Unicorns are not as rare as they were a decade ago, but it still takes a lot of hard work to join the herd.
Venture capitalist Aileen Lee coined the term 'unicorn' in 2013 in her article to refer to private companies which have reached a valuation of at least USD 1 billion. With the Internet era and digital economy going on, the birth of unicorns has increased at an accelerated rate and they are no longer so rare as the creature unicorn itself. As of October 2022, there are over 1,200 unicorns around the world.
However, being admitted into the unicorn club is never an easy job. In fact, a business only has a 0.00006% chance of becoming a unicorn, and it takes an average of seven years for nascent startups to grow into unicorns.
This makes finding and recognizing a pre-unicorn the same important — at least they have been infinitely close to it.
Generally, pre-unicorn enterprises are those that have been established for less than 10 years and are currently valued between USD 100 million and USD 1 billion. However, with the aim of hunting for more newly emerged stars, we EqualOcean narrow the criteira of foundation to the latest 5 years, ceteris paribus.
Different from unicorns, these early-stage companies are developing at a faster pace and have greater potential for future growth, and are expected to grow into unicorns within 3 to 5 years. Ant Group, ByteDance, CATL, and PDD … were all pre-unicorns at some point.
Most of these startups are in the vanguard of their industry, leading the way for the generation of new technologies, services, business activities and business models. They are trying to compete with the top players and expand their reach in the context of the new era.
Here is the roundup of a host of promising pre-unicorn companies we caught this year.
Hong Jing Drive
Hong Jing Drive (Chinese: 宏景智能), an autonomous driving solutions provider based in China, develops system solutions including high-performance computing platforms for autonomous driving vehicles. It partners with a number of automotive original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), focusing on developing advanced autonomous driving systems for both passenger cars and commercial vehicles, as well as for applications such as automated transportation and logistics. The company was founded in 2018 and is based in Hangzhou, China, with a valuation of over USD 100 million as of December 2022.
Previously in February, Hong Jing Drive announced that it had completed financing of over CNY 100 million, featuring exclusive investment from Prosperity7. In less than one year, Hong Jing Drive has successively completed three rounds of financing worth several hundred million yuan.
Revolution (Chinese: 于万智驾) is a two-year-old startup focusing on unmanned driving of sanitation vehicles. Founded in Shanghai, Revolution is one of the deeply engager in the autonomous driving sanitation field, and it is currently valued at USD 100 million or above. The company has a core management team of 10 people, with over 20 senior project operation managers and an experienced R&D team of more than 40 people. Revolution will rely on technology + operation value-added + service environment to create an integrated intelligent sanitation solution for customers.
SENIOR (Chinese: 斯年智驾), founded in 2020 and based in Beijing, is an autonomous driving solution provider focusing on heavy truck transportation in the harbor scenario, including transportation in port, hub to hub and between ports. The company has two research centers in Beijing and Shanghai, respectively, responsible for autonomous driving algorithm research and development. Currently, it has an intelligent driving team of 150 people, over 70% of whom are R&D personnel. Additionally, the core members, with more than 10 years of R&D experience in the autonomous driving industry, are the first group of practitioners in the field of logistics and transportation in China.
A month earlier, on November 14, SENIOR announced the completion of its A+ round financing worth more than CNY 100 million (USD 14 million), which was led by Tsinghua Innovation Ventures and Winreal Investment, followed by Estar Capital, GF Xinde Investment, Shenzhen Zhiqing Corporation and Hubin Capital. As of press time, SENIOR is valued at CNY 1.5 billion (USD 210 million).
Founded in 2018, XYZ Robotics (Chinese: 星猿哲科技) is headquartered in Shanghai. As a leader in the 3D machine vision and robotic manipulation industry, XYZ Robotics develops AI-enabled robotic perception and manipulation technology for logistics and manufacturing automation, which provides products and solutions including depalletizing, mixed-case palletizing, piece picking and bin picking. The application industries span e-commerce, automotive, electronics, general consumer goods and beyond. Its global customer industry base varies from automobile, pharmaceuticals, electronics to e-commerce, retail, 3PL, and beyond. According to public data, the company has received over USD 100 million funding from the top VCs within the past four years.
