SINGAPORE (Apr 22): Uber Technologies’ coming IPO is a moment to reflect on the oodles of investment cash that have resulted in a herd of “unicorns”, the awful but convenient shorthand for tech companies that reach valuations of at least US$1 billion while they are private.

There are now more than 340 of them, according to CB Insights, compared with the 18 unicorns identified in 2013 by investor Aileen Lee when she coined the term. (Her list had 39 companies, but many of them had already gone public or been acquired. Uber was on Lee’s list even back then.)

This unicorn proliferation is a result of changes in technology and investing, including a decade of low US interest rates that pushed investors to hunt for better returns in riskier, high-growth assets including tech start-ups. Last year was the first time since 2000 that US venture investments in tech start-ups topped US$100 billion ($135 billion), according to figures from the National Venture Capital Association and PitchBook. It was the capstone — so far — to what has been several years of eyebrow-raising amounts of capital going into start-ups worldwide.

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