Two Chinese Startups Top Global Unicorn List Ahead of Musk's SpaceX
The term unicorn in finance does not refer to a fantastical beast. Unicorns are privately held companies with valuations of over $1 billion. Some tech industry giants moved off the unicorn list when they went public, including Facebook, Google and Airbnb Inc. It’s a list that signifies a tech firm with substantial banking and promise, often in a field that needs innovation.
Because many firms breach this market valuation size, there are also different variations of unicorns:
A decacorn is a firm valued at over $10 billion.
Centicorn and hectocorn are both used for companies valued at over $100 billion.
The elusive creature superunicorn is for a private company with a more than $1 trillion valuation. Superunicorns don’t exist yet, but SpaceX is the most likely company on the list to reach that status.
Firms like CB Insights keep dynamic lists of global unicorns, with many companies entering and leaving the list as their valuations fluctuate. Despite the list of nearly 1,500 unicorns, achieving that mark is still a badge of honor for startup founders.
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China Making Unicorn Gains
Comparing where unicorns originate, the U.S. still leads by a wide margin, with 715 on the list as of Feb. 24 compared to China’s 253. But the top two unicorns by valuation are Chinese firms — ByteDance Ltd., valued at $180 billion, and Ant Group, with a $150 billion valuation. Both rank ahead of Elon Musk’s spacecraft and satellite communications firm SpaceX, which has a current $125 billion valuation.
The growth in Chinese unicorns reflects the country’s expanding economy and desire to become a dominant player on the world stage. Some of the reasons for the country’s unicorn successes include:
Chinese leadership continues to push technology innovation, moving beyond a copycat style to creating unique opportunities that appeal to the Chinese domestic market and abroad.
The interconnectedness of the Chinese government, tech companies, banks and other entities creates opportunities for startup founders to raise capital and build market share.
The continued growth of Zhongguancun, the Chinese technology hub in the Haidan District in Beijing, attracts top performers from academia and business.
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India Following Closely Behind
After the U.S. and China, India boasts the third-most unicorns, with 83 as of Feb. 24, putting it well ahead of the United Kingdom, which is in fourth place. In 2022, there were 23 Indian tech unicorns created (only the U.S. had more), reflecting the country's emergence as an incubator for innovation.
ByteDance tops the unicorn ranking list with a $180 billion valuation. Best known as the company behind TikTok, ByteDance is a Beijing-based application creation firm that as of February is the most valuable private startup in the world. The company has other hits besides TikTok, including the Chinese news app Toutiao and short-video content app Douyin, which preceded TikTok.
The second company on the unicorns list is Ant Group with a $150 billion valuation. The Hangzhou-based financial services technology company is an affiliate of Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. It created the popular Alipay mobile payment platform, which is the most-used service of its kind in the world. Ant Group continues to support digital transformation and connection among merchants and consumers.
Not every unicorn will reach the heights of Facebook or Google. Many will struggle and fall off the unicorn list into history. But of the ones that reach those heights, it is likely several will come from China.
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