What is a Unicorn-Startup and Do You Need a Degree to Launch It?

A term first coined in 2013 by Aileen Lee, founder of Cowboy ventures, defines unicorn-startup as any venture that has reached a valuation of $1 billion. While its initial use was meant to emphasize the rarity of such high-worth startups (39 at the time), it has now become a commonly used term as the number of unicorns continues to rise. [i]

The road to becoming a unicorn is not an easy one. With 959 companies around the world valued at over $1 billion, every startup founder has a different story to tell about their path to success. [ii]

Here is a list of the main features generally identified amongst the unicorns:

  • Unicorns provide disruptive innovation. Most, if not all, have disrupted the niche they belong to. Uber, for example, changed the way individuals commute across the globe. Canva, now valued at $40 billion, has simplified graphic design tools giving the general public the capacity to create various professional marketing materials with greater ease.
  • Unicorns tend to be “first” in their field. Not only do they stand out, but are at the head of the pack. Changing the way people do things, ensuring greater efficiency, unicorns make themselves vital to the consumer’s everyday life. They remain ahead of the trends and employ groundbreaking strategies to further differentiate themselves from their competition.
  • Tech is the name of the game. Unicorns run their operations either through well-designed software solutions or unparalleled websites. Airbnb, for example, made the world more accessible and intimate through the World Wide Web and has safely welcomed international travelers into private homes on a global scale.

While there are many ways to establish a unicorn, on top of the abovementioned core facets, success can also be attributed to factors like timing, intelligence, and even a little bit of luck. Moreover, contrary to some well-known, yet extremely sporadic cases of “school drop-outs gone to become billionaires”, education shows to play a rather big role in entrepreneurial realization.

You may consider Arash Ferdowsi of Dropbox, and Patrick Collison of Stripe, the paramount models of the unicorn world - effective entrepreneurs who famously quit their studies to start their own companies, but if we look at the recent research conducted by a Stanford Graduate School of Business Professor, Ilya Strebulev, these examples prove to be the rare exception, by far.

In his research, Professor Ilya Strebulev demonstrates that 485 of 1,263 participants (38%) have successfully obtained a BA degree; 217 founders (17%) have gone on to earn their Master’s degrees (non-MBA type). Larry Page of Alphabet Inc., for instance, has a Master’s in Computer Science and Adam Bowen of Juul Labs has a Master’s in Product Design. Another 236 of 1,263 founders (19%) hold an MBA degree, including DoorDash’s Tony Xu. Lastly, 39 founders have a dual Master’s degree, including MBA, which is the case of Christian Chabot of Tableau. [iii]

See for yourself:

Image about Launch a Unicorn-Startup graph

What does this teach us?

Getting an education is definitely not a ‘waste of time’, but rather equips you with the practical and theoretical acumen to advance your ideas and confidently propel your venture to the next level, with fewer chances of mistakes being made given your preparation, whereby only 4% of accomplished businessmen omit studies to directly embark on their professional journeys and actually manage to thrive in the long run.

When selecting a degree, regardless of your level of study, it is important to look at how the degree can be applied in real-life practices, and whether the curriculum hones the applicable skills needed in your field, so that it adds measurable value to your professional development. This is exactly why GBSB Global highlights it’s learning-by-doing methodology at Bachelor, Master and MBA levels of study, offering an array of distinctive, practice-oriented programs catering to the unique needs of diverse future-proof professionals.

Ready to become a skilled graduate with the know-how to effectively manage your very own business with a real social impact? Join us at the next intake and launch your real-life venture by the time you finish your studies with our Master in Entrepreneurship and G-Accelerator incubator program.

[i]Shah, Khushali. (2021, September 13). What Is A Unicorn Startup & How To Be One. Razorpay. https://razorpay.com/learn/what-is-a-unicorn-startup
[ii]CBINSIGHTS. https://www.cbinsights.com/research-unicorn-companies
[iii]Ready, Ben. (2021, December 21). What is The Most Popular Academic Qualification For Unicorn Founders? MBANEWS. https://www.mbanews.com.au/what-is-the-most-popular-academic-qualification-for-unicorn-founders


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