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While the term "unicorn" has been reserved for the once rare existence of a large, private company with a valuation in excess of $1 billion, such companies have become much more common in recent years. Today, over 150 unicorns are headquartered in the US, which represents significant growth as compared to less than 25 in 2011. So, what is driving large, private companies (such as Uber) to remain private as opposed to following the more traditional route of accessing growth capital in the public markets via an IPO? While the costs, regulations and short-term investor focus associated with going public have certainly played a role, we believe that the key factor is the growth in the private financing markets today.
With nearly $2 trillion of capital available for investment, private equity and venture capital funds are aggressively seeking to deploy capital and, as such, unicorns are simply finding it easier to raise growth financing from private investors. In search of investment opportunities and the high returns associated with finding the next Facebook, private equity funds, in particular, are pushing their way into the start-up funding world typically dominated by venture capital funds (some large corporations - e.g., Google, Intel, Johnson & Johnson - are also getting in on the game via new venture fund subsidiaries). With over 50 start-ups having grown to unicorn valuations in 2017, and over 20 in 2018 to date, growth in the unicorn population is expected to continue. Of course, Apple just won the race to become the first $1 trillion public company in the US, so it's fair to say that the robust macroeconomic environment and ongoing, nine-year bull market is clearly playing its role as well.