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26 unicorns and counting: A look at India's billion dollar startups of 2021

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This year, social commerce platform Meesho has become a one-of-its-kind unicorn along with ShareChat, FirstCry, UrbanCompany, Droom, PharmEasy and Grofers that have raised funds with a valuation of over $1 billion

26 unicorns and counting: A look at India's billion dollar startups of 2021
By Aishwarya Anand & Akhil V
The list of India's 2021 unicorn startups is far too long to name in a single breath. In under eight months since the turn of the year, India has already witnessed record-breaking 26 startups newly-valued over a billion dollars. In total, there are 62 unicorn startups in India.
The pikes of the pandemic punctured economies worldwide, but the rise of these startups is a testament to the big offline to online shift during the turbulent ‘Zero Contact’ period. Investors have given the booster shot by pumping over $20 billion into Indian startups in more than 580 deals so far this year. That’s more than what they did in an entire year over the last three, according to Venture Intelligence.
While China is trying its hands at edtech startups, India has created two more e-learning unicorns - upGrad and Eruditus - alongside the earlier unicorns BYJU’s and Unacademy.
This year, social commerce platform Meesho has become a one-of-its-kind unicorn. So did regional social media network ShareChat. FirstCry, UrbanCompany, Droom, PharmEasy and Grofers are the e-commerce startups that raised funds with a valuation of over $1 billion. GupShup, which helps e-commerce firms chat with consumers, is on the list too.
Following 2021’s first unicorn Digit, several fintech and insurtech startups made it to the list, namely, CRED, Groww, Zeta and BharatPe. Plus, CoinDCX became the first unicorn from the realm of cryptocurrency. This year, the club also welcomed its eldest member in lender Five Star Business Finance, which was founded in 1984.
On the business side, as supply chains came to a halt during the pandemic, newly-turned unicorns Moglix, Infra.market, OfBusiness and BlackBuck scaled their online marketplaces for the purchase of anything construction or industrial from cement and drill guns to trucks for goods transport. Now, B2B marketplace for contract manufacturing Zetwerk has joined the club too.
Alongside were the SaaS (Software as a Service) providers, who plug gaps and unify operations digitally for enterprises. Following Mu Sigma’s unicorn round in 2013, only five SaaS startups entered the club until 2020. This year alone, there are four entrants - Innovaccer, ChargeBee, BrowserStack and MindTickle. A trend that is making India a provider of tech products, not just services.
Here's a brief on India's newly-minted unicorns in 2021 (so far!):
Zetwerk
About: Founded in 2018 by IIT alumni Amrit Acharya, Srinath Ramakkrushnan, Rahul Sharma and Vishal Chaudhary, Zetwerk is a B2B platform that matches buyers with contract manufacturers, who will handle everything from prototyping and production to shipments.
It has over 200 global customers who operate in industries across aerospace, automotive, oil and gas, energy, cement, steel and more. It works with a global supplier network, with a special expertise in India, China and South-East Asia.
Unicorn Round: Unicorn Round: Zetwerk is the 26th startup to enter the unicorn club in 2021. It raised $150 million in a Series E funding round led by D1 Capital Partners. The fundraising pegged the company’s valuation at $1.3 billion. New investors Avenir and IIFLE, along with existing investors including Kae Capital, Sequoia Capital India, Accel India, Lightspeed Ventures too participated.
In February, the startup had raised a $120 million at a valuation of $600 million in its Series D funding round led by US-based Greenoaks Capital and Lightspeed Venture Partners.
Grofers
About: A competitor to BigBasket and JioMart, Grofers took its form as an online grocery delivery platform in 2015. Now, founder Albinder Dhindsa leads Grofers after co-founder Saurabh Kumar left the startup earlier this June.
Currently, Grofers home-delivers groceries in more than 35 cities in India. During the pandemic, which came as a boost to e-grocers, the platform reportedly acquired close to 3 million users. Grofers is now piloting its 15-minute delivery service in select cities.
