Meet the young leaders on the Gen.T List 2022 who run billion-dollar companies
In 2014, venture capitalist Aileen Lee coined the term “unicorn” to describe companies valued at more than US$1 billion. Like the mythical creatures the term refers to, unicorn companies are relatively rare.
That said, Asia has given rise to numerous unicorn companies since the term emerged. As of 2021, there are more than 390 unicorns in the Asia-Pacific region, with about two-thirds of them hailing from China.
In July, HSBC and KPMG released a report stating that billion-dollar companies are also emerging from new sector verticals, particularly “technology-related industry subsectors” related to blockchain technology, sustainability, ESG and smart city.
In this year's Gen.T List, we have 16 honourees who run unicorn companies. Read on to learn more about them.
Who: Co-founder and CEO, SmartMore
Where: Hong Kong
When Shen Xiaoyong started his company, SmartMore, he wanted to push the boundaries of production efficiency using technology like artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning. Founded in 2019, SmartMore has created more than 30 intelligent manufacturing systems. In 2021, the company raised US$200 million in Series B funding from IDG Capital, Sequoia Capital and Lenovo Capital.
The funding is timely given the boost in demand for smart manufacturing in China and a surge in investments across fields like robotics, information technology, AI and more. The Shenzhen-based company services several sectors including consumer electronics, automobiles, new energy, smartphones, food, entertainment and more. Its intelligent manufacturing system cater to clients such as Airbus, Unilever, Procter & Gamble, Bosch and Canon.
Who: Co-president, Ascend Money
In September 2021, Ascend Money raised US$150 million from investors including Ant Group, Bow Wave Capital Management and Charoen Pokphand Group at a valuation of US$1.5 billion. This made it Thailand's first fintech unicorn company and only the second unicorn company in the country after logistics firm Flash Group, founded by Komsan Lee.
Ascend has operations in six Southeast Asian countries where its e-wallet service, TrueMoney Wallet, serves more than 50 million people and 88,000 agents.
Who: Co-founder and CEO, Megvii
Founded in 2011, artificial intelligence unicorn Megvii is a world leader in deep learning facial recognition technology with its signature product Face++.
Under the leadership of co-founder and CEO Yin Qi, it has become the world’s largest authentication software company. In 2021, it became the first Chinese artificial intelligence company to go public, with a US$890 million Shanghai IPO.
Who: Co-founder and executive director, Coda Payments
With the quantity of digital content continuing to grow at an unprecedented speed, so does the need for content producers to monetise their output. Paul Leishman’s company Coda Payments allows them to do so with ease in more than 30 markets.
The payment service provider enables digital content providers to accept more than 100 different payment methods, allowing creators to cut costs and reach new paying audiences.
Who: Co-founder and CEO, Insider
Insider, co-founded by CEO Hande Çilingir, helps companies deliver granular, data-driven marketing strategies that provide customers with hyper-personalised service. Its clients include Uniqlo, CNN, Puma, Unilever and L’Oréal.
The company raised US$121 million in Series D funding in 2022 from investors including QIA, Sequoia, Riverwood Capital, 212 and Wamda Capital at a valuation of US$1.22 billion.
Who: Founder and CEO, Poizon
His current venture Poizon aims to be the leading online marketplace for trending fashion merchandise such as limited-edition sneakers, apparel, accessories and watches. It also provides professional authentication services for all items sold.
As of 2022, Poizon is said to have the world’s largest AR shoe model library, allowing users to “try on” products using their phone cameras.
Who: Co-founder and CEO, Hesai Technology
As the autonomous driving industry continues to grow and driver assistance becomes standard in cars, so does the demand for cutting-edge sensor technology. Meeting that demand is laser sensor company Hesai Technology, which under the leadership of its co-founder and CEO Li Yifan has worked with 12 of the world’s top 15 autonomous driving companies.
David Cheng Qian
Who: CEO, Ecovac Robotics
Leading service robot brand Ecovacs Robotics aims to produce the world’s most intelligent household appliances.
Led by CEO David Cheng Qian, the company is best known for its floor and window cleaning robots, but also has products in markets including air purification, security and mobile entertainment. With products available in about 150 countries, it has a portfolio of more than 1,200 patents.
Who: Co-founder, Horizon Robotics
In June 2022, the company launched China’s first robot development platform that integrates software and hardware and has signed pre-installation projects for more than 70 models with more than 20 car companies.
Who: Co-founder and CEO, Kuaikan
Chen Anni’s Kuaikan is arguably China’s largest comics platform, with more than 340 million users. Since rebranding from Kuaikan Manhua, it has raised over US$240 million from investors including Tencent and CCB International.
The platform has also launched the “Double Billion” programme, under which it will invest more than US$150 million into comics businesses and another US$150 million into producing comics series with partners.
Who: Founder, Manner Coffee
Manner Coffee, originally an independent, boutique Shanghai coffee shop established by Han Yulong and his wife, Lu Jianxia, has successfully expanded into one of China’s biggest coffee chains, with more than 300 outlets.
Manner prides itself on selling barista-made coffee using Chinese beans. Investors include Temasek Holdings and ByteDance, and in 2022 the company was valued at about US$2.5 billion.
Who: Founder, Heytea
When Nie Yunchen opened a milk tea shop in Jiangmen, Guangdong, he couldn’t have known what he was unleashing. Barely a decade later, fuelled by its runaway popularity among young people, his company Heytea has more than 650 stores in Mainland China and has expanded to Hong Kong and Singapore.
After raising US$595.1 million in total funding from investors including Sequioa, Tencent and Temasek, it’s valued at more than US$9 billion.
Who: Co-founder and CEO, Cider
Founded in 2020, Wang Chen’s company Cider quickly became one of China’s biggest fashion e-commerce platforms, as well as one of the fastest-growing unicorns in history. It has also grown to be one of the most popular fast fashion online retailers in Europe and the US.
In 2021, the company secured a Series B funding of US$130 million from investors including DST Global, Greenoaks Capital and A16z.
Jirayut “Topp” Srupsrisopa
Who: Founder and group CEO, Bitkub
Bitkub, founded by Jirayut “Topp” Srupsrisopa, is Thailand’s largest group of blockchain and digital asset companies. In 2021, Siam Commercial Bank acquired a 51 percent stake in the company for an estimated US$536 million, turning it into Thailand’s third unicorn just three years after Topp founded it. He previously founded Coins.co.th, the country’s largest bitcoin wallet company.
Who: Founder and CEO, Shein
Chris Xu has built his low-cost fashion e-commerce giant Shein into the world’s largest online fashion retailer. The company more than doubled its sales for seven consecutive years and has successfully struck out overseas.
In 2021, it overtook Amazon as the most downloaded shopping app in the US. The company, which has raised more than US$1 billion in funding, is valued at more than US$100 billion.
Who: Co-founder and CEO, Atome
David Chen helms Atome, one of Asia’s leading buy now, pay later platforms. He is also co-founder of Atome's parent company, Advance Intelligence Group, an AI-driven technology company that achieved unicorn status in 2021 after closing a US$400 million Series D round.
Atome was launched in December 2019 and has partnered more than 15,000 online and offline retailers across 10 markets in sectors including fashion, beauty, lifestyle, fitness and homeware. By the end of 2021, it had more than 20 million registered customers and had disbursed more than US$1 billion in 15 million-plus transactions.
See more honourees from the Gen.T List 2022.