A unicorn refers to a privately held startup company with a valuation exceeding $1 billion. This term, first introduced by venture capitalist Aileen Lee in 2013, draws a parallel between these companies and the mythical creatures, emphasizing their rarity and immense value. She used it to describe American software companies less than ten years old and valued at $1 billion or more by private investors or public markets. Lee envisioned these startups as driving the tech industry’s future growth and innovation.
The rise of African tech unicorns is a testament to the continent’s growing innovation and entrepreneurial spirit. These companies disrupt traditional industries and create new opportunities for millions of Africans. As the African tech ecosystem continues to mature, we can expect to see even more unicorns emerge in the years to come.
Flutterwave is a Nigerian fintech company that provides payment solutions for businesses across the continent. It has raised over $2 billion in funding and is valued at over $3 billion.
OPay is a Chinese-backed Nigerian fintech company that offers various financial services, including mobile payments, lending, and insurance. It has raised over $1.5 billion in funding and is valued at over $2 billion.
Wave is a Senegalese fintech company that provides mobile payments and money transfers. It has raised over $2 billion in funding and is valued at over $1.7 billion.
MFS Africa is a Rwandan fintech company that connects mobile money providers across Africa. It has raised over $1 billion in funding and is valued at over $1 billion.
Interswitch is a Nigerian digital payments company that provides a wide range of electronic payment services, including card transaction processing, mobile payments, and online payments. It is one of Africa’s largest and most successful digital payments companies, and it has played a key role in developing the continent’s digital economy. Interswitch is valued at over $2 billion.
MNT-Halan is an Egyptian fintech company that provides a range of financial services, including ride-hailing, mobile payments, consumer finance, and e-commerce services. It is one of the leading fintech companies in Egypt, and it has expanded its operations to other countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). MNT-Halan is valued at over $1 billion.
Andela is a Nigerian software development company that connects African developers with global tech companies. It trains African developers in software development and other technical skills and then places them with companies that need their expertise. Andela has played a key role in developing Africa’s tech talent pool and has helped attract more investment to the continent’s tech sector. Andela is valued at over $1 billion.
A South African fintech company that provides point-of-sale (POS) systems and other payment solutions to small businesses. It is valued at over $1 billion.
A South African fintech company that provides digital banking services to unbanked and underbanked individuals. It is valued at over $1 billion.
Chipper Cash is a cross-border payments company that enables people to send and receive money across Africa. It is one of the fastest-growing fintech companies in Africa, and it has expanded its operations to several countries across the continent. Chipper Cash is valued at over $2 billion.
America’s Unicorn Landscape
The United States is home to the world’s highest number of unicorn companies, with over 641 unicorns as of October 2023. These companies have a combined valuation of over $3.8 trillion.
- SoFi, short for Social Finance Inc., is A San Francisco-based peer-to-peer loans provider offering mortgages, student loan refinancing, and personal loans. It was founded in the summer of 2011 by Mike Cagney, Dan Macklin James Finnigan, and Ian Brady. The company is valued at $6.54 billion.
- Avant Founded in 2012 by AI Goldstein, John Sun, and Paul Zhang, Avant is a Chicago-based unicorn using machine learning to determine loan terms for borrowers. Valued at $2 billion (2022), it operates in the United Kingdom, Canada, and the United States.
- Affirm : A San Francisco-based hire purchase provider allowing customers to pay for products in installments. Valued at $1.8 billion, it partners with over 1,200 retailers to enhance their sales. It was founded in 2012 by Max Levchin , Nathan Gettings, Jeffrey Kaditz, and Alex Rampell as part of the initial portfolio of startup studio HVF.
- Kabbage from American Express An Atlanta-based company offering business loans through its automated lending platform. Valued at $1.3 billion, it has provided over $4 billion in loans and partners with Santander Bank.
- OSCAR is a New York-based digital health insurance company founded in 2013. It is valued at $3.2 billion and offers its members unlimited telemedicine consultations and free generic medication. Oscar was founded by Mario Schlosser, Kevin Nazemi, Josh Kushner.
