The global start-up landscape underwent a massive change in 2021, as Indian hubs experienced rapid growth and China saw a relative slowdown in early stage funding and exits, according to the 2022 Global Startup Ecosystem Report (GSER). 

Global venture capital (VC) funding pouring into start-ups increased significantly in 2021, helping a record 540 companies reach unicorn status with a valuation of $1bn or more, according to the annual report produced by research firm Startup Genome and the Global Entrepreneurship Network (GEN). 

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This represented a more than three-fold increase from the 150 unicorns created in 2020 and comes after a decade of growing capital being deployed in the tech industry. Since the first GSER was published in 2012, the global average size of a start-up’s first significant funding round, called Series A, has tripled to more than $18m.  

While North America continued to dominate the top spots in the 2022 global start-up hub ranking — with almost half of the top 30 ecosystems based in the region — Asia saw significant growth and accounted for 30% of leading ecosystems. 

“Entrepreneurship is percolating everywhere, and competition on the global leaderboard is fierce,” wrote Jonathan Ortmans, the founder and president of GEN, in the 2022 report. 

“Groundbreaking advancements to reduce barriers are taking place in cities and countries previously dismissed in conversations about startups and innovation,” he added.

Indian growth

India stood out for the increase in early-stage rounds and exits. Some 44 unicorns were created in the country in 2021, raising a total of $72bn in exits. Between 2020 and 2021, the total US dollar value of exits in India also multiplied by 38 times.

While Bangalore has long been a dominant tech hub in the country, six of the seven Indian ecosystems tracked by GSER climbed the rankings. These included Pune, Telangana, as well as Kerala and Chennai, which both moved up at least 20 places.

In Chennai, where home-grown software giant Freshworks listed on the Nasdaq stock exchange in February 2021 at a valuation of $10.1bn, entrepreneurs previously told fDi that the ecosystem has undergone a “dramatic change” over the past decade.

South Korea’s capital Seoul also moved into the top 10 of the ranking for the first time, as it saw five start-up exits in 2021 worth at least $1bn. The largest exit was e-commerce giant Coupang, which was valued at $60bn in an initial public offering in March 2021, making up about 42% of Seoul’s ecosystem value, according to Startup Genome.

Chinese slowdown

In stark contrast to India, in China growth in early stage funding and smaller exits valued between $50m and $100m slowed down significantly compared to the rest of the world, according to GSER.

The performance of Chinese startup hubs declined for the first time since GSER began tracking them. Some eight of the 13 cities assessed fell by one or more spots in the ranking, including Wuxi and Xiaman, which fell by 21 positions.

Although Beijing also slipped from fourth to fifth place in the overall ranking, China remains a start-up powerhouse. In 2021, tech companies in China raised $39bn of VC funding, an increase of 25% on the previous year.

The top five start-up ecosystems — Silicon Valley, New York, London, Boston and Beijing — had a combined value of $3.8tn in 2021, according to Startup Genome. By comparison, the remaining top 30 ecosystems have an aggregate value of $2.3 trillion.

While Silicon Valley continues to be the leading tech hub, its share of global early-stage funding, which is an indicator of future growth in the tech sector, decreased from 25% in 2012 to 13% in 2021. 

New tech hubs have gained more traction and funding. In 2021, a total of 19 ecosystems — including Brisbane, Luxembourg, Santiago-Valparaiso and Ho Chi Minh City — achieved their first unicorns in 2021.