Some Entrepreneurs Are Fleeing, but California Is Still the ‘Unicorn’ Capital of the World

The Golden State’s share of privately held start-ups valued at over $1 billion will take a while to eclipse

Last December, Tesla founder Elon Musk, as well as Oracle and Hewlett Packard, announced that they were fleeing California for Austin, Texas, where friendlier tax laws have attracted a burgeoning cluster of tech companies. (Oracle founder Larry Ellison will work remotely from his Hawaiian island.) The flight of the moguls set off a chorus of anxious prognostications about California’s position as a capital for entrepreneurship, but it may be some time before Texas eclipses the Golden State. California is still home to the world’s highest number of “unicorns”—the term for privately held start-ups valued at over $1 billion. Only 506 such companies exist around the world. Of the 245 U.S.-based unicorns, 114 are headquartered in the Bay Area, and 19 are in L.A. Here are a few of the more notable.

Age of Learning Founded by scientologist Doug Dohring in 2007, the $1 billion, Glendale-based edtech start-up creates imaginative online curriculum for pre- and early-elementary school programs, so it’s perfectly positioned to capitalize on the remote-learning environment.

Anduril Focused on autonomous drones and sensors for military applications, the $1.9 billion defense technology company was established in 2017 in Irvine by 28-year-old Palmer Freeman Luckey, who also founded Oculus VR.

Bird Though scooter-share rentals plunged after the first stay-at-home order, the electric-scooter company held its spot in the unicorn club while also providing free rides to health-care workers. The $2.78 billion company was launched in 2017 by former Uber exec Travis VanderZanden.

Dave Founded in 2016, the $1 billion start-up is on a mission to rescue customers from overdraft fees through a simple mobile app.

Fair Launched in 2016 in Santa Monica, Fair joined the exclusive “Three Comma Club” with its $1.2 billion app designed to simplify car leasing by letting you shop for a car on your smartphone. In the male-dominated start-up world, the company also has a female cofounder, Jennifer Parke, a former chief brand officer for L.A.-based TrueCar.

GOAT Based in Culver City, GOAT, which stands for “greatest of all time,” is a $1.75 billion marketplace for high-end sneakers that you can buy new or refurbished through its app. Established in 2015 by entrepreneurs Eddy Lu and Daishin Sugano, the company showed no profits until a Black Friday sale crashed their app and put their kicks on the map.

LegalZoom Started in Glendale two decades ago by Brian P. Y. Liu, Brian S. Lee, Edward R. Hartman, and Robert Shapiro, this $2 billion company enables its customers to create their own legal documents such as wills and copyright registrations.

Relativity Space Boasting the world’s first 3D-printed rocket, Relativity Space is revolutionizing the speed with which we build rockets through that medium. The $2.3 billion company was founded in 2016 in Long Beach by USC-trained aerospace engineers Tim Ellis and Jordan Noone.

Scopely Culver City-based Scopely creates highly addictive mobile games such as Star Trek Fleet Command and The Walking Dead: Road to Survival. Founded in 2011, the business was recognized by Deloitte as one of North America’s fastest-growing companies.

Skydance Media Launched in 2010 by David Ellison—son of Larry Ellison—$2.3 billion Skydance Media has become a major force in Hollywood, producing tentpole film franchises like Star Trek, Mission Impossible, Jack Ryan, and Terminator.

Sweetgreen Established in 2007 by three friends fresh out of Georgetown University, the $1.6 billion salad restaurant chain has been called the Starbucks of Salad, boasting over 100 locations and 3,500 employees.

TechStyle Fashion Group Boosted by celebrity endorsers like Demi Lovato and Kelly Rowland, the $1 billion online-membership group owns popular brands like JustFab and Fabletics. The company was founded in 2010 by Adam Goldenberg and Don Ressler, who previously hawked antiaging shampoo and wrinkle cream.

ZipRecruiter Started in 2010, the Santa Monica-based, $1 billion start-up is on a mission to revolutionize the recruiting industry with its AI-driven tech focused on matching employers with job hunters.

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