- Clover Health Vivek Garipalli and Kris Gale co–founded Clover Health in 2014. A San Francisco-based digital health insurance company founded in 2014. Valued at $1.2 billion, it has attracted investments from Alphabet GV and Sequoia Capital. Clover Health co-founder and President Andrew Toy took over as CEO this year when Vivek Garipalli transitioned out of the role.
Finance and Payments Unicorns:
- Credit Karma: A San Francisco-based company offering free online credit reports and targeted advertising of financial products. Valued at $4 billion, it has over 35 million users.
- Gusto A cloud-based software company providing payroll, benefits, and workers’ compensation for employees and contractors. Valued at $1 billion, it simplifies HR processes for businesses.
- Symphony A Palo Alto, CA-based cloud-based messaging and collaboration platform with bank-grade security. Valued at $1 billion, it serves several major investment banks.
- Stripe A San Francisco-based company providing online payment processing for companies. Valued at $20 billion, it boasts clients like Fitbit, Twitter, Lyft, Kickstarter, and Pinterest.
- Piracle – now an AvidXchange company A Charlotte, NC-based company offering accountancy automation software. Valued at $1.4 billion, it eliminates manual processes and enhances efficiency for businesses.
- Coinbase A California-based brokerage firm established in 2012. Valued at $1.6 billion, it has become a leading cryptocurrency exchange.
- Circle A Boston-based internet finance company built on blockchain technology. Valued at $3 billion, it enables quick money transfers and cryptocurrency trading.
Investment and Wealth Management Unicorns:
- Robinhood Markets Inc.: A Palo Alto-based company that revolutionized stock trading for millennials. Valued at $5.6 billion, it offers commission-free trading.
- Zenefits : A San Francisco-based company providing payroll, HR, and health insurance. Valued at $2 billion, it has faced some challenges in recent years.
- Brex A San Francisco-based company offering a corporate credit card product for businesses. Valued at $1.1 billion, it provides automation and seamless integration with accounting systems.
- Mercado Libre An Argentine fintech company that provides an e-commerce platform, online payments, and other services to businesses and individuals in Latin America. It is valued at over $50 billion.
- Rappi A Colombian-based food delivery company that has expanded into a variety of other services, including on-demand transportation and courier services. It is valued at over $10 billion.
- Nubank A Brazilian-born company offering mobile banking services to over 3 million customers. Valued at $2.1 billion, it counts Tencent Holdings as one of its lead investors.
- Databricks Databricks is an open-source data analytics platform that is used by many of the world’s leading companies. It is valued at over $28 billion.
- PagerDuty PagerDuty is a cloud-based incident management platform that helps companies to respond to and resolve IT outages and other critical incidents. It is valued at over $4 billion.
- Toast : Toast is a cloud-based restaurant management platform that helps restaurants to manage their operations, including ordering, inventory, and payment processing. It is valued at over $4 billion.
- Palantir Technologies – Deutschland Palantir Technologies is a data analytics company that provides software to governments and businesses to help them make better decisions. It is valued at over $20 billion.
- Paxos Paxos is a blockchain-based financial technology company that provides services to banks, financial institutions, and other companies. It is valued at over $10 billion.
- Slack Slack is a cloud-based messaging platform that many companies use to communicate and collaborate with their employees. It is valued at over $16 billion.
- Qualtrics Qualtrics is a cloud-based experience management platform that helps companies to collect and analyze customer feedback. It is valued at over $10 billion.
- Snowflake Snowflake is a cloud-based data warehouse company that provides a platform for businesses to store and analyze their data. It is valued at over $120 billion.
- UiPath UiPath is a software company that provides robotic process automation (RPA) software. It is valued at over $30 billion.
- Upstart Lending Technosolutions.™ Upstart is a lending company that uses artificial intelligence to assess the creditworthiness of borrowers. It is valued at over $10 billion.
- Adyen A Dutch fintech company that provides payment processing services to businesses around the world. It is valued at over $70 billion.
- Edenred A French fintech company that provides employee benefits and other services to businesses. It is valued at over $20 billion.
- Docler Holding Luxembourg A Hungarian fintech company that owns the online travel agency Booking.com. It is valued at over $100 billion.
