India’s Unicorn Startups: Sector Distribution, Funding, Global Profile

Posted by Written by Naina Bhardwaj Reading Time: 7 minutes

India has the world’s third largest startup ecosystem after the US and China. Its large market, emerging economic status, evolving consumer preferences, and technological capabilities create a confluence of factors shaping hyperlocal solutions that are also scalable. In this article, we discuss the growth of India’s unicorn startups – enterprises that have struck the US$1 billion-valuation mark, note the sectors touted for startup-led innovation, and contrast the country’s performance with global market trends.

India's unicorn startups


The startup ecosystem in India, third largest in the world after the US and China, recently reached a key milestone, crossing the 100 mark, in terms of number of unicorns in India. The unicorn status is given to privately held startups with US$1 billion valuation or above. On May 2, 2022, the Bengaluru based neo-banking fintech portal, “Open”, raised fresh capital worth US$50 million from Mumbai-based investment fund IIFL, in Series D funding to push its value over a billion dollars and became the 100th unicorn in India.

In the first week of June, 2022, Noida-based Edtech platform PhysicsWallah (PW), and Mumbai-based Beauty startup Purplle became India’s 101st and 102nd unicorns, respectively.

As of July 2022, India’s tally of unicorn startups has touched 105, with latest additions being LeadSquared (SaaS), OneCard (fintech) and 5ire(blockchain).

Projections by a report titled “India Tech Trends” pegs the aggregate valuation of Indian unicorns at US$535 billion in 2022, a substantial jump from US$103 billion in 2015. The same report envisions an optimistic scenario for India’s unicorn growth story – estimating the rise of around 250 Indian unicorns by 2025. Another report, by HDFC Securities, predicts that accelerated funding could create over 100 new unicorns in 2022.

Another noteworthy trend around unicorns in India is that many of these existing unicorns like Oyo, Zomato, Dream 11, Ola, Razorpay, CRED, Pine Labs,  etc. are soon to enter the Decacorn club (privately held startups with US$10 billion valuation or above). Majority of these decacorn club contenders are from the fintech sector.

India’s unicorn startups: Market landscape and key investors

From getting its first unicorn “Inmobi” in 2011, to reaching a 100 in just over a decade, India’s startup ecosystem has come a long way. A major push in the startup ecosystem can be traced to the period just after 2016, when, aided by nationwide digitization, more that 50 percent of Indian startups attained unicorn status within five years of their inception.

Mensa, GlobalBees, and Cred Avenue became the fastest startups to enter the coveted unicorn club in record time – at six months, seven months, and 1.5 years, respectively. Other startups that achieved the billion-dollar valuation in record time include Paytm Mall, Glance, Ola Electric, Spinny, PharmEasy, etc.

In 2021 alone, India added 44 unicorns, far outnumbering the 37 enterprises that reached the US$1 billion valuation mark in the preceding decade combined. Furthermore, in the first four months of 2022, India minted another 14 unicorns, including LEAD School, Fractal, DarwinBox, XpressBees Logistics, Cred Avenue, etc. As per data by Venture Intelligence, Indian startups raked in funds over US$10 billion during the first quarter of 2022, up from US$5.7 billion during the same period in 2021. This is substantial growth despite skepticism among private market investors who prefer a ‘wait and watch’ approach due to global headwinds.

India's Startup Unicorns - May 2022

Which sectors have registered the highest number of unicorns in India?

The e-commerce sector has the lion’s share of India’s unicorns with 23 startups achieving this status as of May 2022. Reporting by Inc42 shows that four out of the 10 fastest Indian unicorns are from the e-commerce sector. Some of the highest valued e-commerce unicorns are Flipkart, Meesho, Nykaa, and Cars24.

E-commerce is followed closely by the fintech sector with 21 unicorns in total with major players like Paytm, Razorpay, Policy Bazaar, Digit, PhonePe, etc. leading the way. Reports suggest that over the next few years, the fintech sector will mint the maximum number of unicorns in India. Prominent startups like Khata Book, mSwipe, Jupiter, Fino, Zest, among others, are on course to hit the billion-dollar valuation mark very soon.

Other startups like ClassPlus, Scaler (Edtech), bookmyshow (consumer services), Inshorts, Winzo (media and entertainment), and Healthifyme, Practo (Healthtech), etc. are also soon expected to enter the unicorn club.

Below is a sectoral breakdown of all the unicorns in India.

Sectorwise distribution of India's unicorn startups May-2022

India’s Unicorn Landscape

Sector

No. of unicorns

Name of unicorns

E-commerce

23

Cars24, Dealshare, Meesho, Mensa, MogliX, Nykaa, Droom, Firstcry, Shopclues, Paytm Mall, Udaan, Infra Market, Mamaearth, Spinny, Snapdeal, Lenskart, Livspace, Licious, Globalbees, CommerceIQ, Flipkart, The Good Glamm (previously MyGlamm), OFbusines, Purplle

FinTech

22

Acko, BharatPe, BillDesk, Chargebee, Paytm, Mobiwik, Oxyzo, PhonePe, Pine Labs, Coin DCX, Coinswitch Kuber, CRED, Slice, Razorpay, Cred Avenue, DIGIT, Groww, Policy Bazaar, Zerodha, Zeta, Open, OneCard, 5ire

