Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

147 Indian companies likely to become unicorns in next 5 years

The ASK Private Wealth Hurun India Future Unicorn Index 2023 says there are 83 unicorns, 51 gazelles and 96 cheetahs in India. However, an economic slowdown has made almost 20 percent of last year's gazelles and cheetahs either drop off the list or be downgraded

Published: Jun 27, 2023 12:50:28 PM IST
Updated: Jun 27, 2023 04:08:08 PM IST

147 Indian companies likely to become unicorns in next 5 yearsCurrently, there are 83 unicorns in India, 51 gazelles and 96 cheetahs, according to the ASK Private Wealth Hurun India Future Unicorn Index 2023, released on June 27 Image: Shutterstock

As companies scout for money to capitalise on their business at a time when rising interest rates and global uncertainties have reduced the appetite of investors, there are 147 startups in India that are most likely to become unicorns in the next five years, according to Hurun Research.

Currently, there are 83 unicorns in India, 51 gazelles and 96 cheetahs, according to the ASK Private Wealth Hurun India Future Unicorn Index 2023, released on June 27. However, this is a slight decline from last year, when there were 84 unicorns, 51 gazelles and 71 cheetahs.

Hurun Research Institute defines unicorns as startups that are founded after 2000, with a valuation of $1 billion, gazelles as startups that are most likely to become unicorns in the next three years, and cheetahs as startups that could become unicorns in the next five years. The evaluation is based on regulatory filings, feedback from other entrepreneurs and some of the India-focussed venture capital funds and angel investors.

Hurun Research found 147 future unicorns from 25 cities in India. On an average, they were set up in 2015, with the vast majority selling software and services, and only 20 percent selling physical products; 37 percent are selling to businesses, while 63 percent are consumer-facing. Future unicorns were seen disrupting sectors such as financial services, health care, business management solutions and education.

Also See: From Top Angel Investors To Best Educational Institutes, A Look At Players In The Indian Startup Landscape

“The slowdown in the economy has been tough for certain companies, with almost 20 percent of last year’s gazelles and cheetahs either dropping off the list or being downgraded. Hurun Research believes these companies could no longer become unicorns within three years. Rising interest rates and geopolitical headwinds have combined to make it harder for startups to raise capital,” says Anas Rahman Junaid, Hurun India founder and chief researcher.

In the 2023 list, the gazelles, which are high-growth potential startups, boast valuations between $500 million and $1 billion. However, the cumulative valuation of these gazelles saw a year-on-year decrease of 1 percent, amounting to $30.8 billion. The 51 startups listed in the index have collectively secured a substantial funding of $9.6 billion.

147 Indian companies likely to become unicorns in next 5 years

Leading gazelles in the index are EV startup Ather Energy, quick commerce startup Zepto, and edtech startup LeapScholar, followed by AI startup Observe.AI and agritech startup Ninjacart. The index includes 11 gazelles from the fintech sector, six from SaaS, and four each from ecommerce and agritech.

The next category of startups are cheetahs, with valuations ranging from $200 million to $500 million. “India boasts an impressive count of 96 cheetahs, collectively securing a significant funding of $9.3 billion. The cumulative valuation of these cheetahs featured in the index experienced a remarkable year-on-year increase of 47 percent, amounting to $26.3 billion,” the report says.

Leading the cheetah index are the ecommerce startups with 17 representations, closely followed by SaaS with 14.

Also read: Two sides of valuation markdowns of startups: Indian landscape


Peak XV Partners, formerly known as Sequoia Capital India & SEA, with a portfolio of 37 investments is the top investor in the index. InnoVen Capital, backed by Temasek and UOB Group, which provides debt capital to high-growth companies specialising in financing solutions for startups and emerging enterprises, is second in the index.  InnoVen Capital has invested in 26 startups that are featured in the index. The notable ones among them are Ather Energy, Captain Fresh, Jumbotail, and Porter.

IIT Kharagpur leads as the top undergraduate institute with 24 co-founders of future unicorns, followed closely by IIT Delhi with 23 co-founders. In the post-graduate category, IIM Ahmedabad is the preferred choice, with 14 co-founders. Among foreign universities, the University of Pennsylvania stands out with eight co-founders, followed by Stanford University and INSEAD with three each, highlighting their substantial contributions to the startup ecosystem.

147 Indian companies likely to become unicorns in next 5 years

Women-led future unicorns

In the ASK Private Wealth Hurun India Future Unicorn Index 2023, 18 women entrepreneurs from 18 companies have co-founded six gazelles and 11 cheetahs, making significant contributions to the startup ecosystem.

Heads Up For Tails stands out as the only company in the index with two women co-founders. Vrushali Prasade, aged 29, is the youngest woman co-founder in the index. She co-founded Pixis, a codeless AI infrastructure company focussed on marketing. Prasade's entrepreneurial journey showcases the drive and innovation of women in India's startup ecosystem.

Manju Dhawan, aged 57, is the oldest woman co-founder featured in the index. Her role as a co-founder of Ecom Express highlights the enduring spirit and entrepreneurial drive of women in the Indian startup ecosystem.