Startup News & Analysis

Secrets of unicorns: What do the world’s billion-dollar startups look like?

Stephanie Palmer-Derrien /

Canva founders

The founders of design startup unicorn Canva. Source: Supplied

It takes seven years, on average, to grow a startup into a unicorn, according to research from Compare the Market.

Defining a unicorn as a “privately-owned startup valued at over US$1 billion”, the research acknowledged one Australian unicorn: design startup Canva, which achieved unicorn status in January this year.

According to the report, there are just 241 unicorn companies in the world, and they’re worth a collective $US818 billion, or $US3.4 billion each, on average.

Of the 241, just 15 have valuations of $US10 billion, or more.

While Japan boasts two, Germany and Israel four apiece, India nine and the UK 13, China and the US lead the way by far, hosting 70 and 114 unicorns, respectively.

Of the 241 unicorns, 19 achieved unicorn status in under a year, but the research shows it takes companies seven years on average to achieve a $US1 billion valuation.

Japanese startups reached billion-dollar status the most quickly, in an average of four years. Australia’s Canva did it in six, while for German companies the average is 30 years.

Incidentally, Germany is home to the oldest company on the list: German prosthetics research and development company Ottobock, which was founded in 1919 and reached unicorn status in 2017.

Ottobock is something of an anomaly here, though, as some 66% of the startups listed were founded in the last 10 years, and 94% since the turn of the millennium.

The research also found mobile and real estate startups historically achieve unicorn status the quickest, in two and three years, respectively. Biotech, cybersecurity, fitness and travel startups tend to take five years, according to the data. 

Data and analysis startups are more likely to take longer at an average of nine years, and those in the healthcare space take an average of 12 years (although this may be skewed by Ottobock’s 98-year journey).

The research suggests the number of unicorns in the startup world is growing: 66 companies became unicorns in 2017, the highest number recorded since the term was coined, and the report predicts another 70 will emerge in 2018. 

NOW READ: “We’re going to be the next Australian unicorn”: Real estate startup ActivePipe raises $5.9 million from NAB

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Stephanie Palmer-Derrien

Stephanie Palmer-Derrien is a reporter at StartupSmart.

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