Enterprise Tech

19

Amagi, Apna, Browser Stack, Freshworks, Postman, Zetwerk, Gupshup, Darwinbox, Zenoti, Zoho, Hasura, Mind Tickle, MApmyindia, Fractal, Mu Sigma, Uniphore, Inmobi, Druva, Icertis, LeadSquared

Consumer services

9

Bigbasket, CarDekho, Grofers, Info Edge, Quikr, Rebel Foods, Swiggy, Zomato, Urban Company

Media and entertainment

7

Dailyhunt, Glance, Games 24 Seven, Mobile Premier League (MPL), Hike, Dream Sports, Share Chat

EdTech

7

Byju’s, Eruditus, Unacademy, Lead, Upgrad, Vedantu, PhysicsWallah (PW)

Logistics

5

Delhivery, Xpress Bees, Elasticrun, Blackbuck, Rivigo

HealthTech

4

Pharmeasy, Cure Fit, Innovaccer, Pristyn care

Travel Tech

3

OYO, Ease My Trip, Make My Trip

Transport Tech

2

Ola, Ola Electric

CleanTech

1

Renew Power

Real estate Tech

1

Nobroker

Who are the major funders of unicorns in India?

Major private equity investors like Tiger Global, Sequoia, Soft Bank, Alpha Wave, DST Global, Norwest, Nexus venture partners, etc. are the force behind pumping regular cash into India’s thriving startup ecosystem. US-based Tiger Global has stakes in 35 unicorns in India, including Slice, Zomato, Groww, Ola, etc. Meanwhile, Sequoia, also based out of US, has backed around 29 Indian unicorns like Byju’s, MPL etc. Japan based Soft-bank closely follows to emerge as the third largest backer for Indian unicorns, with stakes in around 19 unicorns including Ola, Paytm, Swiggy and Mensa.

B2C medicine marketplace PharmEasy, which entered the billion-dollar club in 2.2 years, has received the highest funding of US$1.6 billion since its inception. PharmEasy, which has also acquired a majority stake in Thyrocare, is backed by Amansa Capital, ApaH Capital, US hedge fund Janus Henderson, OrbiMed, Steadview Capital, Abu Dhabi’s sovereign wealth fund ADQ, hedge fund Neuberger Berman, and London’s Sanne Group. 

CRED, a lending based fintech platform, valued at US$6.5 billion, has received a total investment of US$922 million. It is backed by Dragoneer Investments, GIC, Tiger Global, Insight Partners, among others, as its investors.

Merger and acquisition activity by Indian unicorns

As of May 2022, Indian unicorns have acquired a total of 326 startups so far, with maximum deals being finalized in 2021. Flipkart aced the merger and acquisition (M&A) game with over 17 M&A transactions (5.2 percent) till date, closely followed by Byju’s with over 16 deals (4.9 percent). Other leading players in terms of M&A activity include Zomato (15), Quikr (15), Mensa (14), Cure Fit (14), etc.

In 2021, a total of 90 acquisitions were undertaken with Mensa and Byju’s emerging as the top acquirers, and in the first quarter of 2022, 36 such acquisitions have been done so far.

Where are Indian unicorns headquartered?

As per data from Inc42, 87 percent of the unicorns in India are headquartered in Bengaluru (Karnataka), Delhi NCR, and Mumbai (Maharashtra). Bengaluru, which is often referred to as the startup capital of India, has produced five of the top 10 fastest unicorns, including Apna, Ola Electric, Glance, CRED, etc. Bengaluru hosts a total of 39 unicorn headquarters as of May 2022.

The Delhi-NCR region is also fast emerging as a top choice for headquarter (HQ) among entrepreneurs, hosting a total of 32 unicorns at present. The most prominent ones include Paytm, Cars24, OYO, Grofers, Spinny, Delhivery, etc. As many as 16 unicorns, including CoinDCX, Nykaa, UpGrad, etc. are based out of Mumbai (Maharashtra).

Emerging hubs like Pune (Maharashtra), Chennai (Tamil Nadu), and Hyderabad (Andhra Pradesh) are home to 13 percent of India’s total unicorns.

state wise distribution of India's unicorn startups

Many Indian unicorns have based their headquarters internationally, with the US emerging as the most preferred HQ destination. Most enterprise tech unicorns like BrowserStack (Dublin Ireland), Druva (Sunnyvale, US), Fractal (New York, US), Gupshup (San Francisco, US), and Inmobi (Singapore) etc. are based in a foreign country.

How does India’s unicorn count compare globally?

India is among the top three countries recording new unicorns, next only to the US and China. However, the disparity still remains huge, as the US hosts around 806 unicorns. According to data aggregator Traxcn, the US produced 321 unicorns in 2021 as against 44 in India. At the same time, China, which has a total of 217 unicorns at present, produced 21 unicorns in 2021. Israel, too, is fast catching pace with India with 92 unicorns.

An interesting fact is that while e-commerce unicorns lead the unicorn category in India, globally, it is the fintech sector that has witnessed the most number of new unicorns. Globally, 238 out of 1,132 startups in the fintech sector are recognized as unicorns, as per CB Insights. SaaS startups take the second spot with 217 unicorns.

 

Global Unicorn Startups Distribution

This article was first published on May 24, 2022 and last updated on July 16, 2022.


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