Unicorn Round: Grofers is now a unicorn after monopoly watchdog Competition Commission of India (CCI) approved Zomato’s $100 million investment in the e-grocery platform. This round of funding worth $120 million co-led by Zomato and Tiger Global values the startup at a little over $1 billion. Now, Zomato will hold a 9.3 percent stake in Grofers and its wholesale arm Hands on Trades.
Previously, Grofers has raised funds from SoftBank and Sequoia Capital.
Eruditus
About: Edtech startup Eruditus was founded by Ashwin Damera and Chaitanya Kalipatnapu in 2010. The firm works with universities like Columbia, Harvard, UC Berkeley and Cambridge among others to offer six to nine months-long executive-level courses to students present across 80 countries.
These courses are available for on-campus, off-campus and online modes. Last year, it had acquired iDTech in a $200 million deal to expand its offering in the K12 space.
Unicorn Round: Eruditus became the 4th edtech firm to enter the unicorn club on August 12, after raising $650 million funding in a Series E funding round at a valuation of $3.2 billion.
The funding round was led by Accel US and SoftBank Vision Fund II and existing investors, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, Sequoia India, Bertelsmann, Prosus, and Leeds Illuminate too participated in the round.
CoinDCX
About: CoinDCX is a cryptocurrency exchange platform which was founded in 2018 by Sumit Gupta and Neeraj Khandelwal. CoinDCX helps people buy and sell crypto tokens. Besides its main exchange catering to retail investors, CoinDCX also provides trading and lending services for enterprise customers, traders and has a global trading platform and blockchain academy for education.
Since its inception, the crypto exchange firm has onboarded over 3 million users on its platform and aims to make 5 crore Indians as investors in crypto.
Unicorn Round: CoinDCX became India's first cryptocurrency unicorn on August 10, after the exchange raised $90 million from investors led by B Capital Group. Existing partners Coinbase Ventures, Polychain Capital, Block.one, and Jump Capital also participated in the round. The latest funding round values the firm at $1.1 billion.
UpGrad
About: Edtech major Upgrad was co-founded by ex-media baron Ronnie Screwvala, Phalgun Kompalli, Mayank Kumar and Ravijot Chugh by investing just over Rs 170 crore in 2015. The six-year-old UpGrad offers students over 100 courses in data science, machine learning, artificial intelligence, blockchain, finance, programming and law.
More than a million users from over four dozen nations have accessed the platform’s courses since its inception. The startup recently acquired an upskilling platform KnowledgeHut for an undisclosed sum. upGrad is also looking to hire 1,000 people in three months to fuel its expansion plans.
Unicorn Round: upGrad was the 3rd edtech firm to enter the unicorn club on August 9, after investment giant Temasek led a $185 million round along with World Bank’s International Finance Corporation and IIFL. The recent funding pushed the startup’s valuation at $1.2 billion.
MindTickle
About: MindTickle is a Pune and San Francisco based tech startup that provides sales readiness technology. It helps companies build sales capabilities including training, onboarding, working on each aspect of sales, practising and improving it using technology. The startup was founded in 2011 by Krishna Depura, Deepak Diwakar, and Nishant Mungali. MindTickle has over 2000 customers including Snowflake, Johnson & Johnson and Merck.
Unicorn Round: Mindtickle is the eighth Indian SaaS startup to enter the unicorn club. On August 6, the firm raised an additional $100 million in a Series E funding round led by SoftBank Vision Fund II. Existing investors Norwest Venture Partners, Canaan, NewView Capital, and Qualcomm Ventures also participated in the funding round. The funding reportedly valued the startup at $1.2 billion.
BharatPe
About: Merchant payments and financial services provider – BharatPe was co-founded by Ashneer Grover and Shashvat Nakrani in 2018. The same year it launched India’s first UPI interoperable QR code, the first zero MDR payment acceptance service.
The company is currently serving over 70 lakh merchants across more than 140 cities. BharatPe recently acquired PAYBACK India, the multi-brand loyalty platform to facilitate its offline merchants to roll out rewards and loyalty programmes for its customers. The company is also mulling the launch of ‘Buy Now Pay Later’ services through the PAYBACK platform.
Unicorn Round: The B2B fintech platform BharatPe entered India's unicorn club on May 11, after it raised $370 million in a fresh funding round led by Tiger Global Management, taking its total valuation to $2.85 billion. The company is one of the youngest startups in the coveted club.
