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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

When Aileen Lee originally coined the term "unicorn" in late 2013, she was describing the 39 "U.S.-based software companies started since 2003 and valued at over $1 billion by public or private market investors."

Flashback: It got redefined in early 2015 by yours truly and Erin Griffith, in a cover story for Fortune, as any privately-held startup valued at $1 billion or more. At the time, we counted 80 of them.

  • Ours was the definition that stuck. And, last week, the number of such companies topped 800, per CB Insights, with a cumulative valuation of around $2.6 trillion.

Why it matters: With apologies to Justin Timberlake Parker, $1 billion just isn't that cool anymore. It's not rare if there are over 800 of them, and certainly not mythical.

  • Plus, there's been a flurry of startups whose valuations have been inflated by investment dollars. Isn't it more impressive to be worth $500 million on $50 million of venture capital than $1 billion on $500 million of venture capital?

We need a new word: Dragons.

  • Dragons are much bigger, stronger and more awe-inspiring than unicorns. They destroy whatever's in their path, and their own destruction is viewed as catastrophic (at least if "GOT" is any guide).
  • To qualify, a company must be valued at $12 billion or more, net of venture funding. Yes, it's a somewhat arbitrary figure. But it reflects the >10x "unicorn" growth since the Fortune piece, and the rapidly ascending private funding trajectory.

By the numbers: Currently, there would be 19 dragons. Of those, nine are based in the U.S.

  • That's an even more exclusive club than Lee's original framing, although this is the sort of thing where less means more.
  • The U.S. dragons are: Stripe, SpaceX, Instacart, Epic Games, Databricks, Rivian, Chime, Fanatics and Plaid.

The bottom line: Welcome to the age of dragons.

Go deeper

Miriam Kramer, author of Space
Aug 31, 2021 - Economy & Business

The state of space startups

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Space startups garnered record investment last year, according to a new report.

Why it matters: The influx — despite the coronavirus pandemic — shows that investors are still interested in the growing industry and see relatively young companies as worthy of funding.

Special Envoy for Haiti resigns over deportation of migrants and asylum-seekers

Daniel Foote testifies during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on May 26, 2016. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

The Special Envoy for Haiti on Wednesday resigned from his position, writing in his resignation letter obtained by PBS that he "will not be associated with the United States inhumane, counterproductive decision to deport thousands of Haitian refugees."

Why it matters: Ambassador Daniel Foote's resignation comes amid heightened anger over the treatment of Haitian migrants and asylum-seekers living in a temporary encampment in Del Rio, Texas — especially after images surfaced of Border Patrol agents whipping at the migrants from horseback.

First-time homebuyers shrink as prices spike

Data: National Association of Realtors; Chart: Axios Visuals

Home sales cooled as prices continued to heat up in August.

Driving the news: The share of first-time existing homebuyers (29%) last month was the smallest in two years, according to new data from the National Association of Realtors.

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