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The Fastest Startups to Hit $1 Billion Valuations

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For the founders coding in the trenches of Silicon Valley, achieving the status of a “unicorn” is still the Holy Grail. The term, which references the presumably rare and mythological uni-horned creature, is used to describe a tech startup that has hit a $1 billion valuation or more.

At the time the term was coined, unicorns were indeed rare. Aileen Lee’s data from 2003-2013 showed that just four unicorns were born a year, and that only 39 existed as of November 2013. However, while actual unicorns continue to be (very) difficult to find, the ones of the tech variety have been proliferating like bunnies.

By the count of VentureBeat, there are now 229 of them with a cumulative $1.3 trillion valuation.

The Unicorn Baby Boom

Fleximize recently created an interactive visualization that breaks down the fastest startups to reach a $1 billion valuation by geography, sector, year, and also the timeframe needed to reach the mark. We’ve pulled out the key visuals in this post, but we highly recommend viewing their interactive list which provides data on each company as well.

We’ll show the whole list of unicorns later in this article, but for now we will focus on the high level stuff: how many more unicorns are being born? Are startups achieving unicorn status faster than before?

Unicorn Births Per Year

Unicorns by year

The above chart shows unicorn births each year from 2005 until today. There’s two important things to consider here:

Time to Achieve Unicorn Status: Despite the current froth in the venture capital market, it appears that the amount of time it takes to become a unicorn has remained relatively consistent. The average is around six years to go from the founding of the company to a $1 billion+ valuation.

More Unicorn Births: While it takes the same amount of time to become a unicorn, tech culture has become much more mainstream. Today, millions of startups are launched each year and 90% of them fail. However, the ones that get past the gauntlet raise billions of dollars from VCs.

According to the above chart, there were 65 new unicorns in 2014, and an additional 91 in 2015.

Unicorns by Birthplace

Unicorns by geography

The majority of unicorns are still born in North America, which holds 61.4% of the population. However, Asia is rising fast with 58 unicorns (26.0%). It’s also worth noting that Asian unicorns spend a little less time in the womb, taking five years to be born. This is comparatively lower to the international average of six years.

Unicorns by Profession

Unicorns by industry

The unicorns that are born the fastest are ones focused on industries such as real estate, on-demand, social media, or e-commerce. These took four or less years on average.

Education tech and media companies took a long time to reach unicorn status – 16 years and 12 years respectively. That said, the dataset is quite small with only five companies in these categories combined.

The Fastest Startups (The Whole List)

Below is the full list of companies valued at $1 billion or more.

The absolute fastest startup?

It’s Jet.com, an online retailer said to possibly rival Amazon, that uses real-time pricing algorithms to give consumers better deals. It hit a $1 billion valuation in just four months in 2015.

All Unicorns: How long it took to get a $1 billion valuation

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Mapped: The World’s Top 50 Science and Technology Hubs

This map explores the world’s top 50 science and technology hubs based on the Global Innovation Index 2023 data.

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This map explores the world’s top 50 science and technology clusters, based on data from the Global Innovation Index 2023.

The World’s Top 50 Science and Technology Hubs

This was originally posted on our Voronoi app. Download the app for free on iOS or Android and discover incredible data-driven charts from a variety of trusted sources.

In 2023, the world experienced another wave of science and technology (S&T) innovation, from the introduction of the first over-the-counter birth control pill in the U.S. to the stunning growth of ChatGPT and artificial intelligence.

This map explores the world’s top 50 science and technology hubs leading these innovations based on data from the Global Innovation Index 2023. Hubs were ranked by their combined share of international patent applications and scientific publications.

East Asia Dominance in S&T

The world’s five most significant science and technology hubs are in East Asia.

The top-ranked Tokyo-Yokohama cluster made up just over 10% of all patent applications between 2018-2022.

