This year the Impact Hub Berlin community celebrated the success of its very first ZebraCorn! This new super rare “species” can be classed as both a “zebra” and a “unicorn” – a startup that’s valued at over USD 1 billion and works to improve society and make a sustainable difference.
If you have spent any time in the startup world, you’ll have heard the term “unicorn” thrown about a lot. That’s because unicorns are super rare, require innovation and have an almost mythical status in the business world, hence the name. A unicorn is generally used to describe a startup valued over USD 1 billion — the dream for a lot of young companies. Given that up to 90% of all startups fail, becoming a “unicorn” is a big deal. Many successful, famous companies were once considered unicorns, such as Uber, Airbnb, Facebook and SpaceX.
However, unicorn startups have long been criticised for prioritising profit over people, implementing rapid (and sometimes unsustainable) growth strategies and unethical business practices. Unicorns are controversial, which is why some investors are starting to look in another direction.
At Impact Hub Berlin we believe less in unicorns and more in zebras. Zebras have a different goal than unicorns. So-called zebra companies do not focus on rapid growth and economic success like unicorns do. Instead, zebra startups are focused on growing sustainably, in line with their purpose and while creating positive impact.
The prevailing theory is that zebras “fix” what unicorns “break” — that unicorns are bent on “disruption” rather than supporting businesses to repair, cultivate and connect. Zebras, on the other hand, work to alleviate social, environmental or medical challenges while also tending to their own profitability. First coined in a 2017 blog post by Zebras Unite, the authors outline that “developing alternative business models to the startup status quo has become a central moral challenge of our time.”
“These alternative models will balance profit and purpose, champion democracy, and put a premium on sharing power and resources. Companies that create a more just and responsible society will hear, help, and heal the customers and communities they serve.”
Impact Hub Berlin is home to many exciting and innovative zebra startups. Our space is dedicated to supporting, fostering and growing impact startups from early-stage funding through to ZebraCorn status! Examples of zebra companies in our ecosystems are Fimo Health, a startup providing a data-driven approach to improve the quality of life for people who suffer from fatigue; Concular, a market leader for circularity in the building sector; and sustainable fashion company Good On You.
These days, zebra businesses are becoming even more attractive to investors due to their “double bottom line” – impact and profitability. Young investors in particular are less interested in chasing unicorns and more interested in supporting startups who are working on more ethical projects to improve the world. Enter the ZebraCorn.
Until recently, the ZebraCorn – an impact startup valued at over USD 1 billion – was little more than a story. However, as consumers begin to shift their priorities towards sustainability, equity and a climate-neutral future, more and more innovative players are receiving the funding to take them to the next level. Just like Impact Hub Berlin member 1KOMMA5°.
In the Series B round of funding in the first half of the year 2023, clean electricity startup 1KOMMA5° raised over €215 million euro in equity — creating Impact Hub Berlin’s first-ever ZebraCorn! The one-stop-shop for energy: meaning from planning to fulfilment services for solar systems, wallbox charging stations, energy storage and heat pumps for a carbon-neutral future managed to do this less than 2 years after the company was founded.
“It’s important to remember that the unicorn status in itself has no meaning or value whatsoever,” said CEO Philipp Schröder. “If we don’t deliver on our vision: a world where everyone can live on wind and sunlight forever for free! Thus, we stay grounded and focused while everyone at 1KOMMA5° continues to thrive for the best version of ourselves to contribute to our vision of CO2-neutral life.”
It's this kind of grounded energy and bold commitment to the vision and purpose of their company that defines a zebra founder and makes Zebracorns so incredibly special.
1KOMMA5°’s recent success is a great example of how investing in, and partnering with, impact startups can make huge strides in innovation for a greener future.
This massive investment is helping the company advance its software capabilities into developing better energy management, a virtual power plant and device connection around their proprietary energy IoT system, Heartbeat. They also recently acquired market leader Viasol, helping the company expand in Denmark and Vincenzo Ferreri in Italy, with new markets on the horizon set for Spain, Austria and Switzerland.
You want to learn more about new energy systems and our possibilities to contribute to the #1komma5grad climate target, follow 1KOMMA5°.
Are you interested in helping us create more ZebraCorns to make the world a more sustainable, equitable and impactful place for people and the planet? Partner with us. Or you can join our community of pioneering zebras as a team or as an individual.