Ranked: Who Made the Most U.S. Unicorn Acquisitions Since 1997?
Who Made the Most U.S. Unicorn Acquisitions Since 1997?
The elusive unicorn is no longer a myth in the U.S. startup world, with over a thousand private startups reaching a $1 billion valuation in the last 25 years.
While some of these startups eventually go public and go on to become household names, it’s also common for founders to exit through mergers and acquisitions (M&A), by selling their startup to another organization. In fact, over half of the 1,110 unicorns in the U.S. have made some sort of an exit—either through an IPO, a direct listing, a SPAC or an acquisition—since 1997.
Ilya Strebulaev, professor of finance and private equity at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, brings us this visualization featuring the companies that acquired the most unicorns over the last 25 years.
Strebulaev’s database lists 137 private and public companies along with PE firms who’ve acquired at least one unicorn since 1997, totaling 177 acquisitions.
The Biggest U.S. Unicorn Acquirers
In total, 27 companies have acquired two or more unicorns, accounting for nearly 38% of all acquisitions. 110 companies have acquired just one unicorn.
|Company/ PE Group||Acquired|
|Johnson & Johnson||3|
|Merck & Co.||3|
|Searchlight Capital Partners||1|
|Internet Capital Group||1|
|Hellman & Friedman||1|
|Fresenius Medical Care||1|
|Keurig Dr Pepper||1|
|Dainippon Sumitomo Pharma||1|
|Mubadala Investment Company||1|
|Saudi Arabia's PIF||1|
|Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan||1|
|Littlejohn & Co||1|
|SoftBank Investment Advisers||1|
|Hewlett Packard Enterprise||1|
|VMware & EMC Corp||1|
Meta, the parent company of Facebook, leads the pack with the most unicorn acquisitions in the U.S., purchasing five unicorns since its founding in 2008, including: Kustomer, WhatsApp, Instagram, CTRL-Labs, and Oculus VR.
Notably, WhatsApp—which closed at a purchase price of $19 billion—was Meta’s most expensive acquisition yet, over nine times their next most expensive purchase, Oculus VR.
Meanwhile, Alphabet (now the parent company of Google) and Cisco are tied in second place with four U.S. unicorn acquisitions each.
- Alphabet: YouTube, Actifio, Nest Labs, Looker Data Sciences
- Cisco: Cerent, Duo Security, AppDynamics, Jasper
Unlike its Big Tech peers, Apple has only made the one U.S. unicorn acquisition: navigation company HopStop that helped bring public transit features to Apple Maps.
Meanwhile, 56% of acquirers received venture capital funding of their own when they were private companies. This includes pack leaders like Meta, Cisco, Alphabet, and Amazon.
Are Unicorn Acquisitions Slowing Down?
Unicorn acquisitions are driven by two factors: the rate at which new unicorns are minted, and the climate for M&A transactions more broadly.
To begin with, the minting of new unicorns is largely influenced by the venture funding environment. Funding opportunities increase when interest rates go down, which makes riskier, venture-scale ideas more enticing. During the last decade of persistently low interest rates up until 2022, unicorns flourished more than ever.
Meanwhile, as tech companies like Apple, Microsoft, Alphabet, and Meta began seeing outsized profits in the 2010s, venture investors and their LPs looked to get in on the ground floor of tech startups that could emulate their success, often paying premium valuations for the chance. Simultaneously, big tech looked to acquire unicorns themselves, both to augment their business lines and to squash potential competitors.
However, the era of “easy money” may have come to an end, and privately-held startups have seen valuations drop in recent years. This means that for the next little while—at least until monetary policy stops tightening—unicorns could become a rarer sight.
Unicorn acquisitions may also see a similar fate. Persistent inflation and the government anti-trust push are just some of the other factors that have led to VC-backed startup acquisitions falling to their lowest quarterly levels in a decade. The more expensive the valuation, the harder to find a buyer, which means that some unicorns may even lose their $1 billion tag even when they do get acquired.
This article was published as a part of Visual Capitalist's Creator Program, which features data-driven visuals from some of our favorite Creators around the world.
Mapped: The Growth in House Prices by Country
Global house prices were resilient in 2022, rising 6%. We compare nominal and real price growth by country as interest rates surged.
Mapped: The Growth in House Prices by Country
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Global housing prices rose an average of 6% annually, between Q4 2021 and Q4 2022.
In real terms that take inflation into account, prices actually fell 2% for the first decline in 12 years. Despite a surge in interest rates and mortgage costs, housing markets were noticeably stable. Real prices remain 7% above pre-pandemic levels.
In this graphic, we show the change in residential property prices with data from the Bank for International Settlements (BIS).
The Growth in House Prices, Ranked
The following dataset from the BIS covers nominal and real house price growth across 58 countries and regions as of the fourth quarter of 2022:
|4||🇲🇰 North Macedonia||20.6||1.0|
|15||🇬🇧 United Kingdom||10.0||-0.7|
|16||🇸🇰 Slovak Republic||9.7||-4.8|
🇦🇪 United Arab Emirates
|26||🇺🇸 United States||7.1||0.0|
|40||🇿🇦 South Africa||3.1||-4.0|
|47||🇰🇷 South Korea||-0.1||-5.0|
|57||🇳🇿 New Zealand||-10.4||-16.5|
|58||🇭🇰 Hong Kong SAR||-13.5||-15.1|
Türkiye’s property prices jumped the highest globally, at nearly 168% amid soaring inflation.
Real estate demand has increased alongside declining interest rates. The government drastically cut interest rates from 19% in late 2021 to 8.5% to support a weakening economy.
Many European countries saw some of the highest price growth in nominal terms. A strong labor market and low interest rates pushed up prices, even as mortgage rates broadly doubled across the continent. For real price growth, most countries were in negative territory—notably Sweden, Germany, and Denmark.
Nominal U.S. housing prices grew just over 7%, while real price growth halted to 0%. Prices have remained elevated given the stubbornly low supply of inventory. In fact, residential prices remain 45% above pre-pandemic levels.
How Do Interest Rates Impact Property Markets?
Global house prices boomed during the pandemic as central banks cut interest rates to prop up economies.
Now, rates have returned to levels last seen before the Global Financial Crisis. On average, rates have increased four percentage points in many major economies. Roughly three-quarters of the countries in the BIS dataset witnessed negative year-over-year real house price growth as of the fourth quarter of 2022.
Interest rates have a large impact on property prices. Cross-country evidence shows that for every one percentage point increase in real interest rates, the growth rate of housing prices tends to fall by about two percentage points.
When Will Housing Prices Fall?
The rise in U.S. interest rates has been counteracted by homeowners being reluctant to sell so they can keep their low mortgage rates. As a result, it is keeping inventory low and prices high. Homeowners can’t sell and keep their low mortgage rates unless they meet strict conditions on a new property.
Additionally, several other factors impact price dynamics. Construction costs, income growth, labor shortages, and population growth all play a role.
With a strong labor market continuing through 2023, stable incomes may help stave off prices from falling. On the other hand, buyers with floating-rate mortgages face steeper costs and may be unable to afford new rates. This could increase housing supply in the market, potentially leading to lower prices.
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