As of March 2021, Singapore’s Temasek Holdings reported a 25 per cent rise in its portfolio value to a record US$282 billion amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
Temasek’s portfolio gains are powered by a global equities rally and the public listing of some of its holdings. However, the gains only came after a 2.2 per cent drop in the previous year, with the state investor achieving some record investments and divestments in 2021.
Ranked among the largest investors in the world, Temasek is anchored in Asia, where it has a 64 per cent exposure, as measured by underlying assets of its portfolio companies, most of which are in China and Singapore.
“The pandemic has accelerated the longer-term trends that shape our investment posture. This is especially so for the digitisation trend,” said Mukul Chawla, joint head of Temasek’s telecoms, media and technology investments.
The rapid shift to working from home has generated increased demand for online services, payments, digital health and technology platforms, spurring some of Temasek’s privately held companies to go public.
Temasek’s ventures have since shifted towards startups because established domestic companies no longer bring high returns. Riskier than most publicly traded established firms, the rewards for investing in the right startups are also exponentially higher.
As such, we take a look at some companies that are backed by Temasek that have since achieved the ‘unicorn’ status with a valuation of over US$1 billion.
Founded in 2015, UpGrad specialises in higher education and upskilling courses and is now India’s third largest edtech unicorn startup with a valuation of US$1.2 billion.
The Mumbai-based edtech startup doubled in valuation within just 60 days of its first financing round of US$120 million with Temasek. It later raised another US$65 million from International Finance Corporation and IIFL, a finance and investment services company in India.
Over a few months this year, it has raised a total of US$185 million from Temasek and other investors.
According to India media reports, UpGrad is now in advanced talks of raising US$400 million at a valuation of US$4 billion. In a media release, UpGrad referenced these reports but did not confirm them.
UpGrad plans to use the capital to scale up in overseas markets, make acquisitions, expand its educational degree portfolio, and launch an app for everything from soft skills training to masters degree classes.
UpGrad’s chairman and co-founder Ronnie Screwvala projects a doubling increase in sales each year, with a revenue target of US$2 billion by 2026. This unicorn also plans to expand across Southeast Asia and Europe with tailored courses in local languages for the respective markets.
Nium is a business payments company based in Singapore, with a valuation that topped US$1 billion in July 2021.
This fintech unicorn raised more than US$200 million in fresh funding from Temasek and other investors, including Riverwood Capital, Visa, Vertex Ventures, Beacon Venture Capital and Rocket Capital. Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund GIC also joined its Series D round.
Temasek had injected about US$15.8 million in capital into Nium, and Temasek unit Ossa Investments now owns a 27 per cent stake in Nium.
Nium saw its revenue more than double to S$22 million last year, and is looking to build its presence in the US as it eyes a public listing in New York by June 2023.
In July 2021, Nium acquired Wirecard’s India unit for an undisclosed sum. A month prior in June 2021, Nium had signed a definitive agreement to fully acquire London-based travel payments company Ixari for £15 million (S$28 million).
Impossible Foods, a plant-based meat company headquartered in California, is seeking to go public through an IPO or via a merger with a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC). This could put the vegan burger maker at a valuation of US$10 billion or more.
In 2017, Temasek led a US$75 million investment round in Impossible Foods.
Most recently, Impossible Foods secured approximately US$500 million in its latest funding round in 2020, led by new investor Mirae Asset Global Investments, with participation from existing investors including Khosla Ventures, Horizons Ventures, and Temasek. This brought its valuation to US$4 billion.
Since its founding in 2011, the firm has raised about US$1.3 billion in funding.
In 2019, alternative meat accounted for under one per cent of the global meat market, a US$1.4 trillion industry, versus the US$14 billion alternative meat market. Alternative meat is projected to grow nine per cent in just 20 years.
This explains why Temasek has been actively investing in several plant-based foodtech startups in alignment with the rising global demand for protein, particularly in Asia.
Harry’s is a US firm that manufactures and sells razors and men’s grooming products. Valued at US$1.7 billion, Harry’s Razor Company became a unicorn in 2018.
Harry’s started out in 2012 as an online subscription-based retailer, and moved beyond D2C onto retail expansion at mega grocery chains like Target, Walmart, and Boots. With its funding, Harry’s bought a 93-year-old razor blade factory in German to ensure control over its supply chain and product quality.
Temasek joined new and existing investors in the company’s US$112 million funding round in 2018. Following the funding, Harry’s announced plans to develop brands beyond men’s grooming.
However, in 2019, global consumer products company Edgewell agreed to an acquisition of the razor company for US$1.3 billion in stock and cash. Subsequently, Edgewell announced that the acquisition would not fall through due to legal uncertainties the following year.
One of China’s largest fashion retailers in e-commerce, VANCL has a valuation of US$3 billion. It was founded in 2007 by CEO Chen Nian, and now has both physical and online stores.
