A “unicorn” refers to those companies less than 10 years old and valued at $1 billion or more. There were 34 Chinese new unicorn companies in 2017 that match these conditions, according to a new report released by Chinese startup database IT Juzi (IT桔子).

In the first half of 2017, rental economy startups gained prominence with bike rentals, power bank rentals, and got pretty silly with umbrellas, basketballs, and even blowup dolls. In the second half of the year, new retail projects such as unmanned convenience stores and unmanned shelves began to emerge. AI, on the other hand, has become a consistent investment-attracting sector throughout 2017 with Chinese startups’ overall valuation 2-4 times higher than that of the United States.

It’s interesting to note that more than 60% of the companies have direct or indirect equity shares ownership from BAT (Baidu, Alibaba, Tencent). Tencent’s investment activity in the early-stage investment rounds (angel round and series A) reached 42%, exceeding that of most early-stage investment institutions.

Here are four takeaways from the report:

1. Cultural entertainment, business services, and vehicle sectors were top 3 industries

The new unicorns hail from 11 vertical industries. Among them, the cultural entertainment and business services industry both had seven companies.

The cultural entertainment industry ranks the same as the 2016 rankings, with the number of unicorn companies still in the top spot. Culture and entertainment industry covers short video, content business, as well as education: Kuaishou (快手), Yidian Zixun (一点资讯, meaning “a little information”), Kuaikan Manhua (快看漫画, meaning “quick comic”), Dragonfly FM (蜻蜓FM), Luoji Siwei (罗辑思维, meaning “logical thinking”), and Zhihu (知乎).

The ranking of business services industry has greatly increased compared with that of 2016, since most of the companies in AI belong to business services. Artificial intelligence has spawned a wave of companies such as Shang Tang Technology (商汤科技), Kuang Shi Technology (旷视科技), and Mobvoi (出门问问 in Chinese, meaning “going out to ask questions”).

In 2017, unicorn companies related to the concept of “rental economy” included bike rental service Mobike, and ofo, short-term house rental service Xiaozhu 小猪短租, and UrWork (优客工场).

2. 56% of unicorns are born in Beijing

2017 new born unicorns were still highly concentrated in five provinces, just like 2016. Beijing has 19 unicorn companies, accounting for the highest proportion of 56%, up from 42% in 2016. Beijing’s unicorn company were generally from “content industry” and “artificial intelligence” sector.

Among the five newcomer unicorns in Shanghai, two were in the medical and health field, namely United Imaging (联影医疗) and Mingma Technology (明码科技).

Among the four newcomers in Guangdong, three are in the financial sector, namely trading platform for Hong Kong stocks and US stocks Futu5 (富途证券), the comprehensive banking service providing platform TDW (团贷网) and Feidee (随手记), an internet finance management company.

Among the four newly-promoted unicorn companies in Zhejiang Province, two are located in the field of enterprise services, namely, DT Dream (数梦工场) and Hangzhou-based Tongdun Technology (同盾科技), an intelligent risk management service provider.

3. More than half of the company’s largest single financing in the $100-200 million range

Statistics show that $100-200 million of financing often leads to becoming a unicorn company, so the range of the largest single financing accounted for the highest proportion. In particular, some unicorn companies in 2017 have shown a very strong money-raising capacity, exemplified by Mobike and ofo under the “bicycle rental” concept.

Companies with a single financing amount of more than $200 million accounted for 38% of the total, and the largest single financing amount of more than $300 million also exceeded 20%.

From unicorn’s round of financing, the C round (11 companies, accounting for 32%) is the highest, followed by the D (8 companies, accounting for 23%). In addition, 15% of companies grew into unicorns in Series A. These companies were either from a large company splitting their business, such as 58Tongcheng’s Zhuanzhuan and NetEase spin-off company Netease Cloud Music; or was funded by a giant company or a state-owned company, such as Alibaba investment in Cambricon (寒武纪) and DT Dream (数梦工场), and Liangyu Medical (联影医疗) backed by a state-owned capital.

4. Unicorn can be born in 17 months if shortest, in 105 months if the longest

From the founding date of IT Orange’s 2017 Unicorn List, from the date of the establishment of these companies to the latest round of financing to help them enter the $ 1 billion, the fastest is the Cambricon (寒武纪). It took only 17 months to go through the angel round, Pre-A round and A round of three financing, valuation reached $1 billion.

In addition, two companies that entered the “Unicorn Club” within two years were Mobike and Zhuanzhuan. On the other hand, it took 105 months for Shanghai-based company Chubao (触宝科技) to grow into a unicorn.

The time spent for a startup to grow into a unicorn is mainly concentrated to 2-6 years, accounting for 76%. Startups that took a very short time to grow into unicorns were mostly riding on the main business trend or were spinoff companies of large companies.

Eva Yoo is Shanghai-based tech writer. Reach her at evayoo@technode.com

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