A unicorn is a creature of myth. Fabled for its rarity even within fantasy worlds, many venture capital companies use this term. They do so to describe successful start-up companies. And by successful, we mean private companies who managed to pass the billion-dollar mark quickly.

Fabled for their uncanny success, unicorn companies are as rare as they are successful.

The first person to ever use the term unicorn startup was Aileen Lee. She did so back in 2013, after witnessing the success of Facebook and Google.

Aileen Lee is a mogul in the world of venture capitalism. In 2012, she launched her own private company called Cowboy Ventures.

Back then, she claimed that fewer than 0.1 % of the 2000s software companies would pass the billion-dollar valuation. And those few who managed she dubbed unicorns due to their rarity.

Indeed, finding a unicorn is much like searching for a needle in a haystack. Whatever the fairytales claim, our real-world unicorns graze on money. These funds come from private investors and venture capitalists.

It only makes sense, since they’re the only ones who can afford such huge investments. Ordinary citizens could never amass enough resources to feed these mythical creatures.

The unicorn status belongs to only those select few companies which pass the billion valuation mark. In 2013, you couldn’t find more than 40 unicorns in the world. But by 2022, their number grew to a whopping 900 unicorn companies. In total, they’re worth about 3.5 trillion dollars.

Apart from Facebook and Google, some of the most famous unicorn startups include Instacart, Robinhood, Airbnb, and Epic Games.

Many similar terms have popped up over the years. For instance, decacorns are private companies worth more than 10 billion dollars. More precious still are the hectacorns, the startups who passed the 100 billion dollar company valuation.

In this article, we’re going to focus on Canadian unicorns.

The rise of Canadian unicorns

In Canada, a unicorn company would be known as a narwhal. The first person who coined this term was Brent Holliday, a famous tech investor and the founder of Garibaldi Capital Advisors.

Much like unicorns, narwhals are famous for their single horn. But unlike the equines of myth, these toothed whales do exist. However, they’ve become very rare.

Though Canada’s tech sector once lagged behind the one in the US, it seems the tables have begun to turn over the last five years.

In 2021, Canada gave rise to 15 unicorn companies. Though it might not seem like much, we mention it because it was more than the total number of unicorn companies created before that year.

In the same year, Canadian tech companies managed to raise over 13 billion American dollars. This was over double the profit of the previous year.

Since then, US investors have been slowly shifting their focus to Canada’s startup business.

Though the billion-dollar mark is just part of a company’s natural growth, it has much greater implications. It goes to show that the tech business in Canada has evolved a lot in recent years.

What led to the growth of Canadian tech companies?

Talented Personnel

Because many moguls have set up headquarters in Canadian cities, they make for a favorable climate for new startups. Companies such as Google and Microsoft have a large presence there.

Moreover, immigrating to Canada is much easier than immigrating to the US. Thus, it’s teeming with talented employees.

Great Education

Canada boasts of having some of the best universities in the world. Not only do they provide excellent education, but they’re also quite affordable.

Thus, many skilled software developers and researchers enter the workforce.

These favorable university conditions make people much more motivated to finish their education. The solid foundation then translates into many great ideas and business strategies.

Big venture capital

Compared to five years ago, Canada is teeming with early-stage investors. Many investment firms are willing to help new companies take off the ground.

But it isn’t just native investors who contribute to the huge success of Canadian unicorns. Businessmen from the US also noticed the favorable startup climate in Canada. Thanks to their invaluable assets and expertise, setting up a new business in Canada couldn’t be easier.

By 2020, foreign investors have swarmed the startup sectors in great numbers. Because of this, startups can even afford to be picky about their benefactors.

With such a huge initial financial injection, reaching unicorn status couldn’t be easier. Just from 2019 to 2021, the valuation of tech companies increased by over 200%.

Affordable financial maintenance

Apart from the many generous investors, Canada offers another advantage for startups.

Not only are the startup costs affordable, but also easy to cover. Would-be entrepreneurs can apply for various grants and loans which makes setting up new businesses that much easier.

Some of these government grants don’t even need to be paid back.

Moreover, the country offers benefits such as visas and tax incentives for foreign startups. These new companies are bound to flourish in Canada if they’re qualified.

Great business tools for a unicorn company

Canada offers many business services that help emerging entrepreneurs.

Platforms such as BizPal help them take care of their permits early on.

Just like in chess, securing a strong early game is crucial to victory. Since help is so accessible in Canada, it’s no wonder so many founders find success.

Free Economy

Canada lays down the perfect foundations for new business industries. In this regard, it far outperforms the UK or even the US.

10 Canadian Startups with high company valuation

SSENSE

YouTube player

This online platform boasts many brands. All of them focus on selling designer streetwear for both men and women.

Details:

  • Location: Montreal
  • Estimated value: $4.15B
  • Founded in: 2003
  • List of founders: Bassel Atallah, Firas Atallah, Rami A
  • Area of focus: Fashion, Retail, E-commerce
  • Employee count: 1000-5000
  • Investor count: 1
  • Funding rounds count: 1

Blockstream

YouTube player

Blockstream is a mogul among Bitcoin and blockchain technology providers.