In 2011, VANCL received US$230 million in round F funding from investors including IDG, Ceyuan, Lei Jun, Qiming, Toger and Temasek. A year later, VANCL was reportedly forced to abandon its plans to go public through an IPO.
In 2013, the e-commerce unicorn announced another US$100 million in funding, on top of the US$400 million raised in its previous rounds. VANCL raised another US$100 million again in 2014, bringing the total financing to US$522 million that year.
Unfortunately, there has been no news of VANCL since 2014, but the company reportedly faced severe financial difficulties.
For example, VANCL drastically reduced employee numbers, sold off its delivery unit and half of its merchandise, as well as stopped international delivery, which indicates that VANCL might not have been Temasek’s best investment.
Based in the US, Fanatics is an online retailer of official licensed sports merchandise. This Temasek-backed unicorn was founded in Florida in 1995. More recently in August 2021, Wall Street Journal reported a rise in Fanatics’ valuation to US$18 billion.
Fanatics raised US$350 million in its latest Series E funding round in 2020, in preparation for a rumoured initial public offering. The international sports merchandiser is riding on the boost in the e-commerce sector as more shoppers head online during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
Since 2011, Fanatics has raised around US$1.5 billion in investment.
Its last funding round in 2017 secured US$1 billion from Japan’s SoftBank, doubling the US$2 billion in expected revenue that year. Later that May, the National Football League (NFL) acquired a three per cent stake in Fanatics for US$95 million, while the Major League Baseball (MLB) reportedly acquired a 1.5 per cent stake for US$50 million.
Fanatics’ other investors include Andreessen Horowitz, Insight Partners, Silver Lake, Temasek Holdings and Alibaba Group. The investments were used to accelerate Fanatics’ global expansion to Europe and Asia, where it is developing partnerships with local sports teams and leagues.
The unicorn plans to use new capital to transform itself into a digital platform with multiple related businesses, like ticketing and media, as well as sports betting and internet gambling. Fanatics also launched a non-fungible token company called Candy Digital in early 2021.
BillDesk, an online payments and solutions company founded in 2000, is said to be one of the few profitable fintech companies in India.
In fact, Mint reports that BillDesk handles over US$60 billion worth of transactions each year, and is India’s largest payment gateway company.
In 2015, BillDesk raised US$200 million in funding from General Atlantic and Temasek, thereby giving the company a total valuation of US$1 billion, marking it as a unicorn.
US-based global payments processor, Visa bought a minority stake in BillDesk, valuing the company at around US$1.8 billion in February 2019. That same year, BillDesk’s merger and acquisitions plans were unfortunately unsuccessful.
BillDesk promoters were trying to sell off the entire business for US$2.5 billion last year, as competition in the digital payment services industry stiffens and India’s e-commerce industry flourishes.
Pine Labs, rival to BillDesk, is a digital retail payments platform for merchants in India and Southeast Asia. This Singapore-based startup offers solutions for in-store and online payments along with prepaid, loyalty, and “pay later” programmes.
In 2021, Pine Labs closed a US$600 million fundraising round, bulking up its valuation to around US$3 billion. As such, the company is planning their IPO in the US within the next year.
Backed by investors such as Temasek, Sequoia Capital, PayPal, and Mastercard, Pine Labs’ major clients include Apple, Starbucks, and McDonald’s.
In April, Pine Labs acquired the app Fave for US$45 million, which has six million users and over 40,000 merchants.
The unicorn also runs QwikCilver, a prepaid gifting platform in India, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Europe, and Australia.
One of Asia’s most dominant super apps, Grab is a Singaporean multinational company headquartered in Singapore.
It started off as a ride-hailing company, but branched out to offer food delivery and digital payment services, in addition to insurance and financing services.
Vertex Ventures, the venture arm of Temasek Holdings, was one of Grab’s earliest investors.
Vertex participated in fundings of over US$10 million in Grab back in April 2014, US$15 million in May 2014, and US$65 million in October 2014. In total, Grab has raised over US$12.5 billion in total since its formation in June 2012.
Grab is Southeast Asia’s first “decacorn”, a term used to describe a company with a valuation of over US$10 billion. As of April 2021, Grab had a valuation of US$40 billion.
In fact, the ride-hailing company is currently eyeing a SPAC deal. Earlier in June, Grab announced that its plans to go public via a merger deal will be postponed to end-2021.
AvidXchange is a software company that deals with automating accounts payable processes for middle-market businesses.
Founded in 2000, this business payments firm is based in North Carolina, United States and is valued at US$2 billion in its most recent private fundraising round in April 2020.
In 2017, AvidXchange raised US$300 million from investors including Mastercard, Canada’s second largest pension fund, Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec, and Temasek Holdings.
