Published: 11:22, April 19, 2023 | Updated: 11:25, April 19, 2023
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Country's 'unicorns' seen rising steadily
By ​Zheng Caixiong in Guangzhou

A worker operates equipment to produce chips for export at an electronic component manufacturing enterprise in Suqian, Jiangsu province, on Jan 5. (XU CHANGLIANG / FOR CHINA DAILY)

There were 316 Chinese unicorn companies, or startups valued at over $1 billion, by the end of last year, 15 more than the previous year, according to a report released on Tuesday.

According to the Global Unicorn Index 2023 by research institute Hurun, the United States continues to lead the world with 666 unicorn companies at the end of 2022. China, with 316, remains in second place.

OpenAI’s ChatGPT may be the most influential among all unicorns in the world, with its value soaring to 138 billion yuan ($20.06 billion) and reaching 100 million users in merely two months ...

Rupert Hoogewerf, chairman and chief researcher of Hurun Report

There are 379 unicorn companies in the rest of the world, the report added.

Unicorn companies in the US mainly engage in software services, financial technology and health technology, while those in China mainly focus on artificial intelligence, semiconductors and e-commerce. Unicorns in other places of the world are mainly from financial technology and e-commerce, the report said.

Amid COVID-19 headwinds, a total of 508 unicorn companies were newly recorded globally last year.

Such an addition boosts the global total to 1,361 by the end of last year. The number of countries with unicorn companies doubled from 24 to 48 in the past three years, while the number of cities with unicorns increased from 118 to 271 during the same period.

The total value of global unicorns reached $4.3 trillion. The report said 79 percent of unicorn companies sell software and services, covering financial technologies, software services, e-commerce and AI industries.

The remaining 21 percent sell physical products, covering the industries of new energy, biotechnology, food and beverage, and semiconductors, it added.

Rupert Hoogewerf, chairman and chief researcher of Hurun Report, said the previous three years, despite the spread of COVID-19, have been the most active period in the history of unicorn companies.

Hoogewerf said: "In the past three years, a new unicorn was born every day in the world, making the total number of unicorns reach more than 1,360. Despite the slowdown in economic growth, 500 new unicorns were established last year.

"Unicorn companies experienced rapid growth in the first half of last year, but then slowed down sharply, mainly due to interest rate hikes in the US, global economic downturn and other uncertainties, leading to investment institutions almost halting the funding of new projects. The collapse of Silicon Valley Bank in March has further lowered valuations.

"Unicorns are greatly changing our lives and consumption habits. Open-AI's ChatGPT may be the most influential among all unicorns in the world, with its value soaring to 138 billion yuan ($20.06 billion) and reaching 100 million users in merely two months, making it the fastest-growing consumer application in history."

Other companies with significant value growth include Guangzhou, Guangdong province's fast fashion platform Shein and Los Angeles' SpaceX, as well as Web3 NFT market leader OpenSea; Medical Devoted Health, a medical insurance service provider; Rippling, a human resources software company; and CloudKitchens, a shared delivery kitchen operator.

Among all the Chinese mainland cities, Guangzhou boasts the fastest growth of unicorn companies in the last year.

The provincial capital of Guangdong now has 22 unicorns, a year-on-year increase of 12, and nearly threefold the number recorded three years ago.

The number of unicorns in Guangzhou is equivalent to that of Israel or France, while the number of unicorns in the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area is equivalent to that of India.