In a spooky Halloween special, this post explores zombie companies – aptly named as whilst technically still active, these companies are usually on the brink of death. The zombie stage of evolution is one of seven stages we use to classify the 30,000 high-growth companies tracked on the Beauhurst platform. These stages are: seed, venture, growth, established, exited, zombie or dead – read about why we use these terms and how we define company lifecycles.
Whilst most zombie companies eventually die, not all follow this fate. A small number are able to resurrect and re-enter the seed, venture, growth or established stage of evolution. In this post, we define what a zombie company is, outline the proportion of zombies that eventually revive and profile three once thriving companies unable to re-emerge after becoming a zombie.
What is a zombie company?
A zombie company is a business that has been neglected for a prolonged period of time or is in a troubled financial situation. Thus, whilst the company is not ‘dead’, it appears to be only barely operating. For a company to be classified as a zombie on the Beauhurst platform, it must meet one of two criteria.
Firstly, the company’s website and/or social media presence must show prolonged neglect. For instance, this would be met if a company’s website has been completely down for two weeks or a company that used to update its news page weekly has not done so for 6 months. The second criteria is that the company’s status on Companies House is troubled. For example, if a company is placed in administration, liquidation or dissolution first gazette. Another signal of a financially troubled company is if it is taken to court by its creditors.
It is important to note that a company does not necessarily become a zombie if it simply appears to stop business activities. For instance, if a holding company has stopped trading for a period of time but its subsidiaries are operating normally, the holding company would not be classified as a zombie.
Do zombies ever revive?
There are a significant number of companies who have been or are currently placed in the zombie stage of evolution. 698 of our tracked companies are currently classified as zombies, with 2,503 companies who were previously classified as zombies. Of these 2,503 ex-zombies, only 19 have been able to resurrect, with an additional two companies going on to an exit via an acquisition. The remaining 2,482 companies have since died, resulting in a 99% death-rate. This statistic does not bode well for companies who become zombies, as based on the performance of ex-zombies, almost all of these companies will eventually die.
Biggest Zombie deaths
As seen above, zombie status provides a damning indication that a company nears death, with only 1% able to make a comeback. This also rings true for once thriving companies who had raised significant funds, before becoming a zombie. We have profiled three such companies who had raised large amounts of capital, but were eventually placed into the zombie stage and then went on to die.
Founded in November 2010, Blippar developed image recognition apps which enabled its users to experience augmented reality (AR) features. For example, accessing marketing content through image scanning and facial recognition. Its formative years were successful, with Blippar creating AR mobile ad campaigns for large companies like Nestle and Coca Cola, through their computer vision tech.
Blippar raised a significant amount of funds, securing £110m over six fundraisings and achieving a valuation of £194m. In efforts to expand, Blippar also acquired Dutch AR company ‘Layar’ in 2014. However, in December 2018 Blippar was placed into administration after suffering significant losses. These losses arose from a failure to find new customers and continual disagreements with its investors. On appointment of insolvency firm David Rubin & Partners, Blippar was placed in our zombie stage in December 2018, and officially died shortly after on January 23rd 2019. Investment fund Candy Ventures, one of Blippar’s initial investors, acquired Blippar’s intellectual property assets, underlying technologies and the assets of Layar.
Enigma Diagnostics was formed in 2004 and developed innovative molecular diagnostic technology. This technology, the Enigma Minilab, came in the form of a portable and compact device that could test tissue samples for certain pathogens in less than an hour. The Minilab was mainly designed to detect influenza viruses and viral diseases. Before being placed in the zombie stage in March 2017, Enigma had successfully raised significant capital. It had raised £82.3m over four funding rounds and also received five grants totalling £2.8m. Despite this access to capital, Enigma was unable to generate profit, with its final accounts in 2015 revealing a gross loss of £13,000, even after a $50m fundraising in late 2014. Enigma officially died in April 2017, just three weeks after being classified as a zombie. Its IP assets (including 37 patents), software for the Enigma MiniLabs and goodwill were sold through consulting firm Metis Partners.
Enecsys developed and manufactured the Enecsys Micro inverter, a device which aimed to improve the performance and reduce the cost of solar energy generation. Founded in 2003, Enecsys was a spinout from the University of Cambridge and had raised £45m from four fundraisings, whilst also receiving £389k in grants. From 2010 onwards, Enecsys sold over 170,000 Micro Inverter units within the European, US and Australasian markets. However, it entered the zombie stage in February 2015, when working capital issues emerged. Its latest financial accounts in 2013 revealed a working capital balance of negative £1.9m, meaning it had a dire inability to generate adequate assets to cover its liabilities. Enecsys was classified a zombie in February 2015 and remained in this stage for almost a year. It was officially classified as dead in January 2016, when administrator Baker Tilly sold its IP assets for £1.6m.