9 S’pore startups that became unicorns in 2021

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It’s the time of the year, where we look back and reflect at our lives and activities over the past 12 months. It’s also a time where we pat ourselves on the back for surviving another pandemic year and celebrate the wins that happened in this period.

2021 is a year many Singapore startups also had a job well done too, having clinched the highly coveted “unicorn” status. A unicorn is a term used in the venture capital world to describe a privately held startup with a valuation of over US$1 billion.

Factors that drove the high valuations are due to robust funding from private equity markets in the Southeast Asia region over the past few years, supported by a rising middle class and an increase in smartphone and data usage.

Covid-19 has also provided a boost to several sectors of the economy such as FinTech and e-commerce due to an increase in tech demand and digital adoption.

We take a look at a list of nine startups that reached unicorn status this year.

Ninja Van

The logistics firm raised US$578 million in its latest funding round with investors including Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group.

It was Ninja Van’s biggest fundraise since its inception in 2014, lifting the firm’s valuation to above US$1 billion. The logistics startup will use the fresh funds to build its infrastructure and tech platform.

Image Credit: Ninja Van

Founded in 2014, Ninja Van has become one of the region’s fastest-growing tech-enabled logistics firms. The startup is said to be preparing to go public as soon as next year. 

It claims it delivers around two million parcels a day throughout the region, and employs more than 61,000 staff and delivery personnel.

Carousell

It “joined” the billionaire club on September 15th this year after raising US$100 million in its latest funding round, taking its valuation to US$1.1 billion. The nine-year-old startup runs an e-marketplace that sells second-hand products from cars to clothing.

The latest round was led by South Korean private equity firm STIC Investments, and Carousell counts venture capital firms including Golden Gate Ventures and EDBI as its investors.

Carousell CEO Quek Siu Rui / Image Credit: Bloomberg

The funds raised will support its expansion plans. It currently has a presence in eight Southeast Asian markets.

CEO and co-founder of Carousell Quek Siu Rui had said that the pandemic has accelerated the adoption of digital services and is an “opportunity for the firm to double down on recommerce efforts”.

Carousell is currently working on authentication capabilities for higher-value products, including luxury goods and cars.

PatSnap

In March this year, the intelligence platform raised US$300 million for its Series E funding, clinching a valuation of  US$1 billion. Heavy backers the likes of SoftBank and Tencent Investment supported the funding round.

PatSnap is a provider of patent analytics and its brand name is short for ‘patents in a snap’. Founded in 2007, it has more than 800 employees and 10,000 clients. Customers include Spotify Technology and Xiaomi Corp.

PatSnap founding team members / Image Credit: PatSnap

The startup spent more than 10 years collecting patent data from 140 countries and uses artificial intelligence (AI) to provide insights to customers. Users type keywords and phrases on the platform like “FinTech” to get information about companies, tech, and inventors in the space.

It makes revenue by charging customers a subscription fee that ranges from US$5,000/year to US$30,000/year, depending on usage.

Nium

A payments platform for cross border payments, local accounts, and card issuance. The startup raised US$200 million in a Series D round led by Riverwood Capital in July this year and reached unicorn status.

Notable investors include Temasek Holdings, Vertex Ventures Southeast Asia, and Riverwood Capital. In total, Nium has raised US$280 million in over seven funding rounds.

Image Credit: Nium

The funds will be used to enhance Nium’s payments infrastructure and build on embedded FinTech services.

Founded in 2014, Nium co-founder Prajit Nanu thought of setting up the business after he ran into problems sending a small sum of money from India to Thailand. Today the firm has more than 200 clients, including SingTel.

Matrixport

It’s a digital assets and financial services platform that supports investing and trading in cryptocurrencies.

The two-year-old startup reached US$1 billion in valuation in June this year, after its latest fund raise. The Series C round was led by DST Global, K3 Ventures and other participants including Tiger Global and A&T Capital.