Dragoneer Investment Group and Steadfast Capital also participated in this funding round. Tiger Global will be investing $100 million in the company whereas Dragoneer and Steadfast will be pumping in $25 million each.
OfBusiness
About: Founded in 2015 by Asish Mohapatra, Ruchi Kalra, Vasant Sridhar and Bhuvan Gupta, OfBusiness is a B2B commerce platform that facilitates raw material procurement and credit for SMEs. It also has a lending arm - Oxyzo - that provides loans of up to Rs 2 crore to merchants.
OfBusiness currently has a revenue run-rate of $1.1 billion, according to its July revenue. The firm is also looking to acquire companies that have revenue in the range of Rs 20-200 crore, as per an ET report.
Unicorn Round: The B2B startup entered the unicorn club on July 31, after raising a $160 million round led by SoftBank's Vision Fund 2. Existing investors Falcon Edge Capital and Matrix Partners also participated in the round. The funding was raised at a valuation of close to $1.5 billion.
Droom
About: Droom was founded in 2014 by Sandeep Aggarwal, who had co-founded e-commerce portal Shopclues. Droom is a tech and data science-driven online automobile marketplace, which offers an e-commerce platform as well as technology solutions for buying and selling automobiles in India. Droom currently has over 6.5 lakh automobiles listed on its platform and has an 80% market share of the automobile transactions online.
Droom AR Lab 1
The startup has also acquired an AR company, Visiolab to enhance the customer experience in their vehicle buying research. The firm has plans to be listed either on US-based NASDAQ or in India in 2022.
Unicorn Round: On July 29, Droom closed the first round of its upto $200 million pre-IPO funding round. The round has valued the company at $1.2 billion, making it the latest entrant into the unicorn club. The round was raised from existing and new investors such as 57 Stars and Seven Train Ventures.
BlackBuck
About: BlackBuck, an online trucking platform was co-founded in 2015 by Rajesh Yabaji, Chanakya Hridaya, and Rama Subramaniam B. BlackBuck digitises fleet operations for the truckers and operates a marketplace to help match trucks with relevant loads.
The platform has close to 700,000 truckers and 1.2 million trucks on its platform, and it sees over 15 million in monthly transactions. Currently, the company has over 10,000 customers including SMEs and large corporations such as Hindustan Unilever, Reliance, Coca Cola, Asian Paints, Tata, Vedanta, L&T and Jindal.
Unicorn Round: BlackBuck drove into the unicorn club on July 22, after raising $67 million in a funding round led by Silicon Valley-based venture fund Tribe Capital, IFC Emerging Asia Fund and VEF. Existing investors Wellington Management, Sands Capital, and IFC—the World Bank’s investment arm also participated in the round.
BrowserStack
About: BrowserStack is a global player in software testing on the cloud, with 50,000+ customers and four million+ developer signups. Founded in 2011 by entrepreneurs Ritesh Arora and Nakul Aggarwal in Mumbai, Browserstack lets developers test their software, websites or mobile apps across various devices and browsers through the cloud instead of having to set up their own infrastructure.
The startup, which has been profitable since its inception, counts tech behemoths Google, Amazon and Microsoft among its customers.
Unicorn Round: BrowserStack raised $200 million in a funding round that valued the company at $4 billion, joining the unicorn club for startups on June 16. The funding round was led by San Francisco-based technology investment firm BOND and included venture capital firms Insight Partners and Accel.
Zeta
About: Founded in 2015, by Bhavin Turakhia and Ramki Gaddipati, banking tech firm Zeta has developed a technology stack that helps it engage with banks and fintech startups, as well as other online consumer platforms. Banks, which have licenses to offer financial services to customers, use Zeta’s cloud-native API and SDKs to launch credit cards, debit cards and loans.
The startup today serves 10 banks and 25 fintechs as its customers, across eight countries, including Sodexo, HDFC Bank, Kotak Mahindra Bank, Axis Bank, IndusInd Bank, Yes Bank, RBL Bank and SBM Bank India.