ShadowBot (Chinese: 影刀RPA) is an RPA software capable of simulating various human operations, including mouse clicks, keyboard input, information retention, data verification, batch operations, and repetitive work. By automating software applications and objective decision-making, ShadowBot helps hundreds of e-commerce companies optimize human efficiency.
Public data shows that ShadowBot has raised a total of USD 158.7 million over 5 rounds of funding since its inception, and it completed its Series C round of financing in April 2022 from Goldman Sachs and GGV Capital Partners.
Hanhou Group (Chinese: 憨猴集团), previously known as Hanhou Technology, has completed its Series A+ round of financing worthy CNY 50 million. After the financing, its valuation reached CNY 5 billion (USD 718 million). Headquartered in Beijing and founded in 2018, Hanhou Group launches Hanhou Chain with strong reliance on its accumulation of blockchain technology, AI, cloud computing, digital twin and in-house algorithms. Through the distributed network cross-chain mode blockchain, data analysis, integration and compatibility, intelligent risk control and other technologies, Hanhou Group solves the problems of financial data tampering, data untrustworthiness, asset insecurity and data silos in the development of industrial Internet, and provides customers with credible, effective and data-circulating technical solutions.
Wuhan Weineng Battery Asset
Wuhan Weineng Battery Asset (Chinese: 武汉蔚能电池) is a joint venture between Contemporary Amperex Technology and NIO. Founded in 2020, the NIO-led battery asset management company's business scope includes power battery leasing, repair, wholesale and retail; recycling of used batteries; research and development, production, wholesale and sales, leasing, and operation management of equipment and components related to switching stations, charging piles and energy storage systems. Weineng's overall valuation after its latest financing is CNY 2.5 billion, as negotiated by all parties
Moxi Technology (Chinese: 摩西科技) is the first domestic technology company comited to empowering business growth with gamification. Founded in 2019 and headquartered in Hangzhou, Moxi has received several rounds of investment from Hillhouse Capital and Matrix Partners, with a total financing amount of nearly CNY 100 million.
Being an innovative SaaS company with the mission of enriching the world with gamification, Moxi Technology is devoted to providing interactive advertising campaigns, marketing tools, and mini-games to engage customers in interactive advertising, Moxi Technology has served over 300 clients, including Ganki Forest, Ctrip, Keep, Adidas, Midea, Philips and so on.
Intelligence Indeed (Chinese: 实在智能) is an AI company committed to leading and promoting the development of RPA industry to IPA (artificial intelligence process automation) through AI technology. Through various intelligent software robots, namely "Intelligence Indeed RPA·digital employees", our company provides digital transformation solutions for enterprises and governments in finance, operators, energy, e-commerce, education, manufacturing, and other fields to help them improve quality, reduce cost and increase efficiency.
The four-year-old startup has received hundreds of millions of investment in CNY from a host of top-tier domestic VCs such as Legend Capital，Green Pine Capital Partners, Cybernaut Capital and as well as listed company Ray-Cloud Technology.
Zhiyi Tech (Chinese: 知衣科技) is an AI-driven company committed to building a standardized quick-response fashion supply chain platform. Founded in 2018 and headquartered in Hangzhou, it bagged USD 10 million at ins inception; in 2021, it closed another USD 100 million worth of Series B funding, led by Hillhouse Capital, Zoo Capital, Xianghe Capital and CE Innovation Capital.
Zhiyi Tech's core technologies include fashion image recognition, data mining, and personalized recommendation, Zhiyi Tech has developed a series of SaaS products (Zhiyi, Zhikuan, Meinian, etc.) for designers and operations in the fashion industry. The core functions include fashion trends forecasting, intelligent style recommendation and sales data supported merchandise planning. Zhiyi Tech also expands to the fashion supply chain service through the SaaS portal, providing one-stop design and quick-response supply chain services. Currently, Zhiyi Tech has worked with thousands of fashion industry clients, such as UR, Vipshop, Bestseller, Peacebird, ELLASSAY and Bananain with a valuation of CNY 1.2 billion.