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India speeds past China in the unicorn race

Nine of India unicorns this year are from fintech and financial services, followed by seven in enterprise applications and enterprise infrastructure, and six in the consumer segment

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India speeds past China in the unicorn race

India has produced 33 unicorns this year, which is the most to date and far exceeds the number of unicorns that came out of China during the same period. In the venture capital industry, the term unicorn refers to any startup that reaches the valuation of $ 1 billion. 

Based on Tracxn data, India first beat China in the annual unicorn count in 2020 17 against China’s 16. The difference widened this year 33 against 19 from China.

The term “unicorn” was first coined by Aileen Lee, founder of Cowboy ventures when she referred to the 39 startups that had a valuation of over $1 billion as unicorns. The term initially was used to lay emphasis on the rarity of such startups. The definition of a unicorn startup has remained unchanged since then. However, the number of unicorns have gone up.

Unicorn timeline

However, China has the second-highest number of unicorns in the world at 177, which is more than twice India’s 72, data from Tracxn showed. In just five years, 2015-19, China produced 136 unicorns, which is more than 75% of its total. In contrast, India’s unicorn numbers are surging only of late. During the decade from 2011-19, India produced only 22 unicorns.

Sectors that shone

The sectors that saw a higher number of unicorns this year, on the other hand, are quite similar in both countries. Nine of India’s unicorns this year are from fintech and financial services, followed by seven in enterprise applications and enterprise infrastructure, and six in the consumer segment. Likewise, four of China’s unicorns this year are from enterprise applications and infrastructure, followed by fintech, food and agriculture tech, and consumer segments with three unicorns each.

China’s slowdown

The marked decrease in the number of unicorns emerging in China of late could be due to the Chinese government’s attempts to tame private companies and entrepreneurs, and curtail monopoly. According to a recent Financial Times article, Beijing has been compounding investors’ concerns by “putting a new emphasis on a longstanding political slogan known as “common prosperity” to focus attention on the country’s deep inequality, and put some socialism back into the term “socialism with Chinese characteristics”.

While these new measures could slow down growth and overseas investments in China, they could turn out to be a silver lining for India, with the country becoming more and more welcoming of foreign investments, innovation in technology, and a steady, robust growth in the start-up ecosystem.

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