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Zebras dazzle as unicorns falter

ImpactAlpha, Sept. 10 – WeWork’s troubled initial public offering may come to represent the “absolute limit case of unicorn craziness.” The loss-making co-working (and so much more) company slashed its valuation by a cool $20 billion and its IPO still may yet be shelved. As unicorns lose their magic, a type of startup of a distinctly different stripe is emerging as an alternative.

Where unicorns score financing rounds, “zebras” celebrate revenues. Unicorns seek customer acquisition; zebras want their customers to succeed. Unicorns favor competition and disruption; zebras prioritize cooperation and social benefit. Zebras Unite drew a line in the startup sand two years ago with “Zebras Fix What Unicorns Break.”

The zebra movement will move from grassroots team to a proper organization with an undisclosed amount of funding from Omidyar Network. Founders Aniyia WilliamsAstrid ScholzJennifer Brandel and Mara Zepeda have built a network of 4,000 members and an online information hub serving diverse communities of founders that have been overlooked by venture capitalists hunting unicorns.

“A more diverse tech community will also allow new, previously overlooked ideas to flourish,” writes Omidyar Network’s Sarah Drinkwater. 

  • New normal. It is zebras, not unicorns, that appear more aligned with the new business ethos (see, for example, the Business Roundtable’s CEO pledge to stakeholders last month). “Underrepresented CEOs like us — women and people of color — have had no other option but to build companies in the manner described in the Roundtable’s more humane re-orientation,” wrote the founders.
  • Capital pathways. A more patient startup requires more patient capital. Zebras Unite is part of a broader effort to create “alternatives” to the high-risk, equity-based venture capital typically used to fund unicorns (see, “VCs that help startups raise revenues, not rounds). Zebras Unite’s Scholz will join more than 140 Black, Latinx, female entrepreneurs, as well as 50 investors, including Kesha Cash and Henri Pierre-Jacques, at Village Capital’s Pathways to Capital event Thursday in Philadelphia. Alternative capital is on the agenda.

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