Tiger Global, SoftBank are the most active investors in unicorn companies

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Tiger Global, SoftBank are the most active investors in unicorn companies





With the launch of The Crunchbase Unicorn Board this week, we take a look at the investors placing bets on these high-growth companies and track those who racked up the highest count of portfolio unicorns in 2021.

Tiger Global Management leads The Crunchbase Unicorn Board with the highest count of unicorn portfolio companies. The firm added 118 unicorn companies to its list of portfolio companies in 2021—far outpacing any other investor when it comes to placing bets on billion-dollar startups. It counts 187 current unicorn portfolio companies and a further 52 that have already exited.

Tiger has plenty in its coffers to invest. Since we covered Tiger’s unrivaled investment pace in unicorns in June 2021, the New York-based firm has since raised $20 billion across two funds, 15 and 16, in October 2021 and in February 2022, within 6 months of each other.

Among Tiger’s unicorn investments last year were a $1.8 billion Series B funding the firm led into Energy fusion company Commonwealth Fusion, a $600 million Series D in electric vehicle company Nuro, and $450 million Series C in payments company Checkout.com.

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The company’s fast ascent to the top of The Crunchbase Unicorn Board’s investor charts shows the role that growth equity has come to play in leading large funding rounds into a slew of private companies.

SoftBank, Sequoia fill out top 3

The second most active unicorn investor is the London-based SoftBank Vision Fund, with 128 current unicorns and 27 exited. It added 78 unicorn companies to its portfolio, the second-highest count in 2021. Among its unicorn investments, it led a $1.7 billion round in self-driving company Cruise, and a $775 million Series A in Perch, which buys Amazon third-party and other direct-to-consumer brands.

Venture investor Sequoia Capital is the third most active unicorn investor on the list, with 84 current billion-dollar private companies in its portfolio and another 41 that have exited. The Menlo Park, California-based firm added 12 unicorn portfolio companies to its roster in 2021.

But in contrast to Tiger and SoftBank, the majority of the 38 investments Sequoia made in unicorns last year were follow-ons in companies it invested in long before they were valued at a billion dollars or more.

Fourth on the list of most-active unicorn investors is Coatue with 99 current portfolio companies and 25 companies that have exited. New York-based Coatue also racked up the third-highest count of unicorn companies with 58 unicorn portfolio companies added in 2021.

Palo Alto-based Accel is the fifth most active. Similar to fellow Silicon Valley investor Sequoia, Accel has steadily built up its unicorn portfolio over the past decade. It had many more follow-on investments in 2021 than new portfolio companies that became unicorns.

Shenzhen-based Tencent is the corporate investor that has built the largest portfolio in unicorn companies with the majority of that portfolio based in China.

Of this list of 31 investors, 12 are growth stage or private equity, 13 are multistage venture firms, four are corporate or corporate venture capital, and two are firms that focus on seed investing, namely SV Angel 1and Y Combinator.

Growth equity dominates with most new companies

The list of firms that added new portfolio companies in 2021 were dominated by growth equity. Tiger Global, SoftBank Vision Fund, Coatue, Dragoneer and Insight Partners added the highest count of new unicorn portfolio companies last year.

Strikingly, venture investors are absent from this chart as most of their 2021 investments were in companies that were already in their portfolios.

But VCs still have more rounds per portfolio

Still, it’s the venture investors—Khosla Ventures, Bessemer Venture Partners, Accel and Index Ventures—that stand out with the highest count of rounds per unicorn (and exited unicorn) portfolio companies. Consistently backing portfolio companies over time—provided a firm has the funds—translates to maintaining a more significant ownership stake should a portfolio company exit.

Further reading:

Unicorn herd grows but uncertainty looms

The collective value of the world’s unicorns has grown dramatically in just over a year. At the end of 2020, the stable of current unicorns was worth $2 trillion less than it’s worth in February 2022. A year ago, Sequoia Capital was the most active by investment counts and Tiger Global by portfolio counts. Tiger Global now leads on both scores.

Private equity as an asset class has leaned into investing in high-growth private companies as well. That’s best visualized by the list of investors who added new portfolio companies in 2021 that are unicorns.

Despite turmoil in the public markets and uncertainty in late-stage investing, the pace of venture investing is yet to slow in 2022. In January, 45 new unicorns were minted and funding to startups rolled in at $61 billion. But choppy IPO markets and a slowdown in new public listings amid geopolitical turmoil may mean growth equity is enticed by shorter-term gains elsewhere.

Illustration: Li-Anne Dias


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Author: Gené Teare