Relocation as a Driver of Innovative Activity: A Global Study of Unicorn Founders’ Migration
This paper investigates the migration flows of unicorns – private companies that achieve a market value of at least one billion USD within ten years. This concept was recently introduced by professional investors but has actively entered the global expert and political agenda. The ability of national innovation systems to grow unicorns has become a new hallmark of success. This study uses the most complete sample of companies as of July 2022 (1,357 unicorns), for each of them we identified the founders, their countries of birth, and the educational institutions they graduated from. Among the main results, it is revealed that 40% of billion-dollar companies were created with the participation of foreign founders. The authors identified three country groups depending on the founders’ migration flows direction: “attracting” unicorns, “growing on their own” and “losing everything”. A comparative analysis of countries’ innovation profiles made it possible to identify the unicorn growth factor (gross domestic expenditure on research and development as a percentage of GDP) and unicorn attraction factors. It is shown that the strategy of attracting foreign founders complements the growth strategy and could provide the main flow of unicorn founders. The authors noted that the leading unicorn countries are actively involved in the global migration flow: they not only attract the founders, but also act as their largest suppliers. The authors put forward recommendations for attracting unicorn companies.