The word “unicorn” was first coined by Aileen Lee of Cowboy Ventures in 2013 to refer to startups valued at $1 billion by private or public markets. They were supposed to a select group of rare and mythical creatures. Since then, however, it has expanded quickly with Chinese companies providing their fair share. Here we compile for you a list of unicorn startups coming from China’s emerging sectors.

URWork, co-working

  • Valuation 1.02 B USD
  • Date joined: 1/18/2017

As one of the leaders in China’ booming co-working space, URWork became the first unicorn company in the sector in January this year after receiving a 400 million RMB (58 million USD) series B at a valuation of 7 billion RMB (1.02 billion USD).

The company was founded in April 2015 by Mao Daqing, former vice president of Chinese real estate conglomerate Vanke Co., Ltd. In addition to providing the physical spaces, the shared-office-space startup is actively constructing an ecosystem that involves all kinds of supporting services, such as financial assistant platform, human resources services, startup acceleration program, and space design.

Data from real estate service JLL shows that the number of co-working spaces in China has grown rapidly this year, with currently over 500 sites in Shanghai and Beijing alone compared to just a few in 2015. Other major players in the field include Soho 3Q, naked Hub, People Squared, Sandbox, and SimplyWork.

Zhihu, knowledge sharing

  • Valuation: 1B USD
  • Date Joined: 1/12/2017

China is embracing a transition from free knowledge to paid knowledge and the shift is creating the first unicorn in the sector with China’s Q&A platform Zhihu.

Zhihu, the go-to place for Chinese internet users who want to seek expert insights into various areas, received a 100 million USD D round at a valuation of 1 billion USD this month.

The startup is among a series of companies that’s capitalizing on the rising knowledge sharing trend in China. Zhihu’s competitors include Fenda, the knowledge sharing service developed by science networking platform Guokr, and Baidu Zhidao.

iCarbonX, biotech

  • Valuation: 1B USD
  • Date joined: 4/12/2016
Jun Wang, founder and CEO of iCarbonX 

China’s biotech market is on the cusp of its boom thanks to huge market size and support from the government. iCarbonX, a biotech startup raised a 1 billion RMB (about $154 million USD) round of series A funding with a valuation of $1 billion USD last April.

The company is building a big data-driven health platform, capable of processing a wide variety of health-related data, including genetic data and data from smart hardware devices.

UBTECH Robotics, robotics

  • Valuation: 1B USD
  • Date joined: 7/26/2016

Founded in 2012, UBTECH Robotics is engaged in the research, development, and commercialization of humanoid robots for education and entertainment sectors.

As the startup behind bipedal entertainment robots Alpha 2, the company got a ton of free publicity last year after their performance at CCTV’s annual gala, China’s most-watched TV show, and being booked in the Guinness Book of World Records for the “most robots dancing simultaneously”.

Guazi, used car trading

  • Valuation: 1B USD
  • Date joined: 3/12/2016
Guazi-UC was established by China’s answer to Craigslist,, which later merged with rival online classifieds site The used car trading platform was then spun-off from the consortium to facilitate faster growth. The startup got 200 million USD financing round last year at 1 billion USD valuation.

Second-hand car trading is one of the traditional industries Chinese internet companies are poised to disrupt. The rising market has attracted a slew of players includes Cheyipai, Youxinpai, and Renrenche.

Image credit: URWork, Zhihu, iCarbonX

Emma Lee (Li Xin) was TechNode's e-commerce and new retail reporter until June 2022, when she moved to Sixth Tone to cover technology and consumption. Get in touch with her via or Twitter.