avaloq Group, valued at $1.1 billion, has raised $353.23 million in private equity from Warburg Pincus. Based in Switzerland, the banking software and services company has been around since 1985 (pre-internet!) and claims to be the only independent provider in fintech to both develop and operate its own software. Working in wealth management, universal, and retail banks, Avaloq’s software covers every need a bank or financial institution might have, including back, middle, and front-office. Managing relationships with wealthy clients, ensuring compliance with international banking laws, processing transactions, portfolio management—Avaloq has software to handle it. Some of the 155 financial institutions that the company serves include BBVA, Barclay’s, HSBC, and Edmond De Rothschild.

All-Seeing Security

Though the Czech Republic’s Avast Software may have started pre-internet (1988), the company now sits at the forefront of online security with a valuation of one unicorn. Previously featured in our list of 9 Hot Cybersecurity Startups, Avast has taken $100 million in funding and turned it into protection for over 400 million people online, offering digital security software for Android, PC, and Mac. Check out its Cleanup product, which aims to de-clutter your hard drive (man do we need this):

Credit: Avast

Its secret sauce lies in its use of AI. A cloud-based machine learning engine receives a constant stream of data from Avast users, allowing it to learn at hyperspeed and turn that data into even smarter security. Their catchy slogan – “We see everything on the internet” – actually sums up the tech nicely. With such a deep bench of users, Avast is able to be one of the first to see potential threats, then inspect, analyze, and protect against them. That view, for instance, recently provided insight that Android phones were being attacked more in Q2 of this year (up 40%). Its software was able to learn from those attacks and improve threat detection.

Watch Out Craigslist

A newer unicorn in the bunch – and one of the most popular apps you’ve never heard of – is letgo (lower case intended), an app out of the Netherlands that is now valued at $1 billion. Accel Partners is one of 10 investors that has funneled $475 million into the company, a mobile marketplace for local buying and selling. With 75 million downloads and 20 million active monthly users, letgo isn’t just a better-designed Craigslist—and is quickly becoming the go-to app for selling. The company’s AI and image recognition technologies automatically title and categorize items as seen below:

Credit: letgo

Users browse items for sale nearby and can chat instantly with sellers in the app. From free stuff to furniture to clothes and even cars, if you can’t find what you’re looking for on letgo, it probably doesn’t exist.

Mind Blowing

Rounding out our Euro unicorns is Mindmaze, a Swiss company valued at $1 billion with $108.5 million in funding (including from Leonardo Dicaprio), that wants to “solve complex problems with the power of neuroscience and machine learning”. The company has developed a platform that combines VR, graphics, brain imaging, and neuroscience to build intuitive human/machine interfaces. In plain English, Mindmaze wants to hack the human brain to make machines smarter by allowing you to control things in virtual worlds with your mind (a MindOS if you will). Our article on Mindmaze last year talked about how their platform uses brain data, movement data, and muscle data to produce interactions in VR with “zero latency”. 

It’s targeted at two seemingly disparate industries – healthcare and entertainment – but the technologies overlap and inform each other. High-resolution motion-capture sensors allow movement to be mapped in real-time for virtual characters. Medical-grade VR products can be used to stimulate neural recovery for stroke victims. And user interfaces like a lightweight Head Mounted Display can be used in augmented reality environments for surgery or gaming.

Credit: Mindmaze

That mask you see above leverages machine learning and biosignal processing to decode real-life facial expressions tens of milliseconds before they appear on a user’s face, and instantly replicates that expression on their avatar in a virtual world.

Innovation is what has produced the incredible technological infrastructure that surrounds us, and the emergence of unicorns like these is a testament to the hard work and dedication of passionate innovators who don’t have the name recognition of Elon Musk but share similar talents. Like a colony of Argentinian ants, innovators spread their ideas across the globe helping us dress better, travel cheaper, and transact across borders more seamlessly.

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