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Prediction: Unicorn Investing Will Get Ugly in 2016

December 7, 2015, 3:30 PM UTC
Unicorn on hilltop
Photograph by Getty Images/Blend Images

The staff of Fortune recently assembled its predictions for 2016. Here’s one of our forecasts.

Everyone in startup-land is happy when valuations are going up. But if, as prominent venture capitalists have predicted, some billion-dollar unicorns turn into unicorpses in 2016, the opaque world of startup investing will get ugly. (Unicorns whose valuations are already showing cracks include Dropbox, Evernote, and of course Theranos.) Today, in-demand startups restrict trading of their shares on secondary markets like Nasdaq Private Market. But clever investors find ways around this by trading through intermediaries and employees. Once the biggest startups begin to struggle, the work-arounds will proliferate—only with sellers dominating as investors flee bad bets. Expect wild discrepancies in valuations; angry finger-pointing among investors, boards and CEOs; and maybe even some private company shareholder activism.

This article is part of the 2016 Fortune Crystal Ball, a package of 33 predictions about business, politics and the economy by the writers and editors of Fortune. To see the entire package, click here.