In March 2021, AvidXchange hired investment banks in preparation for an initial public offering, speculated to value the company at over US$7 billion. COVID-19 lockdown measures have forced more businesses to digitalise daily paper-heavy tasks, a trend which has boosted businesses such as AvidXchange.
Based in London, United Kingdom, Improbable is a British technology company valued at US$2 billion in 2018.
This tech unicorn was founded in 2012 and received US$30 million in funding in July 2013 from investors including Temasek.
In May 2017, Improbable raised US$502 million in a funding round led by SoftBank, which Temasek was also involved in. At the time, this was the biggest ever investment into a UK startup.
Despite their investors’ confidence, Improbable’s only active game was cancelled in March 2021, only 15 months after its launch. The video game Nostos was hailed as a showcase of what developers could do with Improbable’s software.
Since winning the US$502 million funding, Improbable has struggled to generate revenues, and has also lost many executives. The firm has also incurred losses of more than £144 million as reported in 2019, but their latest accounts show they still have plenty of funding.
Improbable was reported in January 2021 to be pivoting to defence, and has been developing wargaming software that can be applied to run military simulations. They signed several multi-million contracts with the UK Ministry of Defence and the US Department of Defence.
Based in Hangzhou, China, Tongdun Technology is a cybersecurity startup that became a unicorn company in April 2019. In July 2020, Tongdun Technology was reportedly valued at US$2 billion, and ranked second among Hangzhou’s 11 unicorns.
In 2017, Temask co-led a US$72.8 million funding in this Chinese fintech firm and by 2019, Tongdun raised over US$200 million in investment since its founding in 2013.
Tongdun Technology works with over 7,000 companies across China.
However, China Money Network reported in October 2019 that Tongdun Technology was one of the few big data fintech startups implicated in China’s National Committee of Strict Crackdown on Violations and Crimes by Underworld Forces.
Then in December 2019, China Banking News reported allegations that Tongdun had obtained a bulk of its revenue from selling unlawfully obtained personal data to online lending platforms.
Based in Shanghai, China, iTutorGroup is an online education platform founded in 1998 to help both children and adults learn English.
In 2012, iTutorGroup raised US$15 million in funding from Shanghai-based Qiming Venture Partners.
In its second round of funding in 2014, iTutorGroup raised nearly US$100 million from high-profile investors including Alibaba Group and Temasek. Techcrunch reported that year that iTutorGroup was eyeing a 25 per cent annual growth, to reach a lofty valuation of US$21 billion by 2015.
However, Reuters reported in 2015 that after a US$200 million in Series C equity funding, iTutorGroup was only valued at over $1 billion. Singapore’s sovereign fund GIC, the Russia-China Investment Fund (RCIF), Goldman Sachs Group Inc and Silverlink Capital LP participated in the 2015 funding round.
Most recently in 2019, Reuters reported that iTutorGroup had raised four rounds of funding between 2012 and 2018, and was valued at US$1.6 billion.
On 12 July 2019, Ping An Insurance Company acquired iTutorGroup for an undisclosed amount, but KrAsia reported on the same day that the financial conglomerate was set to acquire the company for US$500 million.
PatSnap is a Singapore-founded patent analytics company valued at over US$1 billion in March 2021.
This valuation came after its US$300 million Series E round funding led by investors including SoftBank Vision Fund 2, Tencent Investment, CPE Industrial Fund and Vertex Growth. Vertex Growth is anchored by Vertex Venture Holdings, the Singapore-based venture capital arm of Temasek Holdings.
PatSnap plans to use the funds for product development and expanding its sales presence. PatSnap’s software helps inventors and researchers gain insights into innovations that are developed globally.
Founded in Singapore in 2007, PatSnap has now expanded to China, in which it has a hold over more than 50 per cent of the market.
PatSnap provides data and analytics on intellectual property to 10,000 clients, including Spotify Technology and Xiaomi Corp.
France’s new unicorn Alan was founded in 2016. It is Europe’s first digitally native health insurer, and was the first company to gain a French insurance license since 1986.
Alan raised US$54.4 million in its Series C funding round led by Temasek in 2020. They announced plans to expand to other countries. While the company already has offices in Spain and Belgium, they aim to be available throughout Europe within five years.
In April this year, Alan raised another US$220 million in a funding round led by Coatue, with other investors including Temasek. This pushed its valuation up to US$1.67 billion.
Alan’s revenue trajectory is quite impressive. By 2018, their insurance covered 27,000 people and in 2020, Alan covered 76,000 people.
Alan covers 183,580 people today, and generates over US$117.8 million in annualised revenue.
Featured Image Credit: Reuters / PatSnap / Carro / Agencies / The Economic Times
S’pore startups take almost 7 years on average to grow into unicorns: who are they?
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