13 hot enterprise tech start-ups to watch in 2021

The enterprise tech start-up sector is packed with companies capitalising on growing demand — even amid the disruptions caused by the pandemic — for tools in the world of big data, devops, cloud, mobility, the Internet of Things and cyber security.

According to Gartner, global IT spending is expected to grow by 6.2 per cent this year, with total spending  projected to hit $3.9 trillion. The unprecedented acceleration of digital transformation in 2020 to satisfy the move to remote work, changes to education and new social norms presented by lockdowns has largely offset the early hit to IT spending caused by the COVID-19 outbreak.

A report by Crunchbase showed that global venture funding in the first half of 2020 was down about six per cent compared to 2019, totalling $130 billion — the lowest figure recorded since 2017.

Despite a rocky year, funding hotspots emerged from during the pandemic, with Massachusetts in the US, India, Indonesia, Israel, Australia and New Zealand, France, Belgium, and Brazil all reporting above average levels of funding.

“COVID-19 has shifted many industries’ techquilibrium,” said John-David Lovelock, distinguished research vice president at Gartner. “Greater levels of digitalisation of internal processes, supply chain, customer and partner interactions, and service delivery is coming in 2021, enabling IT to transition from supporting the business to being the business. The biggest change this year will be how IT is financed, not necessarily how much IT is financed.”

In this list, we highlight some of the hottest start-ups building software and services aimed at large enterprise customers, who their customers are, their funding so far and how close they might be to initial public offerings (IPOs) in 2021.

Cockroach Labs

Cockroach Labs is a computer software firm that develops commercial database management systems. Founded in 2015 by three ex-Google employees, it’s best known for CockroachDB, a cloud-native, distributed SQL database that provides “next-level consistency, ultra-resilience, data locality, and massive scale to modern cloud applications.”

Amid the COVID-19 outbreak, Cockroach Labs saw its revenue more than double in 2020, thanks in part to wide-spread cloud adoption. The start-up expects to see similar levels of growth this year and claims to be on track to double its workforce from 200 to 400 employees by the end of 2021.

Funding: Cockroach Labs raised $160 million Series E funding on January 12, 2021. The round comes just eight months after the start-up brought in $86.6 million Series D funding and leaves the company valued at about $2 billion.

Cohesity

There are a lot of factors that make Cohesity a ‘hot’ enterprise start-up: unique technology, a founder on his second act after co-founding the now public software company Nutanix and $250 million in funding from SoftBank’s Vision Fund.

The start-up itself has designed a cheaper way for enterprises to store what it calls “secondary data” — backups, files, test/dev and analytics data — all monitored using a single cloud environment with simple and rapid recovery options.

Funding: In April 2020, Cohesity raised $250 million in Series E funding, bringing its total funding to $660 million. This put the company value at $2.5 billion.

Confluent

Founded by the creators of open-source Apache Kafka, Confluent is a commercial version of the software that helps developers manage system and application messaging at high volume and add real-time streaming data to their apps.

Kafka has proved popular with companies like LinkedIn, which uses the technology for activity stream data and operational metrics; Netflix for real-time monitoring and its event-processing pipeline; and Spotify, where it’s used as part of the company’s log delivery system.

The idea behind Confluent is to make it easier for companies that don’t have a surfeit of developer power to harness Kafka.

Funding: The company announced a $250 million Series E funding round led by Coatue Management in April 2020, with participation from Altimeter Capital, Franklin Templeton, and existing investors Index Ventures and Sequoia Capital. This brought total funding in the company to $456 million and a valuation of $4.5 billion.

Front

Front was founded by French nationals Mathilde Collin, who is now CEO, and Laurent Perrin – who is CTO – after coming through the famed Silicon Valley start-up accelerator Y Combinator. Front evokes the sort of evangelism often reserved for consumer apps instead of enterprise software, drawing the inevitable comparisons to Slack.

The original Front app is for any team that shares an email inbox. It is particularly handy for customer support, sales, and even PR teams. It allows emails to be assigned to team members and for teams to collaborate in a shared space, increasing response speeds.

Now, the company is looking to transform the email experience for all office workers after receiving a serious cash injection.

Funding: Front raised a $59 million Series C funding round in early 2020, led by fellow software founders like Atlassian co-founder Mike Cannon-Brookes and president Jay Simons; Okta cofounder Frederic Kerrest; Qualtrics co-founders Ryan Smith and Jared Smith; and Zoom founder Eric Yuan; AND existing venture capital investors Sequoia, Initialized Capital, and Anthos Capital.

Funnel

Swedish software-as-a-service (SaaS) start-up Funnel specialises in combining and tidying marketing and advertising data for clients, regardless of where it resides, to get better insights into customers. The software is priced on a tiered basis depending on monthly ad spending, starting at $499 a month. Reference customers include Skyscanner, Samsung, and Ubisoft.

“Visualisation is done well in existing business intelligence tools once the data is properly prepared,” Funnel co-founder and CEO Fredrik Skantze told TechCrunch. “Automating the collection and preparation of the data has proven to be a very hard thing to do right and we wanted to make sure we were the best at this, which we now confidently can say we are as we hear that again and again from customers.”

Funding: Funnel secured a $47 million Series B funding round in January 2020, led by Eight Roads Ventures and F-Prime Capital, with participation from existing investors Balderton Capital, Oxx, Zobito, Industrifonden, and Kreos Capital. It is planning to expand into the US.

GitLab

GitLab is an open source Git-repository manager built by Dmitriy Zaporozhets and Valery Sizov. Not to be confused with developer code repository GitHub, this Bay Area start-up has had a big couple of years as enterprises and investors have taken a keen interest in devops.