Venture

Unicorn Class of 2019: Richer, More Autonomous, And More American

Roughly 50 new unicorns have sprung up this year, and we’ve herded them into a dataset to see how this latest cohort compares to prior ones.

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As you might guess, newcomers share a lot in common with their predecessors. They’re heavily California-based, commonly but not exclusively consumer-focused, and capable of spending gobs of money with startling speed.

Yet while some things have stayed the same in unicorn-ville, in other ways the landscape is  shifting notably. In particular, we’re seeing a slowdown in new China-based unicorns, occurring alongside a broader decline in supergiant funding rounds. In addition, we’re seeing more comparative youngsters cross the billion-dollar valuation threshold, along with more companies based in previously under-represented countries.

Below, we take a look at how the Unicorn Class of 2019 is shaping up, focusing on geographic distribution, age, sector focus, and other attributes.

Mapping Unicorn-land

Let’s start with geography.

Of course, unicorns can be born anywhere. But they tend to pop up mostly in the U.S. and China, the countries most flush with growth-stage funding. That’s evident in the chart below, where we look at the geographic breakdown of the Class of 2019.

Unicorns_Map

A few trends stand out, most notably the divergence in U.S. and Chinese unicorn creation numbers. In past years, the two nations have been relatively close in this metric. Out of 452 companies listed on the Crunchbase Unicorn Leaderboard, 196 companies are American while 165 are China-based.

In 2019, however, U.S.-based companies dominate the list by a much wider margin. Thirty-five of the 2019 unicorns are American, accounting for roughly two-thirds of the global total.

China’s unicorn creation prowess, meanwhile, appears on the decline. So far this year, mainland China produced just four known, newly-minted unicorns, per Crunchbase data. Another two came out of Hong Kong.

Star Spangled Unicorns

Unicorns tend to herd in the same places. The majority of U.S. newcomers – 20 out of 35 – have headquarters in the San Francisco Bay Area, where billion-dollar companies are about as rare as unaffordable condos. Next up was New York, followed by other tech hubs including Seattle, Boston, and Southern California.

The takeaway here is that while yes, it’s technically true you don’t have to launch your startup in San Francisco or another big tech hub, in practice that’s where the overwhelming majority of the really big checks are being written. That said, there are exceptions. The standout is Rivian – the maker of electric pickup trucks based in Plymouth, Michigan that has raised $1.2 billion this year.

Billion Dollar Babies

While we do occasionally see companies crossing the billion-dollar valuation threshold shortly after inception, most take a few years to get there. In the chart below, we look at how 2019 unicorns compare by founding year.

Unicorns_Founded_date_histogram

For 2019, more than half of the new unicorns globally were founded between 2012 and 2015. That makes them between four and seven years old when they first hit the $1 billion valuation mark. That’s roughly comparable to the typical new unicorn age in the past few years, and about the age at which promising startups tend to be closing later stage rounds. So no big surprises here.

However, some companies – autonomous driving startups in particular – seem to have found a fast lane to unicorn-ville. Two companies in the space that snagged some of the largest rounds – Aurora and Nuro – were both founded in 2016. And TuSimple, a self-driving truck company, launched in late 2015.

Consumer Or Enterprise?

New unicorns represent a highly varied array of sectors, with no industry emerging as a clear leader. We saw mulitple entrants in fintech, fashion and food, along with health, biotech, transportation, and a whole lot of enterprise software.

The broad takeaway, thus, is less that the unicorn mix is changing and more that the pace of billion-dollar company formation appears to be slowing down. That’s not necessarily saying much, as 2018 outstripped all previous years in terms of the number of unicorns created and venture dollars invested. Crunchbase counted 151 new unicorns in 2018, up from 96 in 2017. So while things may be slowing, they’re still far from slow.

Illustration: Li-Anne Dias.

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