Back in 2013, venture capitalist Aileen Lee wanted a word to make it easy to describe private tech companies worth $1 billion or more. “I played with different words like ‘home run,’ ‘megahit,’ and they just all sounded kind of ‘blah.’ So I put in ‘unicorn’ because… these are very rare companies in the sense that there are thousands of startups in tech every year, and only a handful will wind up becoming a unicorn company,” she said in an interview. “They’re really rare.”
I guess Lee has never visited British Columbia where it seems like we birth another company worth more than $1 billion every few weeks.
Stewart Butterfield, the founder and CEO of Slack (formerly a unicorn startup), once said that the billion-dollar benchmark is arbitrary; however, he thought it made a difference psychologically. “One billion is better than $800 million because it’s the psychological threshold for potential customers, employees, and the press,” he told Fortune mag.
Whatever you think of the number, when it comes to building a business, you can’t deny the fact that a billion-dollar valuation is a major achievement—and yet, in the last nine months—in the midst of a pandemic—at least nine BC-based companies have reached this milestone.
Blockstream was founded in 2014 by Adam Back, Erik Svenson and Pieter Wuille. The company’s first major development, released in 2015, was Sidechain Elements. Since then, the company has released a number of powerful blockchain technologies, including a Bitcoin wallet and Blockchain satellites. The company recently acquired Spondoolies in order to launch an enterprise-class miner next year and move into ASIC development. On August 24, the company raised $266M, valued at $4B.
Led by CEO Ryan Wong, Visier sells software to talent and HR departments that harness artificial intelligence to improve decision-making around people management. The company became a unicorn this past June after raising $154 million in an all-equity Series E round led by Goldman Sachs.
Led by Steve Munford, Trulioo is a platform that provides real-time verification of 5 billion consumers and 330 million business entities worldwide through a single API integration. Large organizations use Trulioo for business and compliance requirements, and to automate due diligence and fraud protection. On June 7, 2021, the startup announced that it raised $476 million CAD (394 million USD) in a funding round which values the company at $2.1 billion, led by venture capital firm TCV.
Founded in 2008, Clio is one of BC’s largest home-grown technology companies, with around 575 employees and plans to hire 250 more as a result of their just-announced $137 million CAD round of funding. The new financing values the company at around $2 billion, as it continues to see its fortunes rise as a key tool in the toolkits of law firms as they navigate the pandemic.
Dapper Labs ($3.5B)
Dapper Labs has almost single-handedly brought NFTs into the public consciousness with the success of its NBA Top Shot product and marketplace, and the company is reportedly raising financing at a $7.5 billion valuation. According to reports, its most recent confirmed funding round valued the company at $3.5 billion. With a cap table that includes Michael Jordan, Kevin Durant and Will Smith and a recently announced partnership with Naomi Osaka, the company is on a complete tear, and could soon make that valuation seem low.
GeoComply operates at the centre of a new generation of cybersecurity companies, leveraging advanced geolocation data to make better risk-based decisions. Last month the company announced strategic investments from Blackstone Growth and from Atairos. While the terms of the deal were not disclosed, GeoComply CEO Anna Sainsbury told a local reporter that “it’s safe to say that Vancouver definitely has birthed another unicorn.”
SOLD: Galvanize ($1B)
Galvanize was founded in 1972 when Hart Will developed an interactive audit software called Audit Command Language (ACL) and then launched it as a business with his son Harald in 1987. Harald ran the company until Laurie Schultz took over as president and CEO in 2011 before rebranding the company to Galvanize. Schulz continued to grow the company and announced this February that it was being acquired by US-based Diligent Corp. for a reported $1 billion.
IPO’d: Thinkific ($1B)
Led by CEO Greg Smith, Thinkific is a cloud-based software platform that enables entrepreneurs and established businesses to create, market and sell online courses. Last year the company raised $22 million from Rhino Ventures, and today, the company went public on the Toronto Stock Exchange and topped $1-billion in a mega debut—and a massive win for its investors.
IPO’d: AbCellera (~$4.7B)
AbCellera, which is now best known for creating the first COVID-19 anti-body treatment (that BC is not using), was founded in 2012 by biomedical researchers Carl Hansen, Véronique Lecault, Kevin Heyries, Daniel Da Costa and Oleh Petriv. The company received various forms of financing over the years, including a USD $645,000 grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to develop a test for tuberculosis, $10 million in 2018, and $105 million in 2020. Last December, the company went public on the Nasdaq, and today it sits at a nearly $5 billion market capitalization.1
Technically speaking, unicorns are private companies worth $1 billion or more. This article highlights companies both public and private that meet that threshold.