In 2013, the term unicorn was coined by Aileen Lee, a venture capitalist and founder of the investment firm Cowboy Ventures. The term refers to privately held startups valued at $1bn or more.
The number of global unicorn startups has grown to more than 750 from a dozen over the past few years, worth a combined $2.4trn.
Technology startups raised nearly $300bn across the world during the first six months of 2021, which was almost as much as in the whole of 2020.
According to CB Insights, a market data provider, there was a quarterly record of 136 new unicorns established between April and June. Compared with the same period last year, the number of funding rounds above $100m tripled to 390.
Tech startups have developed new products that appear to be attracting record breaking investments. Some 25% of the funding in the second quarter went to financial-technology firms and lots of it flew into artificial intelligence, digital health, and cybersecurity.
Although American and Chinese startups continue to dominate the fundraising, the recipients are getting more global. In the past quarter, the share flowing to other markets grew from around 25% in 2016 to 40%.
Flipkart, an e-commerce firm in India, raised $3.6bn in a round that valued it at $38bn in July. Grab expects to go public in New York this year at a valuation of $40bn.
The boom can perhaps be traced to two factors: a divestment spree by the startups’ early venture-capital backers and greater competition among investors – and new players leaning into the tech-investing business, such as pension funds, sovereign wealth funds, and family offices,
These new buyers are expanding into markets that used to be dominated by VC firms.
Meanwhile, the venture-capital boom could also be a risk for investors. Many recently listed unicorns are continuing to bleed cash. The Economist calculated that those who went public in 2021 made a cumulative loss of $25bn in their latest financial year.