Acquisitions / Business / Business development / Investing / Year in review

Unicorns, SPACs and acquisitions: Here are the top DC tech moments of 2021

2021 was a banner year for DC growth companies. Here's a look at the public debuts, major mergers and more.

Cvent's team at its Nasdaq opening. (Courtesy photo)

Look, we’re not here to discredit the impact of Amazon HQ2 national tech giants in the DMV over the past year, but we think the local growth companies deserve some well-earned credit, too.

All on their own, they’ve been hard at work putting the DC tech scene on the map (well, more than it already was) in 2021. With overnight IPOs and a whole herd of new unicorns — not to mention the oodles of VC funding we compiled earlier this week — the tech giants, old pros and newer stars brought all kinds of eyes to the area this year. And if it’s any indication of 2022, there’s plenty of room for even more to follow in the footsteps.

To wrap up the year, we’ve rounded up the top public offerings, M&As and new unicorns from 2021. Take a bow, guys.

The public players

The DMV had more than a few companies make their debut in the public markets this year, largely thanks to a number of SPAC mergers. In total, seven companies went public, with one other announcing 2022 intentions.

Xometry premiered on the Nasdaq in June 2021 (photo via @Nasdaq on Twitter).

  • Xometry: The Rockville, Maryland-based on-demand manufacturing marketplace kicked off the local IPOs in June. After it premiered on the Nasdaq, share prices jumped up 98% from the original price in just one day, and the company raised a cool $302 million in the process.
  • IonQ: Although it was announced earlier in the year, College Park, Maryland quantum computing company IonQ made its first appearance on the New York Stock Exchange on October 1 through a deal with Las Vegas SPAC dMY Technology Group Inc. III. The company raised $635 million, with an additional $132 million in outstanding warrants, through the deal, with $350 million of the funds raised through private investment in public equity (PIPE) funding.
  • Fluence Energy: In October, energy storage firm Fluence Energy, based in Arlington, Virginia, filed for its IPO. The company landed in the Nasdaq the next month, raising $998.2 million.
  • Aditxt: That same month, Richmond, Virginia-based biotech innovation firm Aditxt officially appeared on the Nasdaq in an underwritten public offering, raising $4.25 million.
  • NextNav: The McLean, Virginia-based geolocation software company made its public trading debut in late October following a deal with Georgia SPAC Spartacus Acquisition Corporation. NextNav was estimated to make $408 million in the deal, which was announced this summer, valuing the company at $1.2 billion.
  • Sweetgreen: The salad retailer with Georgetown roots landed on the New York Stock Exchange in November, raising $364 million with an expected valuation of $3.4 billion. Following the IPO, it’s on track to double in size in the coming years.
  • FiscalNote: The ink is still drying on this one, but Penn Quarter policy software firm FiscalNote announced public plans in November via a $1.3 billion SPAC deal with Duddell Street Acquisition Corp. The deal is expected to close in the first quarter of 2022.
  • Cvent: Following a merger with special purpose acquisition company Dragoneer Growth Opportunities Corp. II, Cvent went public on the Nasdaq in December in a deal valued at $5.3 billion. This marks the second time the 22-year-old Tysons Corner, Virginia-based event company has made its debut in the public markets, with the first via a traditional IPO in 2013 on the New York Stock Exchange. This time, it comes after a move to embrace virtual and hybrid events.

Major mergers (and acquisitions):

Chip Paucek, 2U CEO (right), and Anant Argawal, 2U chief open learning officer (courtesy photo).

This year featured a number of noteworthy acquisitions from companies in and out of the region pulling DMV firms under their umbrella, but we narrowed it down to the six biggest.

  • Clarabridge: Six months after its IPO, Utah experience management company Qualtrics agreed to acquire Reston, Virgina-based conversation analytics platform Clarabridge for $1.125 billion in stock. Spoiler: the deal turned out so successful that Qualtrics announced a $15.9 million investment in Fairfax, Virginia, adding 400 jobs in NoVa.
  • Blackboard: In September, the DC edtech giant announced that it would be merging with Florida software company Anthology to create a giant edtech company. Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but it was definitely a power move from a power player.
  • Neustar: Also in September, the Reston-based identity resolution tech company announced that TransUnion, a credit reporting conglomerate, would be acquiring the marketing, fraud and communications businesses from Golden Gate Capital in a $3.1 billion cash deal. The deal was expected to close by the end of 2021.
  • FiscalNote: We won’t limit this to just one, because it turns out FiscalNote added nine companies to its portfolio in 2021. Among the deals that covered was when the company acquired fellow Penn Quarter company Fireside and Australia’s TimeBase in May, parent company FactSquared in January and the UK’s Oxford Analytica in February.
  • 2U: In November, the Lanham, Maryland edtech firm officially completed its $800 million acquisition of Cambridge, Massachusetts education platform edX. 2U first announced the news in June, saying it would operate edX as a public benefit entity and maintain its current leadership and that it expected to reach near $1 billion in annual revenue by the end of this year.
  • Truebill: Just this week, Silver Spring, Maryland personal finance company Truebill announced that it was set to be acquired by Detroit, Michigan-based Rocket Companies, which develops real estate, mortgage and financial services technology, for $1.275 billion in cash. The deal is expected to close before the end of the year.

The real-life unicorns:’s headquarters in McLean, Virginia (courtesy photo).

The mythical creature isn’t so much of a fantasy in the area anymore. The District and surrounding region is now home to a number of once-startups now valued at over $1 billion.

  • After landing a $100 million investment from Viking Global Investors in March (the first of two for the year), the McLean, Virginia identity tech firm became 2021’s first unicorn in the DMV.
  • Morning Consult: In June, the Downtown DC data intelligence company reached a $1.01 billion valuation following the completion of a $60 million Series B round led by Advance Venture Partners.
  • Interos: The next month, the Arlington-based supply chain risk management company nabbed a $100 million Series C round led by San Francisco-based venture capital firm NightDragon, valuing the company at over $1 billion.
  • Expel: After raising a huge $140 million Series E round, led by CapitalG, a growth fund from Alphabet, and Paladin Capital Group, the Herndon, Virginia cyber firm became 2021’s latest unicorn in November.

P.S. We also published a roundup of the region’s top megarounds in 2021, if you’ve got the growth company bug.

Companies: Truebill / Sweetgreen / IonQ / Morning Consult / Xometry / Clarabridge / Cvent / / Blackboard / 2U / FiscalNote

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