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Canadian tech unicorns are called “narwhals”

Biodiversity Heritage Library
A legendary beast in its own right.
By Alice Truong

Deputy editor

Published This article is more than 2 years old.

Much has been said about unicorns, the nickname given to startups that investors value at $1 billion or more. While these unicorns exist all over the world, the focus has disproportionately been on Silicon Valley: Uber ($50 billion), Airbnb ($25 billion), Pinterest ($11 billion), to name a few.

Well, Canada’s tired of being overlooked. It, too, has a robust tech scene, and it wants some recognition.

This is why Brent Holliday, CEO of Vancouver-based Garibaldi Capital Advisors, coined the term “narwhal” in 2014 to describe Canadian tech companies worth C$1 billion or more.

And unlike unicorns, narwhals, a type of toothed whales, actually exist.

“It’s distinctly Canadian, found in the arctic waters off Canada,” Holliday tells Quartz. “I understood the narwhal’s horn was to break through the ice because they’re mammals and have to breathe, so that’s a great metaphor.”

(Recent evidence, however, suggests the tusk is actually a sensory organ. ”Hell, it fits my metaphor, so let’s stick with it,” he retorts.)

The term’s gaining traction, too, even heard at the recent Canadian Innovation Exchange conference, says Holliday, who was an attendee.

Canadian startups just raised a record-breaking $853 million in the third quarter, up 63% from the year-ago period, and 2015 is on track to set a new high as well, according to Pitchbook. The research firm notes that Canada’s tax laws and proximity to the US have made it an attractive place for businesses.

So enough about unicorns, here are some notable narwhals from the land of maple syrup and hockey:

Ecommerce software
$2.2 billion market capitalization

Messaging app
$1.31 billion valuation

Social media platform
$1.1 billion valuation

Enterprise messaging
$2.8 billion valuation
*Holliday argues that San Francisco-based Slack is both a unicorn and narwhal, since founder and CEO Stewart Butterfield is Canadian, and the startup has a sizable Vancouver office.

Feature image by Biodiversity Heritage Library on Flickr under license CC BY-SA 2.0

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