8 Billion-Dollar Unicorn Start-Ups

In the land of ice and snow, there is an almost mythical creature—the sleek, one-horned narwhal. In the world of business, a narwhal is the name given to Canadian private start-up companies with a value of one billion Canadian dollars. 

“The narwhal club” was a phrase coined by Brent Holliday of Garibaldi Capital Advisors as a way to highlight Canadian companies who have reached this milestone. In the United States, start-ups that hit one billion American dollars in value are called unicorns.

Here is a list of eight Canadian start-ups (including a Canadian-adjacent one) that make the rare and coveted narwhal list.


Founded in 2015 by three brothers—Martin, Meti, and Massi Basiri—this $2 billion edtech (education technology) company connects international students with academic institutions.

The Kitchener, Ontario-based company has partnered with more than 1,500 primary, secondary, and post-secondary educational institutions, and works with more than 5,000 recruitment partners to promote diversity on campuses around the world.

In 2019, ApplyBoard was named the fastest-growing technology company in Canada by Deloitte, ranking number one on the Technology Fast 50 list. In 2020, ApplyBoard was ranked third on Linkedin’s Top Start-ups List in Canada.


Calgary-based Benevity offers a corporate responsibility software that encourages its corporate clients to engage their employees, customers, and shareholders to do good.

Founded in 2008 by Bryan de Lottinville, Benevity software offers workplace giving, matching, and volunteering, among other things. Benevity, which is worth $1.1 billion, invests more than $10 million a year in their digital portal to provide the best service to non-profits, and is guided by a council of non-profit leaders.

Benevity became a narwhal in December 2020 as Hg Capital LLP invested $1.1 billion in the privately held company. Since then, Lottinville has handed off the CEO reins to Kelly Schmitt while remaining executive chair.


Formerly known as Clearbanc, Clear.co is a lending and venture capital company. It was founded in 2015 by Michele Romanow of CBC’s Dragons’ Den, Andrew D’Souza, Ivan Gritsiniak, Charlie Feng and Tanay Delima.

Start-ups looking for venture capital funding can log on to the artificial intelligence-powered Clear.co website, provide their corporate details, including financial information, and potentially receive up to $10 million in loans.

Headquartered in Toronto, the company is worth $2 billion.


With an office in Quebec City and five office hubs in three countries, Coveo, which was founded in 2005, is valued at $1.1 billion.

Coveo is a cloud-based platform that uses machine learning to help businesses unlock their content and data across all digital platforms (websites, search bars, knowledge bases, customer-facing channels, and internal portals), helping them deliver improved and personalized digital experiences for users. It also boasts easy-to-integrate models that don’t require expertise in artificial intelligence.

Coveo employs 600 people, 40 per cent of whom are research and development professionals.

Dapper Labs

Dapper Labs is a financial technology company that provides blockchain products and digital collectibles on Flow, their digital ledger technology, according to Crunchbase.

Based in Vancouver, British Columbia, Dapper Labs was founded by Dieter Shirley, Mack Flavelle, and CEO Roham Gharegozlou, who was named as one of Technology Innovators’ Top 25 Blockchain Technology CEOs of 2020.

Dapper Labs, which was created in 2018 and is valued at $2.6 billion, is the creator of CryptoKitties, a non-fungible token (NFT) marketplace for collectible digital cartoon cats, and runs NBA Top Shot, an NFT-based trading card game.


Formerly known as Pivotal Payments, Nuvei is an electronic payment processing company founded in 2003 with headquarters in Montreal, Quebec. It is valued at $2 billion. Through Nuvei, users can accept local payments, worldwide.

“Uniting payment technology and consulting, we help businesses remove payment barriers, optimize operating costs and increase acceptance rates,” said Mark Pyke, Nuvei’s North American president.

The company recently acquired Mazooma, a U.S.-focused gaming and sports wagering payment technology provider, for $56 million, plus additional considerations up to $315 million.


The Mississauga-based PointClickCare is a cloud-based healthcare software provider geared toward the long-term care and senior care industries. PointClickCare provides software for more than 21,000 nursing facilities, senior living communities and home health agencies.

Founded by Mike Wessinger, it is valued at about $4 billion and employs about 1,500 people. In December 2020, PointClickCare acquired the platform Collective Medical for $650 million, creating the largest network of acute and post-acute care in North America.


Founded in 2000, Sportradar employs more than 1,000 people in 25 locations and is the partner to more than 600 companies.

Sportradar offers insights and solutions to its official partners, including the NBA, NHL, NASCAR and FIFA. Its data monitoring system analyzes betting patterns for suspicious patterns, and crunches other numbers for sports federations.

Based in Switzerland, and the only non-Canadian start-up on this list, Sportradar announced a strategic partnership with the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB) in 2018.

The company is valued at $2.4 billion. 

Lisa Day | Contributing Writer



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