Editors' pick: Originally published Jan. 4.
As the club of 98 U.S. unicorns, or private companies worth more than $1 billion, look ahead to 2017, these well-funded startups and their backers can look forward to a wider range of exit opportunities as sales to nontechnology companies or even private equity firms gain prominence.
The U.S. unicorns collectively are worth about $372 billion, according to CB Insights, with the richest valuations belonging to Uber ($68 billion), Airbnb ($30 billion), Palantir Technologies ($20 billion), Snapchat-parent Snap ($18 billion) and WeWork ($16.9 billion). The latest to cross the $1 billion threshold, CB Insights reports, is JetSmarter, which is akin to Uber for the private jet market and has backing from Jay-Z, the Saudi royal family and private aviation company Jet Edge International.
In prior years, CB Insights recounts in a recent report, familiar tech names such as Alphabet Inc.'s (GOOGL) Google, Facebook (FB) , IBM (IBM) and Oracle (ORCL) , have dominated the market for unicorns. In the last year, however, Walmart (WMT) , Anglo-Dutch consumer products maker Unilever (UL) , General Motors (GM) and Chinese private equity firm Orient Hontai Capital moved to the cutting edge of tech M&A with the purchase of fast-growing, heavily valued tech outfits. Often, these companies have targeted upstarts that have disrupted their home markets.
For instance, Walmart said in August that it would buy Amazon (AMZN) rival Jet.com Inc. for $3.3 billion in cash and stock.
Unilever reportedly paid about $1 billion for Dollar Shave Club in November to boost its presence in the male shaving market led by Gillette and Braun parent Procter & Gamble (PG) .
Insurer Allstate (ALL) said in November that it would pay $1.4 billion for the acquisition of electronics warranty service provider SquareTrade Holding, which had funding from Bain Capital Private Equity, Bain Capital Ventures and others.
A unit of Japanese advertising group Dentsu said in August that it would a majority stake in Merkle Group, reportedly valuing the Technology Crossover Venture-backed loyalty program and consumer data company at $1.5 billion.