ClusterCountry/EconomyPatent ApplicationsScientific Publications
Tokyo-Yokohama🇯🇵 Japan127,418115,020
Shenzhen-Hong Kong-Guangzhou🇨🇳/🇭🇰 China/Hong Kong113,482153,180
Seoul🇰🇷 South Korea63,447133,604
Beijing🇨🇳 China38,067279,485
Shanghai-Suzhou🇨🇳 China32,924162,635
San Jose-San Francisco🇺🇸 U.S.47,26958,575
Osaka-Kobe-Kyoto🇯🇵 Japan38,41351,948
Boston-Cambridge🇺🇸 U.S.18,18476,378
San Diego🇺🇸 U.S.23,26120,928
New York City🇺🇸 U.S.13,83874,849
Nanjing🇨🇳 China7,143113,488
Paris🇫🇷 France15,17661,692
Wuhan🇨🇳 China6,25089,756
Hangzhou🇨🇳 China10,75562,924
Nagoya🇯🇵 Japan17,73616,091
Los Angeles,🇺🇸 U.S.11,55644,058
Washington, DC–Baltimore🇺🇸 U.S.5,52576,039
Daejeon🇰🇷 South Korea12,27525,552
Xi'an🇨🇳 China1,78686,937
London🇬🇧 Great Britain5,98159,068
Seattle🇺🇸 U.S.11,47220,322
Munich🇩🇪 Germany10,24824,239
Qingdao🇨🇳 China7,28639,745
Chengdu🇨🇳 China2,04667,334
Cologne🇩🇪 Germany7,46634,286
Amsterdam–Rotterdam🇳🇱 Netherlands4,23052,864
Taipei–Hsinchu🇹🇼 Taiwan3,90752,752
Houston🇺🇸 U.S.8,47524,636
Stuttgart🇩🇪 Germany9,34214,874
Tel Aviv–Jerusalem🇮🇱 Israel7,26824,219
Moscow🇷🇺 Russia2,03655,086
Chicago🇺🇸 U.S.5,76332,343
Singapore🇸🇬/🇲🇾 Singapore/Malaysia4,86136,803
Tehran🇮🇷 Iran24963,113
Philadelphia🇺🇸 U.S.5,39032,309
Tianjin🇨🇳 China1,26753,680
Changsha🇨🇳 China1,14952,768
Stockholm🇸🇪 Sweden6,06919,984
Minneapolis🇺🇸 U.S.6,62515,375
Hefei🇨🇳 China2,54938,974
Eindhoven🇳🇱 Netherlands7,9825,339
Melbourne🇦🇺 Australia2,12640,056
Berlin🇩🇪 Germany3,62430,464
Chongqing🇨🇳 China1,65141,412
Frankfurt am Main🇩🇪 Germany5,41018,590
Sydney🇦🇺 Australia2,53933,695
Raleigh🇺🇸 U.S.3,05730,206
Madrid🇪🇸 Spain1,58038,849
Zürich🇨🇭 Switzerland3,75924,437
Milan🇮🇹 Italy2,57831,077

The first American cluster on the list, the San Francisco Bay Area, is home to major tech companies such as Adobe, eBay, Google, and PayPal.

Along with Cambridge in the United Kingdom, the San Francisco Bay Area is one of the most S&T-intensive clusters relative to overall population density.

For the first time, China topped the list of countries with the highest number of clusters among the top 100, having 24 total. The United States follows, with 21 clusters, then Germany with nine.

In addition, nearly every Chinese cluster rose in the rankings compared to last year, with only Beijing falling by one place.

São Paulo (Brazil); Bengaluru, Delhi, Chennai, and Mumbai (India); Tehran (Islamic Republic of Iran); Istanbul and Ankara (Türkiye); and Moscow (Russian Federation) are the only middle-income economy clusters outside China.

According to the Global Innovation Index, the U.S. leads in research and development (R&D) expenditure, followed by China, Japan, Germany, and the Republic of Korea.

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