Unicorn Round: On May 24, Zeta raised $250 million in its Series D round led by SoftBank's Vision Fund II. Existing investor Sodexo also participated in the round. The deal valued Zeta at $1.45 billion making it the 14th Indian startup to turn unicorn this year.
Moglix
About: Moglix is a B2B commerce platform, bringing tech-first solutions for the manufacturing sector. This includes procurement, contracting, supply chain financing, logistics, etc. It was founded by Xoogler and IIT Kanpur-ISB alumnus Rahul Garg in 2015. Moglix claims to have a network of over 500,000 small, and medium-sized businesses and 3,000 manufacturing plants across India, Singapore, the UK, and the UAE.
In addition, the company also offers an end-to-end procurement solution including resource planning and financing. Among others, the company counts Hero MotoCorp, Vedanta, Tata Steel, Unilever, and Air India, and NTPC as its customers.
Unicorn Round: On May 17, the company entered the coveted unicorn club, after it raised about $120 million in Series E funding, at a valuation of $1 billion. Its backers include Falcon Edge Capital, Accel, Sequoia Capital India, Tiger Global Management, Ratan Tata, and Jungle Ventures. In all, the company has raised $220 million so far.
Urban Company
About: Urban Company is a home services provider with a presence across India. Started by Abhiraj Singh Bhal, Varun Khaitan and Raghav Chandra in 2014, the company roughly has 35,000 professionals offering at-home services ranging from grooming to plumbing. The startup rebranded from UrbanClap to a name with a “universal appeal”. It has also expanded into international markets such as Australia, Singapore, Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
Unicorn Round: The home services platform became this year’s 12th unicorn on April 27, with its valuation touching nearly $2 billion. The company has raised Rs 1410 crore in its latest funding, according to filings sourced from Tofler. The round saw participation from Prosus Ventures (earlier Naspers), Tiger Global via its funds Internet Fund V, along with Wellington management and DF Capital.
ChargeBee
About: In 2011, the SaaS startup was co-founded by Krish Subramanian, Saravanan KP, Rajaraman Santhanam and Thiyagarajan T in an apartment in Chennai. The platform helps businesses automate billing, invoices, payments and revenue management across verticals such as SaaS, e-commerce, e-learning and more. It has over 3,000 clients ranging from startups to enterprises in at least 60 countries. The startup claims to have the ability to move large enterprises to a subscription model within days.
Unicorn Round: ChargeBee became the second SaaS startup to turn unicorn in 2021 after healthcare data analytics firm Innovaccer. It raised $125 million in Series G funding led by Sapphire Ventures with participation from existing investors Tiger Global and Insight Venture Partners. The valuation went up to $1.4 billion - a 3x jump since its Series F funding round in October, 2020.
Gupshup
About: Founded by Beerud Sheth in 2004, the conversational messaging platform helps businesses chat with consumers. Gupshup is used by over 39,000 brands across BFSI, retail and e-commerce sectors. The platform powers over 6 billion messages per month globally. Besides India, it is present in some of the largest emerging economies from South East Asia to Latin America.
Unicorn Round: In April, the U.S.-based Gupshup turned unicorn after raising $100 million at a valuation of $1.4 billion from Tiger Global.
In July, the company raised an additional $240 million in follow-on funding from a group of investors including Fidelity, Tiger Global, Think Investments, Malabar Investments and Harbor Spring Capital. Neuberger Berman Investment Advisers, White Oak and Neeraj Arora were among the other participants in the round.
ShareChat
About: Social media network ShareChat along with the short-video platform Moj form the bedrock of Mohalla Tech - an app development startup founded by Ankush Sachdeva, Bhanu Pratap Singh & Farid Ahsan in 2015.
ShareChat runs on user-generated regional content with regular features such as private messaging, video sharing, chat room and more. On the other hand, Moj rose to popularity as an alternative to TikTok following the ban on Chinese apps in India. Both ShareChat and Moj have over 160 million monthly active users each.
Unicorn Round: In April, ShareChat became a unicorn after raising $500 million at a valuation of $2.1 billion. Tiger Global led the round with participation from LightSpeed Ventures, India Quotient, Snapchat’s parent Snap Inc and existing investor Twitter.