Asia’s Fintech Dominance: A Realm of Unicorns
Asia has emerged as the global leader in high-value fintech companies, with China at the forefront of this revolution. The sheer size of the Asian market, particularly China’s massive population of over 500 million smartphone users, has fueled the growth of these innovative financial technology companies.
Ant Group: The Reigning Champion
Ant Financial, the undisputed king of Asian fintech, operates the Sesame credit rating system and the Alipay payment platform. Ant Financial is the world’s largest fintech company with a staggering valuation of over $150 billion.
Lending Unicorns: Revolutionizing Financial Access
LufaxCrowd Investment Funding Limited , a Shanghai-based peer-to-peer financing and loans platform, has made its mark by approving over 20,000 loans since its inception in 2011. Valued at $18.5 billion, Lufax exemplifies the disruption brought about by fintech in the traditional lending landscape.
Another lending unicorn, Jimubox (积木盒子） has gained popularity in China with its online peer-to-peer lending platform for individuals and small businesses. Founded in 2013 and headquartered in Beijing, Jimubox’s valuation of around $1 billion underscores its significant growth and impact.
Tuandaiwang a peer-to-peer lending platform from Dongguan, has also carved its niche, having facilitated over $11.4 billion in loans since its establishment in 2012.
9f Group, a multifaceted fintech platform that offers peer-to-peer lending alongside other services, has amassed over 38 million registered users, cementing its position as a unicorn with a valuation of $1 billion.
Beyond Lending: Diversifying the Fintech Landscape
Tiger Brokers , a Beijing-based brokerage service catering to Chinese investors seeking overseas investment opportunities, has earned its unicorn status with a valuation of $1 billion.
Lakala Payment, a provider of online and offline third-party payment services, has established itself as a force in the payments sector. Valued at $1.6 billion, Lakala Payment has successfully captured the Chinese market, particularly among convenience stores and supermarkets.
Paytm, the brainchild of One97, an Indian company, has transformed the online shopping and bill payment landscape in India. With a daily transaction volume of 800,000 orders and 50 million registered wallets, Paytm’s valuation of over $1 billion reflects its dominance in the Indian fintech space.
Cgtz, a Hangzhou-based platform providing investment and loan-related products to Chinese consumers and small businesses, has secured a valuation of $1.4 billion, further solidifying Asia’s position as a hub for fintech innovation.
Tongdun Technology, founded in 2013 and headquartered in Hangzhou, has established itself as a leading risk control software provider, working with over 7,000 institutions across China. Its valuation of around $1 billion highlights the importance of risk management in the dynamic fintech world.
Policy-bazaar.com, a leading online life insurance and general insurance aggregator in India, has emerged as a unicorn with a valuation of $1 billion. Backed by Softbank, Policy-bazaar.com is planning an IPO, further fueling the excitement surrounding the Indian fintech sector.
- Gojek : Go-Jek is an Indonesian ride-hailing company that has expanded into a variety of other services, including food delivery, logistics, and payments. It is valued at over $10 billion.
- Grab Grab is a Southeast Asian ride-hailing company that is similar to Go-Jek. It is valued at over $15 billion.
- ByteDance ByteDance is a Chinese technology company that owns the popular social media apps TikTok and Douyin. It is valued at over $75 billion.
- Sea Limited: Sea Limited is a Singapore-based company that owns the e-commerce platform Shopee, the digital payments platform AirPay, and the gaming company Garena. It is valued at over $40 billion.
- Meitu Inc. Meitu is a Chinese mobile app developer that is known for its photo editing app of the same name. Meitu is valued at over $5 billion.
- Elephant : Elephant is an Indian fintech company that provides microloans to small businesses and individuals. It is valued at over $2 billion.
- Ola Ola is an Indian ride-hailing company that is similar to Uber. It is valued at over $6 billion.
- PING AN INSURANCE(GROUP) COMPANY OF CHINA,LTD Ping An Insurance is a Chinese insurance company that is also involved in a variety of other businesses, including finance and technology. It is valued at over $250 billion.
It’s important to note that some startups mentioned above have exited the unicorn status through company acquisition and an Initial Public Offering (IPO). These are just a few of the many other unicorns shaping fintech’s future. With their innovative solutions and massive valuations, these companies are poised to revolutionize the way we bank, invest, and manage our finances worldwide.