The unicorns of legend were rarely seen in Germany, though Julius Caesar is said to have spotted one in the Hercynian Forest when he was fighting barbarian tribes. The Harz Mountains were said to have so many that a cave was filled with their bones.
The latter-day unicorn – a technology startup that reaches a market capitalization of a billion dollars – has been equally rare in Germany, a country better known as a laggard in high-speed internet. And yet the latest sighting comes courtesy of three Germans, who started a company in a Munich dorm room in 2011 and are now global leaders in “process mining.” That company, Celonis, is the world’s newest unicorn.
Alexander Rinke, Bastian Nominacher and Martin Klenk took their first clients to that dorm room to demonstrate their use of artificial intelligence to sort through data and find patterns that can tell even the biggest companies where something is not right in their deliveries, production or orders. Process mining extracts information from event logs and is the missing link between model-based process analysis and data analysis techniques.
From their initial location in Munich, the young firm has established offices in Miami and New York, with San Francisco next on the list. German giants like Siemens or Deutsche Telekom but also US multinationals including Lockheed Martin, Exxon Mobil and Uber now use Celonis technology. The decision early on to enter the US market drew some smiles of derision but “was exactly the right step,” Mr. Rinke said. “There is a huge market there and we are leading.”
The company currently has 400 employees and has been profitable from its first round of $27.5 million in financing in 2016. It was the latest round of $50 million in financing from Accel and 83North that earned Celonis the unicorn title. The new capital injection valued the firm at just over $1 billion.
That makes Celonis just the fifth German unicorn sighting since 2009. The list is topped by Auto1, a used car trading platform valued at more than $3.5 billion. By contrast, the United States has 20 and China has 15 unicorns valued above Germany’s most valuable startup, according to a list maintained by CB Insights. The global leader is Uber, valued at $68 billion.
Demand for Celonis software has far outstripped expectations, said Harry Nelis, a partner at Accel, one of the early venture capital investors. “The rapidly growing list of multinational customers speaks for the global potential of the company,” he said.
Mr. Rinke thinks his firm is a message to other startups in Germany. “You don’t have to be in Silicon Valley to make it,” he said. “Our financing highlights Germany as a tech site – especially for startups.”
Johannes Steger covers tech startups for Handelsblatt. Darrell Delamaide adapted this article into English for Handelsblatt Global. To contact the author: email@example.com.