In July, the startup secured additional $145 M at a valuation of $2.8 billion in Series F round Led by Temasek, Moore Strategic Ventures & Mirae-Naver Asia Growth Fund.
Groww
About: Founded in 2017, the investment platform is the brainchild of four ex-Flipsters (Flipkart employees) - Lalit Keshre, Harsh Jain, Neeraj Singh and Ishan Bansal. It enables users to digitally invest in stocks, mutual funds, ETFs, IPOs, and gold. The platform claims to have more than 1.5 crore registered users across 900 cities in India.
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Unicorn Round: In April, Groww raised $83 million in Series D funding round at a valuation of more than $1 billion. Tiger Global led the unicorn round with the participation of Groww's existing investors — Sequoia India, Ribbit Capital, YC Continuity and Propel Venture Partners.
PharmEasy
About: Founded by Dharmil Sheth, Dhaval Shah and Mikhil Innani, PharmEasy is one of the largest e-pharmacies in India alongside 1MG (now owned by the Tata Group) and Netmeds (acquired by Reliance Industries). Currently, the six-year-old PharmEasy works with a base of about 15 million monthly users, over 80,000 pharmacies and 6,000 plus doctors.
In June, PharmEasy carried out a one-of-its-kind deal, becoming the first unicorn to acquire a publicly-listed Indian company. It acquired diagnostic chain Thyrocare Technologies for over Rs 4,500 crore. That brings into its fold Thyrocare's chain of 3,300 diagnostic centres across 2,000 towns and cities in India.
PharmEasy
Unicorn Round: In April, PharmEasy became the first e-pharmacy unicorn after raising $350 million at a valuation of $1.5 billion in Series E funding led by Prosus Ventures and TPG Growth. Existing investors Temasek, CDPQ, LGT Lightrock, Eight Roads and Think Investments also participated in the round.
In June, PharmEasy raised about $420 million at a valuation of about $4.1 billion, according to a Bloomberg report. The company is planning to go for an IPO sometime in early 2022.
CRED
About: Cred is one of the youngest members of the Unicorn club. Founded by Kunal Shah in 2018, the credit card bill payments platform rewards its members for clearing their dues on time. Currently, the platform has over 6 million members, whose credit score stands above 750. It claims to host over 35 percent of premium credit card holders in India.
No 9 | Company: Cred | Sector: Fintech | Valued at: $2.2 billion (Image: Shutterstock)
Cred has expanded to include allied products such as Rentpay (monthly rent on credit card for a small transaction fee), CRED Cash (Instant credit line), STORE (an ecommerce marketplace to use CRED coins) and CRED PAY (merchant payments).
Unicorn Round: In April, Cred entered the billion-dollar club after raising $215 million in Series D funding round at a valuation of $2.2 billion - a 3-fold jump since its earlier fundraise in January. The unicorn round was led by Falcon Edge Capital (new investor) and Coatue Management (existing investor). Existing investors DST Global, RTP Global, Tiger Global, Greenoaks Capital, Dragoneer Investment Group, and Sofina also participated.
Meesho
About: Set up by IIT Delhi graduates Vidit Aatrey and Sanjeev Barnwal in 2015, Meesho is a social commerce platform, which helps small businesses and individuals to sell clothing to accessories on Whatsapp, Instagram and Facebook. In 2019, it became one of the first Indian startups to draw an investment from Facebook. The platform has over 10 million resellers and 70 million customers.
Unicorn Round: In April, Meesho became the first social commerce startup to enter the unicorn club. It raised $300 million at a valuation of $2.1 billion in a funding round led by SoftBank Vision Fund 2. Existing investors Prosus Ventures, Facebook, Shunwei Capital, Venture Highway and Knollwood Investment also participated in the round.
FirstCry
About: The omnichannel marketplace for baby products took birth in Pune over a decade ago in 2010. Started by IIM-A graduate Supam Maheshwari after facing difficulties in sourcing baby products as a first-time parent, the platform currently offers more than 2,00,000 unique baby products across 6,000 brands with over 400 brick-and-mortar stores in India. From running online parenting communities to developing children’s apps - FirstCry is expanding, albeit within its forte.
