The number of Chinese unicorns—startups with more than a $1 billion valuation—are growing so fast that later we might have to change the term into “dragons” in the future. The country now has 55 unicorns becoming the second-richest country in unicorn companies, followed by India and the UK. This is partly due to the ever-growing activity of Chinese venture capital and tech giants in the sector.
Among 2017’s newly added 57 unicorns hail from US (56%), while 18 startups hail from China (32%), that is up from last years 43% for US, and 29% for China, according to US-based data analysis firm PitchBook’s 2017 Unicorn Report. CBInsights numbers China’s total unicorns as 55 companies while PitchBook numbers them as 57 companies, as they have different criteria to list unicorns.
Jinri Toutiao, a personalized news aggregator app, is one of of TMD (Toutiao, Meituan-Dianping, Didi), expected to be the next tech giants following China’s BAT. Jinri Toutiao’s strong on AI, as its parent company Beijing-based ByteDance was most well-funded AI startup of 2017 with $3.1 billion in investments so far. Jinri Toutiao is recently moving towards adding fintech solutions to their media. Toutiao already laid out its own insurance and loan businesses with the company forming an insurance business team in early 2017 and bought a 100% stake in UIpay, an online payment agency this month.
Shanghai Yingying Medical Technology Co., Ltd. is a high-end medical equipment and medical information solutions provider for medical institutions. Headquartered in Shanghai Jiading, R & D center radiation around the world, the company provides imaging diagnostic equipment, radiotherapy equipment, service training, medical IT solutions, and high-end medical care.
NIO (Previously NextEv) is a Chinese electric carmaker with over $2 billion in investments from the likes of Tencent, Baidu, IDG and more. Launched by the chairman of Chinese automobile portal Bitauto.com and the founder of Autohome.com in 2014, NIO said they will provide cloud computing and data to connect their charging substations to a complete service system. Shanghai-based company will soon launch ES8, its first mass-production SUV model, which will be targeting the same customers of Tesla’s Model X. For production, NIO plans to focus on design and leave the manufacturing to partners such as JAC and Chang’an.
In 2012, group buying startup Meituan decided to develop a separate app for their movie ticket service called Maoyan (literally “cat eye” in English). The app quickly gained traction and became the largest player in the movie ticket selling sector in China in 2015, taking half of the market share. Other Chinese major online entertainment ticket sales platforms include Tencent’s Weipiao, Gewara, and Taobao.
China’s bike rental company Mobike won Environment’s Champions of the Earth awards from the United Nations for its contribution to the advancement of low carbon public transport. Its 200 million users in over 200 cities have cycled 18.2 billion kilometers, the equivalent of 4.4 million tonnes of carbon dioxide or 1.24 million cars being taken off the road each year. The company is now rolling out its first ride-hailing service in Guizhou since December 2017 to challenge ofo and Didi’s tie-up.
Mobike’s arch-rival Ofo company saw the highest increase in market penetration compared to the previous year reaching up to 1811% year on year growth, according to Jiguang’s data. In July, ofo announced its Series E of financing worth $700 million led by Alibaba and other investors including Didi, who added ofo’s bike rental service in its app in April. With funding, the Beijing-based company started its global expansion in 2017 bringing China’s bike rental concept to US, Australia, Europe and Asian countries.
ESR (e-Shang Redwood), a leading pan-Asia logistics real estate developer, was formed through the merger of e-Shang and Redwood in January 2016. It is backed by investors including APG, CPPIB, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, PGGM and Ping An and is managing over eight million square meters gross floor area of projects owned and under development across China, Japan, Singapore and South Korea, with capital and funds management offices in Hong Kong and Singapore.
Douyu TV, China’s live e-sports broadcasting vertical, claims it controls over 70% of the market after gathering 30 million daily active users and nearly 200 million monthly active users. Founded in 2013, the Wuhan-based company joined unicorn list as it finalized an RMB 1 billion ($150 million) in a Series D round led by CMB International last November.
VIPKID is a platform that offers one-on-one language instruction for the Chinese market, targeting children between the ages of five and twelve. The online English teaching tool announced in August that it has raised $200 million in financing and joined the unicorn list. The latest gig-economy company VIPKID recruits about 30,000 teachers globally. In September 2017, a VIPKID teacher who had to cancel her class to settle down things after her own child’s death lost her job at VIPKID and posted the story online which went viral. This brought a lot of attention to company and triggered an online contractor-versus-employee debate.
Beijing-based startup SenseTime is best known for its face recognition technology, along with its close rival Face++. With a pool of 400 researchers, including 120 with Ph.D.s., SenseTime’s technology can simultaneously track more than 100 subjects while gauging their age, gender, and vehicles on the street. Chipmaker Qualcomm invested in SenseTime on November 2017 to collaborate on AI, which will see SenseTime’s proprietary algorithms deployed in smart devices and Honda agreed to work with SenseTime to develop artificial intelligence for autonomous driving.
Comparing them to 2016 unicorns
There were more e-commerce players in 2016, and more on-demand companies in 2017. In e-commerce, cross-border shopping platform Xiaohongshu hired a lot of writers and used catchy leads to market their products. Their 2015 campaign using muscular young foreign men (国外小鲜肉送快递) for delivery also made this company go viral. Shopping platform Pinduoduo (拼多多) leveraged WeChat social network and increased Gross Merchandise Volume (GMV) transaction from zero to 60 billion RMB ($8.9 billion USD) in 2016. It saw the highest increase in market penetration in 2017 compared to the previous year reaching up to 1000% year on year growth according to Jiguang’s data.
As you can see AI is buzzing sector in China for the past two years. It’s propelled by several structural advantages for AI development: huge datasets, a young army of talent, aggressive entrepreneurialism, and a strong and pragmatic government AI policy, according to Eurasia Group’s 2017 report. Seven Chinese companies made it to CB Insights’ AI 100 list, and it includes 2017’s unicorn Toutiao and SenseTime, and 2016’s unicorn UBTECH. In fact, five AI startups of the seven Chinese startups have achieved unicorn status, with four of them surpassing $1 billion in valuation just this year.
Brokerage and leasing vertical is an area that has a high potential for growth. Proptech companies including Homelink or Lianjia.com, Fagdd.com, Tujia.com, and Aiwujiwu have already reached unicorn status. Lianjia is the company behind Ziroom, co-living startup winning the hearts of young professionals looking for one-year-based rent housings in first-tier and some second-tier cities.Mofang Gongyu is a startup providing apartment’s for young people to long-term rent rooms and socialize in common area.
In 2016, second-hand car trading companies that largely kicked off around 2015 started to consolidate the market leaving the main players in 2016 like Renrenche and Guazi, established by online classified site Ganji.com. Changes in consumer tastes are driving electric cars further into the mainstream such as electric vehicles like NIO, 2017 unicorn. As tech space started to see recruitment needs from big companies to SMEs, recruitment platform Liepin gathered a huge userbase and became a unicorn in 2016. Now 2017 unicorn VIPKID is hiring online teachers from all over the world.