Wall Street Journal's billion dollar startup club; no Philly companies, but several with connections here

Tom Paine

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The Wall Street Journal on Thursday published its list of so-called "unicorns", privately held startups that have established reported valuations of $1 billion or greater.

Seventy-three companies made the cut and the number of billion dollar startups has almost doubled over the past year. None were from the Philadelphia area, though I counted several with ties to Philadelphia investors.

Four are in First Round Capital's portfolio: Uber ($41.2 billion), Square ($6 billion), AppNexus ($1.2 billion) and Fab ($1.2 billion). Most of FRC's stakes in these companies are relatively small, though some reports I saw a few month ago when Uber was valued at $17 billion suggested that its stake might worth upwards of $1 billion at the time. Fab, according to founder Jason Goldberg, was never actually valued over $1 billion ($875 million was tops, according to him), although it was widely reported to be. Fab is expected to be sold off soon at a fraction of that value. AppNexus is said to be looking toward an IPO, though the market for adtech IPOs is shaky right now. No one seems quite sure of what to make of Square's prospects at the moment. There has been IPO talk but also speculation that it was seeking buyers.

Also making the billion dollar club is Fanatics, the Jacksonville-based ecommerce retailer of sports apparel ($3.1 billion) that Michael Rubin spun out from GSI Commerce into his Kynetic Group when GSI was acquired by Ebay. It achieved that valuation through a $170 million round led by Alibaba and Temasek Holdings in 2013, and would probably be worth more today. Fanatics still has some staff in King of Prussia. Another GSI Commerce spinout to Kynetic, ShopRunner, reached a $600 million valuation through Alibaba's $200 million investment in 2013, but it has moved its headquarters to Silicon Valley though it still has people here.

Comcast Ventures had three investments in startups valued at $1 billion or more: Houzz ($2.3 billion), Instacart ($2 billion) and DocuSign ($1.6 billion). Sapphire Ventures (the renamed SAP Ventures) is also in DocuSign in addition to Nutanix ($2 billion). Susquehanna Growth Equity (Bala Cynwyd) has a stake in Credit Karma ($1 billion).

Fortune published a similar list last month, and Fortune's Dan Primack points out a few of the contrasts between the two. Fortune's list is really quite different near the bottom, and it includes MediaMath, a New York adtech firm in which Safeguard Scientifics was an early investor.

As for the Philadelphia area, the top three candidates I can think of now are iPipeline, SevOne, and Monetate, but I wouldn't harbor a guess as to how close to billion dollar valuations they could be. Of course, there may be others on the Life Sciences side; for example, CHOP-developed Spark Therapeutics busted past the $1 billion mark after its IPO late last month, though it did not achieve that valuation as a private company. An article in Insurance Journal from November, discussing possible iPipeline IPO plans, cited sources as saying that iPipeline could be valued at $500 million.

Update 3/4: Add Nextdoor to Comcast Ventures' Unicorn list, according to a new round announced today.