Unicorn Round: FirstCry was reported to have turned a unicorn in 2020, but the filing only came in 2021. SoftBank led the unicorn round, committing $300 million in funds, to be delivered in tranches. Masayoshi Son’s investment fund valued FirstCry at $1.2 billion. In March, TPG, ChrysCapital and Premji Invest invested about $300 million at a valuation of $1.9-$2.1 billion, the Economic Times reported.
Five Star
About: A non-banking finance company with a focus on lending to small businesses in South India, it is one of the eldest members of the unicorn club. Founded in 1984 by VK Ranganathan, the Five Star Business Finance claims to have over 1.5 lakh customers and more than Rs 4,000 crore worth of assets under management. It has over 250 offline branches.
Unicorn Round: Five Star Business Finance became the 4th unicorn of the year after raising $234 million at a valuation of $1.4 billion. The funding round was a combination of primary investment from KKR and TVS Capital and secondary sale by Morgan Stanley. Norwest, Sequoia Capital and TPG Capital were some of the investors who participated in earlier rounds.
Infra.Market
About: Founded by Souvik Sengupta and Aaditya Sharda in 2016, Infra.Market is an online marketplace to order construction material - cement, sand, construction chemicals, fly ash and ready-mix concrete. The startup expects to cross $1 billion in sales by the end of 2021 with more than two-third of the sales coming from the company's own brands.
Currently, it is present across 10 states with major focus on west & south India. It is planning to expand across east and north India soon. As of now, the startup has over 300 customers (institutional and retail) and over 250 manufacturing partners carrying more than 700 projects across four countries, including India.
Unicorn Round: Infra.Market became the third unicorn in 2021. It raised $100 million at a valuation of $1 billion in a funding round led by Tiger Global with participation from Accel & Nexus Venture Partners. The unicorn status was achieved within 20 months of securing seed funds from Accel Partners in June, 2019.
In August, the startup raised $125 M in Series D round led by Tiger Global. This latest funding round valued the company at $2.5 billion.
Innovaccer
About: Silicon Valley-based healthcare SaaS company Innovaccer was one of the earlier startups to join the coveted billion-dollar valuation club this year. Founded in 2014 by Sandeep Gupta, Abhinav Shashank, and Kanav Hasija, Innovaccer streamlines data from health plans, primary care providers, pharmacies, labs, and hospitals.
Innovaccer has four offices with over 600 employees across the US and India, which includes a large base in Noida. The startup claims to have grown dramatically and expects a five-year CAGR of over 100 percent by the end of 2021, with growth across providers, payers, and life sciences sectors.
Unicorn Round: The company became the first Indian healthtech unicorn earlier this year. On February 24, Innovaccer announced the closing of its Series D funding round, led by Tiger Global Management, during which it raised $105 million, taking its valuation to $1.3 billion.
Digit
About: Founded by industry veteran Kamesh Goyal in 2017, the insurtech platform sells policies under health, motor vehicle & emergency categories. The company uses technology to simplify processes for customers with tools like smartphone-enabled self-inspection and audio claims.
Since inception, Digit says it has gained over 2 crore customers with more than 4 lakh claims settled. In addition, it has tie-ups with over 30,000 corporates with more than 36 lakh lives covered under corporate health insurance. For the 2020-2021 period, Digit’s gross premium collected stood at Rs 3,243 crore.
Unicorn Round: The InsurTech startup was the first unicorn of 2021. It raised Rs 135 crore at a valuation of $1.9 billion in a funding round led by existing private equity investors - A91 Partners, Faering Capital and TVS Capital. It became the second insurtech startup after PolicyBazaar to enter the unicorn club. Earlier in 2020, Virat Kohli & Anushka Sharma had invested in Digit. It is also backed by the Canadian-Indian billionaire behind Fairfax Financial Holdings - Prem Watsa.
In July, the company had announced plans to raise $200 million at a valuation of $3.5 billion in a funding round led by existing investor Faering Capital with participation from new investors Sequoia Capital India, IIFL Alternate Asset Managers & others. This is said to be one of the biggest rounds of funding in the insurance sector.
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