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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.

Texas House probes school library books dealing with race and sexuality

Photo: Brittany Murray/MediaNews Group/Long Beach Press-Telegram via Getty Images

Texas state Rep. Matt Krause (R), chair of the Texas House Committee on General Investigating, announced Wednesday that he's initiating a probe into schools' library books, according to a letter sent to the state's education agency and other superintendents.

Why it matters: The probe focuses on books that discuss race, sexuality, or "make students feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress because of their race or sex," Krause wrote in the letter.

3 hours ago - World

Iran agrees to resume Vienna nuclear talks in November

Ali Bagheri (R) with Enrique Mora in Tehran on Oct. 14. Photo: Iranian Foreign Ministry handout via Getty

Iran's new chief nuclear negotiator said following a meeting in Brussels on Wednesday that Iran would resume negotiations in Vienna before the end of November, with the exact date to be set next week.

Why it matters: The Vienna talks have been frozen since Iran's new hardline president, Ebrahim Raisi, was elected in June. This is the most direct commitment from Raisi's government to return to the negotiating table.

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