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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

2021: Big year for Chicago tech

Google Chicago Headquarters in Fulton Market. Photo: Raymond Boyd/Getty Images

Chicago tech startups set records for funding in 2021.

Why it matters: The Chicago tech scene is one of the biggest contributors to Chicago's economy and has helped develop tech startups like Groupon and Peapod.

  • But with big investors like J.B. Pritzker now in Springfield and big boosters like Rahm Emanuel now in Japan, you would expect the scene to lose some steam.

Scoop: Stephanie Ruhle to replace Brian Williams on MSNBC

Photo: Nathan Congleton/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images via Getty Images

MSNBC will soon announce plans to move morning anchor Stephanie Ruhle to the 11 pm ET hour that Brian Williams turned into an elite destination, two sources familiar with the move tell Axios.

Details: The 9 am ET hour, currently hosted by Ruhle, will become part of MSNBC's flagship morning show, "Morning Joe," which currently runs from 6 am to 9 am ET.

Oath Keepers leader denied bail on Capitol riot sedition charge

Oath Keepers co-founder Elmer Stewart Rhodes. Photo: Susan Walsh/AP

A federal judge ordered Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes to remain jailed Wednesday until trial on charges stemming from the Capitol riot.

Why it matters: The judge said the most prominent far-right figure charged in the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection had access to weapons and his alleged "continued advocacy for violence against the federal government" gave credence to prosecutors' view that, if released, Rhodes could endanger others.