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Horns of plenty

When US venture capital investor Aileen Lee coined the term ‘unicorn’ in Silicon Valley in 2013, she could only find 39 companies worthy of this exclusive club of start-ups valued at $1 billion or more. Unicorns are supposed to be rare, hence the name. Yet because of a genuine revolution in internet and tech – and perhaps an investment bubble inflated by quantitative easing from central banks – the number of unicorns around the world has moved beyond 500.

According to Lee, each new wave of innovation gives rise to one or more ‘super unicorns’, or companies that have defined their era. Apple and Microsoft were both founded in the 1970s at the dawn of the personal computer. The boom in internet usage in the 1990s gave birth to Google. And in the 2000s, Facebook thrust itself forward with the rise of social media.


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