Details:

  • Location: Vancouver
  • Estimated value: $3.20B
  • Founded in: 2014
  • List of founders: Alex Fowler, Erik Svenson, Gregory Maxwell, Jonathan Wilkins, Jorge Timón, Mark Friedenbach, Matt Corallo, Pieter Wuille
  • Area of focus: Bitcoin, Financial Technology, Data Storage, Cryptocurrency
  • Employee count: 100-250
  • Initial funding cost: almost $300M
  • Investor count: 29
  • Funding rounds count: 6

1Password

This platform helps people manage their passwords.

Details:

  • Location: Toronto
  • Estimated value: $6.80B
  • Founded in: 2005
  • List of founders: Dave Teare, Natalia Karimov, Roustem Karimov, Sara Teare
  • Area of focus: Cyber Security, Network Security, Privacy, Software
  • Employee count: 500-1000
  • Initial funding cost: over $900M
  • Investor count: 29
  • Funding rounds count: 3

ApplyBoard

AppliBoard helps students apply to abroad universities.

Details:

  • Location: Kitchener
  • Estimated value: $3.00B
  • Founded in: 2015
  • List of founders: Martin Basiri, Massi Basiri, Meti Basiri
  • Area of focus: EdTech, Education, Internet, PaaS, Sales Automation
  • Employee count: 1,000-5,000
  • Initial funding cost: almost $500M
  • Investor count: 22
  • Funding rounds count: 9

Clio

YouTube player

Clio is a management platform for law firms. With its help, they can keep track of their administration better.

Details:

  • Location: Burnaby
  • Estimated value: $1.60B
  • Founded in: 2008
  • List of founders: Jack Newton, Rian Gauvreau
  • Area of focus: CRM, Legal Tech, Software
  • Employee count: 500-1,000
  • Initial funding cost: over $400M
  • Investor count: 10
  • Funding rounds count: 5

Dapper Labs

YouTube player

DapperLabs features many products that combine gaming and blockchain technologies.

Details:

  • Location: Vancouver
  • Estimated value: $7.60B
  • Founded in: 2018
  • List of founders: Dieter Shirley, Mack Flavelle, Roham Gharegozlou
  • Area of focus: Blockchain, Gaming, Software
  • Employee count: 100-250
  • Initial funding cost: over $650M
  • Investor count: 95
  • Funding rounds count: 8

Clearco

YouTube player

Formerly Clearbanc, Clearco offers various services to aspiring founders.

Details:

  • Location: Toronto
  • Estimated value: $2.00B
  • Founded in: 2015
  • List of founders: Andrew D’Souza, Ben Sanders, Charlie Feng, Ivan Gritsiniak, Michele Romanow, Olivier Grinda, Pavel Melnichuk, Tanay Delima
  • Area of focus: E-Commerce, Financial Services, FinTech, Internet, Venture Capital
  • Employee count: 250-500
  • Initial funding cost: almost $700M
  • Investor count: 32
  • Funding rounds count: 6

Trulioo

This platform provides electronic identity verification services.

Details:

  • Location: Vancouver
  • Estimated value: $1.75B
  • Founded in: 2011
  • List of founders: Stephen Ufford, Tanis Jorge
  • Area of focus: Big Data, Compliance, Finance, Identity Management, Security
  • Employee count: 250-500
  • Initial funding cost: almost $500M
  • Investor count: 16
  • Funding rounds count: 8

Hopper

YouTube player

Hopper is a successful travel recommendation app.

Details:

  • Location: Montreal
  • Estimated value: $3B
  • Founded in: 2007
  • List of founders: Frederic Lalonde, Joost Ouwerkerk
  • Area of focus: Apps, Big Data, Mobile Apps, Predictive Analytics, Travel
  • Employee count: 1,000-5,000
  • Initial funding cost: over $700M
  • Investor count: 22
  • Funding rounds count: 11

PointClickCare

YouTube player

The last one of these Canadian unicorns is PointClickCare which helps care providers better manage their data.

Details:

  • Location: Mississauga
  • Estimated value: $4B
  • Founded in: 2000
  • List of founders: Demetri Karagas, Steven Gutentag
  • Area of focus: Health Care, Personal Health, Pharmaceutical, Wellness
  • Employee count: 1,000-5,000
  • Initial funding cost: over $200M
  • Investor count: 3
  • Funding rounds count: 5

Final Thoughts on these Canadian unicorns

Where barren wasteland once reached as far as the eye could see, a meadow lush meadow now stands. On it, you can see a herd of unicorns grazing on the fresh grass.

As more companies pass this billion-dollar valuation mark, we can see how much the Canadian ecosystem has grown.

Many factors contributed to creating such a favorable economic climate. Both native and foreign investors help new startups find a solid footing. Canada doesn’t lack talented employees either. Due to its great immigration policy, many skilled workers flock to the country. Its prestigious universities further reinforce this fact.

If you liked this article about Canadian unicorns, you should check out this one with Australian unicorns.

Author

I'm the manager behind the Upcut Studio team. I've been involved in content marketing for quite a few years helping startups grow.