Jan 6, 2022 - Economy

The number of startup "dragons" has grown

Illustration of a dragon burning a tiny unicorn.

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Last summer we coined a new term for mega-cap startups, as “unicorns” had become paradoxically ordinary. It was “dragons,” used to describe private companies valued at $12 billion or more, net of capital raised.

Why it matters: The venture industry is about ROI, both percentage and cash. Particularly when it comes to the latter metric, dragons are the most significant; sometimes able to return multiples on entire funds.

  • At least on paper, as dragons also have a proclivity for staying private longer (e.g., SpaceX, Stripe, etc.).

By the numbers: There are now 24 dragons, 11 of which are based in the U.S.

  • This compares to 19 and nine from last August. The only August dragon to leave the flight is Rivian, which went public via IPO in November.
  • There are more than 960 unicorns, per CB Insights. The prior figure was just north of 800.
  • This morning we learned from PitchBook that U.S. venture deal-making hit a record $330 billion last year, and expectations are that global totals will be similarly dizzying.

The current U.S. dragons are: Stripe, SpaceX, Instacart, Epic Games, Databricks, Chime, Fanatics, Plaid, OpenSea, Miro and Grammarly.

  • China has six, led by ByteDance. Dragons also are based in Australia, the Bahamas, India, Indonesia, The Bahamas and the U.K.

The bottom line: Not all VC funds are top-decile, despite claims to the contrary, but most of them lately have been winners. Having a dragon or two is what really separates the tiers.

Go deeper