Image Credit: Matrixport

As of March this year, the firm claims it holds over US$10 billion of client assets under management (AUM) and custody. It plans to go public in three to five years and has set the target of hundreds of billions of dollars in AUM and customers by the same period.

Matrixport is a spin-off from Bitmain, the world’s largest maker of Bitcoin mining rigs. Billionaire Wu Jihan, who is co-founder of Bitmain, resigned as Chairman and CEO from that company in January this year, after years of power struggle with his co-founder Micree Zhan. Wu now serves as the chairman of Matrixport.

According to the firm, it is profit-making. It took in US$7 to US$8 million in revenue for 2019.

Bolttech

An insurtech startup, it completed an oversubscribed US$180 million Series A round in July this year. The valuation caused the firm to rise to unicorn status.

Bolttech aims to connect insurers, distributors, and customers to make it easier and more efficient to buy and sell insurance and protection products.

Image Credit: Bolttech

It claims to be the largest insurance exchange in the world, transacting US$5 billion in premiums on the platform and provides a gateway to more than 5,000 products and 150 insurance providers.

The company is only barely a year old, and it has over 1,400 employees and a presence in 14 markets across Asia, North America, and Europe. It claims it serves 7.7 million customers.

Carro

Another consumer-facing startup also joined the unicorn club in June this year. That’s after it completed a US$360 million funding round led by SoftBank, aimed at supporting its regional expansion plans. The online platform allows customers and wholesale businesses to buy and sell cars with a pricing algorithm that locates the best deals.

This made it the first auto marketplace to achieve a billion dollar valuation in the last five years. A part of the funds will be used to strengthen its businesses in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Thailand.

The Carro team / Image Credit: Carro

The startup will also tap on the funds to expand its financial services and improve its AI capabilities. Carro is said to be preparing for a US listing that will happen in the next 1.5 to two years.

The auto marketplace startup was started by Aaron Tan and two of his university schoolmates in 2015 with the aim to tackle a lack of transparency in the region’s vehicle trading market. 

Advance Intelligence Group

The AI tech startup is parent company of buy now pay later (BNPL) platform Atome, FinTech firm Advance.AI, and digital lending platform Kredit Pintar.

In September, it closed a US$400 million funding round from an investor consortium led by SoftBank Vision Fund 2 and Warburg Pincus. This valued the firm to reach US$2 billion, five times more than its previous valuation in 2019.

Image Credit: Advance Intelligence Group

The capital injection will help the company grow its BNPL platform and digital lending presence across Asia. It’ll also support AI and big data research as well as grow its talent pool.

The group has over 1,500 employees across 12 markets in Southeast Asia, China, and Latin America.

Moglix

The six-year-old e-commerce startup received fresh funds of US$120 million from investors in May this year, valuing its business to US$1 billion.

It was last valued at close to US$300 million in July 2019, where it raised US$60 million.

Image Credit: Moglix

Moglix provides manufacturers with industrial goods and is working on a suite of manufacturing services from start to end – procurement, packaging, supply-chain financing, and software.

The startup claims it has provided solutions to more than 500,000 small and medium enterprises and over 3,000 manufacturing plants across Singapore, India, the UK, and the UAE.

Funding activity in Singapore set to continue

Calculating the total amount of funds injected into the nine Singapore startups for this year, it adds up to over a whopping US$2.24 billion.

Singapore continues to be the leader in deals activity in Southeast Asia and prominent funding in Singapore includes the US$578 million fundraise for Ninja Van, US$400 million fundraise for Advance Intelligence Group, and US$360 million fundraise for Carro.

Image Credit: Shutterstock

The pandemic has fuelled an increasing appetite for technology as the number of internet users continues to grow. Optimism on a global recovery from Covid-19 is seen by the funding activity and a robust mergers and acquisition appetite.

International investors are also hungry for ‘growth at scale’ investment opportunities, and Asia Pacific, especially Singapore, is an obvious market.

Featured Image Credit: SpaceO Technologies, Carro, PatSnap, Carousell





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