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Unicorn count in the US growing slowly, exits still hard to find

Unicorns have accounted for more than 20% of the 2017 deal value in US, despite making up less than 1% of the deal count.

Note: All the data for this post came from PitchBook’s 2017 Unicorn Report.

Through mid-August, unicorn financings (rounds carrying a post valuation of at least $1 billion), have accounted for less than 1% of total VC deals in the US. And yet those rounds represent more than 20% of the aggregate deal value, highlighting the influence that unicorns have on the industry.

In 2017, 128 companies in the US have been able to call themselves a unicorn at one point or another. Eight have exited this year—including Jawbone, which is in the process of liquidating its assets—leaving the current unicorn count at 120.

Overall VC activity in US-based unicorns has slowed markedly in recent years, falling to a total of 68 deals in 2016, through August 11, well off the pace from the 144 completed financings in 2014. Despite the decline, some interesting trends have formed to illustrate how investment in these companies has shifted in a relatively short period of time. It should be noted that of the 43 deals for US unicorns in the timeframe, 17 were for companies receiving unicorn status for the first time, well above the pace of any year other than 2014 or 2015.

One reason why these investments have slowed is that the rate and amount invested during the high years were simply unsustainable, and most of the companies receiving money during that time have yet to realize any returns for investors. Of the current unicorns in the US, the average age is almost nine years, which highlights the lack of exits. A wide availability of capital has been a major reason for the low exit figures, as companies have been able to return to the private markets to continue growth.

Since 2005, one impressive venture stat that can be at least in part attributed to the growth of unicorns is that Series D+ post valuations have outpaced the Russell 2000 Growth Index, with this year’s median reaching a sizeable gap between the median market cap on the index.

For more data and analysis on the state of unicorns in the US VC industry, check out our 2017 Unicorn Report, which also includes detailed tabled of unicorn deal terms and protections.

  • kyle-headshot-8-667x560.jpg
    Written by Kyle Stanford

    Kyle is an analyst at PitchBook, focusing on venture and carrying a particular interest in the early stage. He graduated from the University of Washington in 2009, earning a degree in history. He joined PitchBook in 2014 as a writer for the VC newsletter and a contributor to the blog.

    Born and raised in the Pacific Northwest, Kyle enjoys everything outdoors and doesn’t mind rain.

    After spending time working in the daily deal industry after college, he spent a year traveling his way around the world. His passport, which needs to be replaced, holds stamps from 30 countries.

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