Mega, major and just “plain large” VC deals in the UK/Ireland in 2020

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Mega, major and just “plain large” VC deals in the UK/Ireland in 2020

In the US, the term “megadeals” refers to VC investments of over $100m (i.e. c. £75m).  The usage of this name tag is less common in the UK but like the US, mega-deals are becoming increasingly common – even in 2020 with the Covid pandemic. 

In last 12 months, Ascendant has identified 23 megadeals in the UK and Ireland.  Just over £3.5bn was invested in these deals last year which compares to £2.6bn in 2019 – an increase of 34%.  So, although both volume and value of megadeals were up, the average megadeal size reduced from £176m to £152m.

Megadeals are a relatively recent phenomenon which only started in 2015 – see chart.  Amazing as the growth in the volume of megadeals has been during this period (CAGR=66.4%), major deals (£50m-£75m) have increased faster (CAGR=100%).  Plain old simple “large” deals (£25m-£50m) by comparison have still increased at a slower, but still impressive rate (CAGR=34.3%).  Ascendant will not have its final investment data for the whole of the market (bigger deals tend to get disclosed more promptly than smaller transactions) for a few weeks but on the basis of our early estimates and allowing for the effect of Covid, we estimate that the market as a whole will have grown at a CAGR of approximately 15% between 2015 and 2020.  So, it is clear that there is a growing appetite for larger later stage deals from investors in UK/Irish private technology companies. 

The drivers for the growth in supersize deals (mega, major and large), in the UK and Ireland include:

  • Venture “Giants” continuing to raise and deploy megafunds (i.e. $500m+) e.g. Atomico, Index, Highland and HV Capital;
  • International mandates of large US, European and Asian VCs;
  • Boom in corporate venture investment in late stage technology businesses (e.g. such investors in 2020 included Tokyo Gas, Hyundai, Slack, Salesforce, ABN Amro, Visa, Sumitomo, etc.); and
  • A continuing shift toward alternative assets (venture funds and direct investments in pre-IPO companies) by institutional investors.

Impact of Civid on mega, major and large VC deals in 2020

The Covid pandemic had a major impact on the UK/Irish economies in 2020 – with GDP estimated to have shrunk by c.11%.  Many initiatives were launched by the UK and Irish governments to protect jobs and incomes including a Government backed FutureFund created in the UK to support the financing of early stage technology companies.  The justification for the latter was questioned by many industry analysts as investment rates in the first half of the year were not significantly different from the same period in 2019 (i.e. £4.3bn vs £3.9bn, 510 vs 554 deals).  The uplift in investment (£s) versus decline in volumes of completed deals was driven by investors’ sustained confidence in larger deals but conversely becoming more hesitant on early stage less proven businesses.  The table below shows how the number of mega, major and large deals varied quarter to quarter throughout the year:

Clearly there was a significant dip in Q3, but this is not unusual as summer holidays (which were often extended by individual investors this year) reduced the number of completions and investors paused to take stock and “tune up” their remote deal execution processes for the “new normal”.  The chart below highlights the timing of the various megadeals throughout the year (providing the names of those over £100m).

It shows that Q2 was the time when investors were briefly more cautious on the biggest deals, but that confidence started coming back in the second half of the year with some very significant megadeals being financed and a select few companies even raising 2nd and 3rd rounds in 2020 (see below).

Who got the money?

The table below identifies the 20 companies that raised the largest amounts in 2020:

As expected fintech companies feature frequently in the list; but there are also some great businesses in ecommerce, communication services, hardware and other online services and software who have attracted significant investment in 2020.  Another unusual feature of the market in 2020 has been the ability of 6 out of these 20 companies to complete multiple raises in the last 12 months – notably Cazoo (3 rounds), Oxford Nanopore (3 rounds) and Hopin (3 rounds).  The latter is particularly interesting as it raised £5m in Feb, £32m in Jun and £95m in Nov – but 2020 was clearly a very good time to have an online conferencing product!  The investors in these deals were diverse – international, strategic/trade/corporate VCs, as well as institutional investors looking for pre-IPO exposure to late stage growth businesses close to listing – but most also had strong follow through support from existing investors.

Conclusions

Against a backdrop of turmoil caused by the Covid pandemic, investors and VCs backed more companies with more money.  In last 12 months, Ascendant has identified 78 supersize (mega, major and large) deals in the UK and Ireland.  Just over £5.8bn was invested in these deals last year which compares to £4.8bn in 2019 – an increase of 21%.  The key driver for this was the increase in megadeals by over 50% to 23 transactions raising in aggregate just over £3.5bn – growth of 34%.

To put this all in perspective, whilst we should be very encouraged by the continued growth in megadeals, it is sobering to note that the US closed 234 VC megadeals raising in total more than £40bn in 2019.  The early evidence for 2021 is that even more US companies closed megarounds.  Even after making allowances/adjustments for the tech only data (no life sciences) that we have used in this note and the relative sizes of the two countries (i.e. GDP, population, etc.), US tech businesses are still attracting megaround level financings at double the frequency of UK/Irish companies.

At the time of writing (10 Jan 21), no new mega nor major deals had been announced in the UK/Ireland so far in 2021, but there have been 2 large transactions – Wildanet (£50m), and Oxbotica (£35m).  So no immediate surge in supersize deals to report just yet but we do expect a great number as the year unfolds…

If you have any queries on this do not hesitate to contact Stuart McKnight via smcknight@ascendant.co.uk.

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