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unicorn

Contributor(s): Ivy Wigmore

A unicorn, in an investment context, is a tech startup that is assessed at a valuation of $1 billion or more; companies valued at more than $10 billion are sometimes called decacorns and those valued over $100 billion are called super unicorns.

Cowboy Ventures founder Aileen Lee first used unicorn in a financial context in a November 2013 TechCrunch blog post, “Welcome to the Unicorn Club.” At that time, Lee identified 39 unicorns, including Facebook, Dropbox, Pinterest, Yammer, LinkedIn and Instagram. Research firm CB Insights, which maintains a current list, put the number of unicorns in the world at 140 in October 2015.

References to unicorns by venture capitalists have become increasingly common as the economy has gotten better. According to many investment experts, the burgeoning market for Internet of Things (IoT) products and technologies is likely to make the number of unicorns increase exponentially over the next several years.

In mythology, a unicorn is an elusive horse-like creature with magical powers. In human resource management (HRM), the term has been used for many years to describe a job candidate who has a very particular and very desirable skill set. A unicorn may also be called a purple squirrel, another metaphor used to describe the rare candidate who has exactly the right hard skills, soft skills and experience. 

This was last updated in August 2017

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