Companies of a different stripe

4 innovative Austin startups gallop into the $1 billion ‘unicorn’ club

4 innovative Austin startups gallop into the $1 billion ‘unicorn’ club

Downtown Austin skyline
Austin trotted out four unicorn startups in 2021. Photo by Gino Barasa, Visit Austin/Facebook

Austin welcomed a small herd of unicorns in 2021. But these unicorns aren’t those mythical multicolored creatures. Rather, they’re startups valued at $1 billion or more.

A unicorn is a private company with a valuation of at least $1 billion. As of December 2021, there were more than 900 unicorns around the world, according to market research company CB Insights. Former unicorns include Airbnb, Facebook, and Google.

Joining the unicorn club in 2021 were four startups based in the Austin area:

  • Austin-based Iodine Software, valued at more than $1 billion as of December. The company’s artificial intelligence offering aims to help healthcare organizations improve their operations.
  • Austin-based ZenBusiness, valued at $1.7 billion as of November. ZenBusiness provides an online platform designed to help entrepreneurs start, run, and grow their small businesses.
  • Cedar Park-based Firefly Aerospace, valued at more than $1 billion as of May. The startup makes rockets and commercial spacecraft.
  • Austin-based The Zebra, valued at more than $1 billion as of April. The Zebra runs an online marketplace that enables consumers to compare insurance quotes. 

The Austin area is home to the most newly minted unicorns in Texas, according to CB Insights.

Startups, particularly those in the tech space, increasingly are drawn to Austin. In 2020, CompTIA, a trade group for the tech industry, placed Austin atop its Tech Town USA index. The organization cited Austin as a “favorable alternative” to the San Francisco Bay Area and New York City for startups and other companies.

Joshua Baer, founder and CEO of Austin-based Capital Factory, an accelerator for startups, told Texas Monthly in April that Austin’s status as a business magnet has risen recently.

“Suddenly, we’ve gone from us having to beat our chest and tell everybody else how great Austin and Texas are to everybody showing up here, telling us why it’s so great, and why they moved here,” Baer says.

As of September 30, Austin startups had collected $3.8 billion in venture capital, according to PitchBook, a provider of business data, and the National Venture Capital Association. At that pace, Austin is on track to exceed its record-setting haul of venture capital in 2020.

Elsewhere in Texas, CB Insights says Houston added two unicorns in 2021:

  • Solugen, valued at $1.5 billion as of September. The company uses corn syrup to produce chemicals.
  • Axiom Space, valued at more than $1 billion as of February. The startup is developing the world’s first space station for commercial purposes.

Dallas-Fort Worth’s only 2021 entrant in the unicorn club is Irving-based Caris Life Sciences, valued at a whopping $7.83 billion as of May. Caris employs artificial intelligence to come up with targeted cancer treatments.