Unicorns may be making headlines in tech and finance-focused publications, but they are little more than a footnote to the 2016 WEF’s list of participants.
This year the WEF gathers in Davos to discuss the innovative possibilities and challenges offered by a fourth industrial revolution. As the WEF’s head Klaus Schwab explains in his book by the same title, this deals with how the confluence of new technologies such as artificial intelligence, robotics, the internet of things, autonomous vehicles, 3D printing, and the blockchain will impact humanity.
What better occasion than this to invite representatives of the unicorns, also known as the privately owned tech startups that have reached an evaluation of at least $1 billion, especially when many embody the changes Schwab identifies? With over 150 companies officially classified as unicorns according to the CBI Insight survey (as of January 16, 2016) and spanning 16 countries, only five unicorns will be trotting on the snowy pastures of the magic mountain. Of those, only Transferwise is not from the USA, being based in the UK despite its founders’ Estonian origins.
On one hand, this reflects the growth of USA-based unicorns, whose growth numbers tower over any other country, as the chart below shows. However, the absence of Chinese unicorns, which have also experienced a significant growth in the past two years, is both puzzling and symbolic of a digital (as well as cultural) dialogue that keeps on being dominated by American companies (an imbalance reflected more generally among WEF attendees).
The influence digital companies have on the habits of people reaches beyond the physical and cultural borders of the countries in which they are based. As such, what is decided in those headquarters will have global reach and repercussions. A more representative group of those innovators needs to come together if we expect a truly global effort in facing up to the challenges the fourth industrial revolution holds.