Startup ABC #6: Zebra Startups

Zebras - The sustainable startups

We already explained what a unicorn is in our Startup ABC. But there is another animal in the startup cosmos:the zebra. How do zebras differ from unicorns and why do they fit in with current trends?

Unicorns and Zebras - pink or rather black and white?

Zebra Startups are black and white. According to Brandel, Scholz, Williams and Zapeda*, this means that they generate high profits (black) and at the same time contribute to the improvement of society (white) - two things that many people find difficult to reconcile. Zebra Startups also aim for sustainable growth, in stark contrast to Unicorn Startups, which - you'll recall - focus on rapid growth, preferably exponential. Unicorns want to be unique or have a monopoly - Zebras, on the other hand, are more likely to try to exist BESIDE their competitors and other Zebras, and in some cases even join forces with them so that they can work together to achieve their dream of improving society faster.

Zebra Startups in trend

With their special features - the focus on sustainability and social responsibility - Zebra Startups fit perfectly with the current (mega) trends, so it's no wonder that more and more startups are being founded that can be considered zebras. The startup share, for example, which sells various consumer goods under the share brand and makes a donation equal to the sales price to various social projects for every product sold, should be familiar to many of you by now from supermarkets, gas stations or even airplanes. In 2018, Share pulled off the biggest launch of a social brand in Germany with sales of €10 million - so it's a great example for the black and white zebras!

Challenges and opportunities

Although Zebra Startups fit perfectly with the current sustainability trend, among others, they are often still more unknown than the fast-growing unicorns and often also have problems finding investors. The latter still prefer to chase the next unique unicorn. However, as topics such as social responsibility and the circular economy become increasingly important in the coming years, perhaps the zebras will also gallop past the unicorns at some point.


*Source: Brandel, J., Scholz, A., Williams, A. & Zapeda, M. (2017). Zebras Fix What Unicorns Break.
Medium. sexandstartups/zebrasfix-c467e55f9d96


Published on 14.12.2021
Author: Frauke Leuckefeld