Industry watch: Unicorn raising is affordable only in China and US

Colley Hwang, DIGITIMES, Taipei 0


DIGITIMES has long tracked the changes and moves of global unicorn enterprises. We've come to realize that it is difficult for small and medium-sized countries with limited market size and talent pool to foster unicorn-level enterprises over the long run. Homegrown unicorns will not hesitate to migrate and expand overseas once they have collected sufficient funds.

According to CB Insights, half of the unicorn companies come from the US in the past few years. The US, UK, India and Israel account for more than 70% of the global unicorns. China once had nearly 25% of global unicorns at its peak, but slid to 17.9% at the end of 2021 due to China-US trade conflicts and the impact of China's co-prosperity policy.

But should emerging countries including Taiwan give up attending the global race of unicorn nurturing? Acer founder Stan Shih says that not taking risks is the biggest risk.

The new start-up industry brings social vitality and hope of starting business for young people. For a country founded on the basis of the technology industry as Taiwan, it takes exuberant and vivid social atmosphere to create diverse and intertwined business opportunities. Taiwan may not necessarily have to cultivate unicorns, but rather it can foster mini unicorns (Soonicorn) with market value of US$100 million as a relatively achievable goal. Start-ups with a market value of US$100 million can still be publicly listed in a medium-sized market like Taiwan. They can grow and thrive through public fundraising, and co-construct, co-create and share industrial achievements with traditional ICT players.

Innovation should be done early and small

Shih says in his new book "The Keys to Innovation and Entrepreneurship " that innovation should be done early and small. Small essentially implies "focus on what you are good at and dedicate to self-defined business." I've been running a business for 25 years and are fully aware what I can do and what I can't. I don't do stock market analysis; neither do I undertake venture capital business because I know it's a different profession. Instead, I focus on news and research.

During the Lunar New Year holidays earlier this year, two friends talked to me about innovation. One said that he has invited a slew of leading enterprises to form an alliance to develop new solar energy solutions and hopes that I can fully support. The other is a friend from Microsoft, who said that the strength of Taiwan's hardware industry is beyond doubt, but software is weak. He also hopes that I can "hit the big time together".

Both of them are old friends of mine. They visited me with some expectations, and of course I ruminated where the profits would be coming and whether I could be of any help. I recalled what Shih once said years ago that profitability is key to corporate culture.

I am happy to support start-ups, though it is a futile attempt for any media business to get benefit from the start-up business at its inception. Don't expect the start-ups to be grateful once they become unicorns; neither will the start-ups share benefits with the media outlets that have done a few reports for them. I wonder how we can achieve a dynamic balance between altruism and self-interest?

Colley Hwang, president of DIGITIMES Asia, is a tech industry analyst with more than three decades of experience under his belt. He has written several books about the trends and developments of the tech industry, including Asian Edge: On the Frontline of the ICT World published in 2019, and Disconnected ICT Supply Chain: New Power Plays Unfolding published in 2020.