An overview of all the unicorn startups in Singapore.
As one of the most active finance and tech hubs in the world, Singapore has produced its fair share of large and successful startup companies. This country is the birthplace of many of Southeast Asia’s unicorn startups.
Below, we’ve delivered a list of past and present unicorn startups in Singapore.
What is a unicorn startup?
A unicorn startup is a private-owned startup company with a valuation of more than US $1 billion.
Venture capitalist Aileen Lee coined the term in 2013. She chose the term unicorn because – back then – startups that could grow bigger than US $1 billion were so rare that it seems almost magical, just like unicorns.
Nowadays, however, the global startup ecosystem has grown more mature, and unicorns are more common.
So far, based on their disclosed funding amounts, there have been at least five Singapore-based companies that became unicorns, which are:
Achieved Unicorn Status: 2014
Total Valuation: US$14 billion (May 2019)
Latest Funding Type: Series H (July 2019)
Notable Investors: GGV Capital, Vertex Venture Holdings, Softbank Group
Originally called GrabTaxi and focusing on ride-hailing, Grab now aspires to be an all-in-one ‘super app’ offering food services, digital payments, and door-to-door parcel delivery. Grab moved its headquarters from Malaysia to Singapore in 2014, while also operating in Indonesia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia.
One reason for the company’s rapid growth is its quick and local-oriented initiative in tapping into Southeast Asia’s US$25 billion transportation market. Grab launched in Malaysia in 2012, one year before Uber entered Singapore. In 2014, it also launched GrabBike – the motorcycle-hailing service that has become its flagship service in several markets – 17 months before Uber launched a similar service.
Beyond being one of Singapore’s unicorns, Grab is also Southeast Asia’s first decacorn – a private company valued at over US$10 billion. Case in point, the company won about 25 percent of all digital economy investments in Southeast Asia since 2015. It has been using this vast amount of capital to expand across the region such as through investing in Indonesian digital payment platform Ovo and acquiring Uber’s Southeast Asian operations.
Achieved Unicorn Status: 2019
Total Valuation: US$1.3 billion (July 2019)
Latest Funding Type: Series D (July 2019)
Notable Investors: Hopu Investment Management, Boyu Capital, DC Thomson Ventures
Image recognition software company Trax is headquartered in Singapore, while also having its research and development center in Tel Aviv. It operates in markets throughout Asia Pacific, Europe, Middle East, North America, and South America.
This startup provides a digital platform of market measurement and data analytics for manufacturers and retailers of consumer goods. It allows store operators to use photos of retail shelves to track product performance or in-store conditions.
Trax is one example of how Singapore is also drawing companies and investors from outside the region. Singapore has been ramping up its efforts like grants and incentives to attract tech companies and investors in order to raise its reputation as Asia’s top tech hub.
Grab and Trax aren’t the only brands in Singapore to have ever held the ‘unicorn’ title. Other Singapore-based startups have been unicorns in the past, but can’t be classified as unicorn startups anymore.
A unicorn startup, by definition, is a private-owned company. So, a company can lose its ‘unicorn’ status if they become a public-owned company.
These have happened to some past unicorn startups in Singapore, such as:
Notable Investors: Accel Partners, Intel Capital
Razer is a high-end gaming technology company founded by Singaporean Tan Ming-Liang and American Robert Krakoff. It maintains dual headquarters in Singapore as well as San Fransisco, with offices in 18 countries worldwide.
This company’s focus and rapid growth in Asian markets show the large potential of technology as a commodity in Asia, as also shown by other companies on this list.
Notable Investors: Alibaba Group, Rocket Internet, Temasek Holdings
Lazada is one of the largest e-commerce platforms in Southeast Asia with over 183.4 million monthly visits as of 2019. Headquartered in Singapore, it also operates in Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam.
The company is one of several e-commerce unicorns based in Southeast Asia, joining the ranks of Indonesia’s Tokopedia and BukaLapak.
In 2016, Chinese conglomerate Alibaba Group acquired a majority stake in Lazada through a US$1 billion investment as the spearhead of its expansion into Southeast Asia. Alibaba continued this with another US$1 billion investment in 2017, and a US$2 billion investment in 2018.
Notable Investors: GDP Venture, JG Summit Holdings
Originally founded as Garena, the company rebranded as Sea following a major funding round in 2017. Sea joined the unicorn club relatively early, already being valued at US$1.2 billion in 2014. Starting out as a gaming company, it now also offers digital content, payments, and e-commerce.
Sea’s primary e-commerce product, Shopee, is another leading e-commerce platform in Asia, operating in Singapore, Indonesia, Taiwan, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, and the Philippines.
Like Razer, Sea also moved on from the unicorn club when it listed its IPO on the New York Stock Exchange in 2017.
How will the market evolve?
The dynamic market in Singapore – as well as Southeast Asia in general – means that these will most likely not be the last unicorns to rise out of the Lion City. Investors and entrepreneurs should keep a lookout for the newest trends in the region, as well as consider investing in rising industries and companies.
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