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Pacific Dialogue: Who Is the Unicorn Incubator Today?
 

Ever wonder who's winning the battle of the unicorns? Is it China or the United States? No, we aren't exactly talking about the mythical creature. We're talking about the term coined in 2013 to describe a privately held startup company valued at over $1 billion.

We did a quick survey on the streets of Beijing to see who people thought was winning the unicorn race.

In 2017, a report stated that there were 252 unicorns worldwide. China had 98, while the United States topped the list with 106. As of early July, 46 more startups joined the unicorn team, according to CB Insights. China had 16 new unicorns and the United States had 17.

So how in the world did China become the United States' leading rival?

First of all, both countries have a huge market which provides rich soil for startups. And after all, they are the world's largest economies. But they also have many differences.

"From the U.S. side, unicorn companies are dominated by business services. China's unicorns would like to serve the consumers," Gao Yuning, an associate professor with the School of Public Policy and Management at Tsinghua University told Beijing Review.

He mentioned small businesses can get a niche market and live very well in the U.S. market. "It's because the U.S. business environment encourages this kind of activity," Gao added.

Ultimately, it's not fair to compare advances only in terms of cutting-edge technologies, industries or consumers.

"Cultural influences are long-lasting. Different cultures and ways of thinking lead American and Chinese companies in different directions," said Yu Guangdong, an experienced unicorn hunter with Alphax Partners, a Chinese venture capital institution.

It's no secret that the United States is an innovative trailblazer, while China offers the largest pool of young engineers in the world.

Ironically, many companies with their design sector in California have their value chain and production base in China. This is actually a very typical model in the globalized world. But will trade tensions between China and the United States do harm to this model? It remains to be seen.

For now, it is safe to say the unicorn battle will continue. But hopefully, it can develop in a cooperative way.

Copyedited by Rebeca Toledo

Comments to ffli@bjreview.com

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