Investing What Is a Unicorn in Business? By Staff Author Updated on December 27, 2021 Reviewed by Robert C. Kelly Reviewed by Robert C. Kelly Robert Kelly is managing director of XTS Energy LLC, and has more than three decades of experience as a business executive. He is a professor of economics and has raised more than $4.5 billion in investment capital. learn about our financial review board In This Article View All In This Article Definition and Examples of Unicorn How Do Unicorns Work? Types of Unicorn Pros and Cons of Unicorns What It Means for Individual Investors Photo: JGI/TomGrill / Getty Images Definition A “unicorn” is a business and investing term for private startup companies with a valuation of $1 billion or more. Key Takeaways The term “unicorn” refers to a private company with a valuation of $1 billion or more.Investing in unicorn companies is typically seen as a highly risky venture with the potential to bring in high returns.Generally, investors in unicorns are private funds, wealthy individuals, and direct owners or employees of the unicorn itself.Unicorns are not common investments for most retail investors. Definition and Examples of Unicorn A unicorn is a private company with a valuation of $1 billion or more. According to CB Insights, there are 750 unicorn companies worldwide. While some unicorns operate under the radar for the typical consumer, others have become household names. Companies including Stripe, SpaceX, Instacart, Canva, Chime, and Robinhood are among the largest unicorn companies today. How Do Unicorns Work? Most unicorns start as small startups, just like virtually every other company in the world. Each startup has to raise capital to succeed and eventually raise more capital. Unicorns tend to see early success with customer growth or revenue and attract outside investments from major venture capital funds. Note Investing in unicorns is typically seen as a highly risky venture with the potential to bring in high returns. As privately held companies that have yet to go through an IPO, there is no public market to trade the securities of unicorns. That means the market valuation of a unicorn may not reflect the true value of the business at hand. Generally, investors in unicorns are private funds, wealthy individuals, and direct owners or employees of the unicorn itself. In some cases, SEC-registered mutual funds, exchange-traded funds (ETF)s, and business development companies may invest in unicorns, too. To grow, a unicorn needs to raise money from investors in a series of funding rounds. Investors offer to make a specific investment amount at a specific valuation—the value of the company. With each successive funding round, a company’s valuation generally increases, and the purchase price per share increases accordingly. Types of Unicorn All unicorns are private companies, but there is no rule on what those companies can do. Unicorns often emerge from the fast-growing technology sector, but there’s no reason a manufacturing, service, or other type of startup couldn’t achieve unicorn status. While most regular investors can’t buy into these pre-IPO companies, you can find them in industries including: Artificial intelligenceAuto and transportConsumer and retailCybersecurityData management and analyticsFintechHealthInternet software and servicesMobile and telecommunicationsSupply chain and logistics Pros and Cons of Unicorns There are both pros and cons to unicorn companies. Pros Growing businesses Tend to have a good business outlook Vetted by investment professionals Cons Not easy to invest in Relatively high-risk investments Pros Explained Growing businesses: Unicorns typically represent growing businesses that have demonstrated proven success over many years.Tend to have a good business outlook: Most new unicorns have built-in growth assumptions and a positive long-term outlook. Based on a series of funding rounds, unicorns are often expected to offer high returns.Vetted by investment professionals: Unicorns gain their value from professional investment firms specializing in identifying companies with good investment growth potential. Cons Explained Not easy to invest in: Most individual investors can’t put funds into unicorn businesses, as they are private companies. Generally, wealthy individuals and private funds such as venture capitalists invest in unicorns. Relatively high-risk investments: Startups on the way to unicorn status are typically riskier to invest in than the overall stock market, especially for retail investors. The securities tend to be illiquid, or not easily sold for cash. Plus, it can be more challenging to get a hold of a unicorn’s financial information to weigh the potential of the investment. What It Means for Individual Investors In the case of public companies, individual investors can easily open a stock market account to buy and sell stock. However, investing in private companies is often limited to wealthy accredited investors, as the risk is considered high. Unless you’re a very wealthy individual, you may not have many options for investing in unicorn companies. If you are interested in unicorn investing, consider investing in a mutual fund or ETF that focuses its funds on private companies. That could give you exposure to the unicorn market without the wealth to get direct access. Before making an investment decision, look into the holdings, fees, strategy, and past performance of a company to decide if it’s right for you. You may also consider seeking guidance from a financial advisor. Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! Tell us why! Other Submit Sources The Balance uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy. CB Insights. "The Complete List of Unicorn Companies." Accessed July 13, 2021. Indiana.gov. "Are Unicorns a Myth?" Accessed July 13, 2021.