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Big unicorn investors still remain active, with Sequoia, Tiger topping the list: Study

Sir Michael Moritz
Scott Mlyn | CNBC

Concerns over unicorns—start-ups with valuations over $1 billion—are percolating, but a new report suggests venture capitalists and institutional investors remain as active in the sector as they've ever been.

Data from research firm CB Insights cited Silicon Valley VC firm Sequoia Capital is the top unicorn investor, holding at least 24 such firms in its portfolio. Tiger Management and SV Angel were tied for second place with 23 active unicorn investments apiece, while Kleiner Perkins, DST Global and Andreessen Horowitz all had 21 apiece.

All told, there are 70 institutional investors holding at least 5 unicorns in their portfolios—with the majority having a stake in Uber and DocuSign, CB Insights data from Friday showed.

The figures come at a time when a growing number of technology watchers are nervous about the sustainability of tech company valuations, and are mulling whether the unicorn party is nearly over.

Amid signs that big investors are taking to the sidelines, initial public offering deals in 2016 are lagging the comparable year-ago period by a considerable margin. According to Ernst & Young, there have only been 75 IPO deals as of September, off sharply from 140 in 2015.

CB data show that 5 of the top 10 investors in unicorns are large investors like mutual funds and investment banks that have crossed over into private market investing, usually at the later stages. Those include giants like Fidelity, Wellington Management, T. Rowe Price, Goldman Sachs, which all have 17 or more unicorns in their portfolio, the data said.

Although unicorns have represented a ticket to rapid growth—a Harvard Business Review study in January showed start-ups were growing twice as fast as they were a decade ago — evidence suggests that the salad days are nearing an end. Last year, Fidelity quietly wrote down its investment in Snapchat by 25 percent, and new unicorns are becoming increasingly scarce.