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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.

The Exvangelicals

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Even as evangelicals maintain their position as the most popular religion in the U.S., a movement of self-described "exvangelicals" is breaking away, using social media to engage tens of thousands of former faithful.

The big picture: Donald Trump's presidency, as well as movements around LGBTQ rights, #MeToo and Black Lives Matter, drew more Americans into evangelical churches while also pushing some existing members away.

Updated 6 hours ago - Science

Huge wildfire reaches edge of Sequoia National Park

A plume of smoke and flames rise into the air as the fire burns towards Moro Rock during the KNP Complex fire in the Sequoia National Park near Three Rivers, California, on Saturday. Photo: Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images

Firefighters in Sequoia National Park were working into the night after two wildfires merged to reach the Giant Forest Saturday.

Why it matters: This forest contains over 2,000 giant sequoias, including the General Sherman Tree — the world's largest tree by volume. Park officials wrapped the redwoods in foil last week as the Paradise and Colony Fires, now known as the KNP Complex Fire, neared. Protection efforts appeared to be working overnight.

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