Forget unicorns, Portland. Let’s aspire to be zebras.

It’s a well known adage that Portland was built upon an ancient unicorn burial ground. So it should come as no surprise that a member of the Portland startup community would be proposing we bury the latest incarnation of that mythical beast—the so-called unicorn startup, a company with a valuation of at least $1 billion—as well. What could be better, you ask? How about Zebras?

Following on the success of last year’s Sex & Startups post, coauthors Jennifer Brandel and Portland’s Mara Zepeda outline a compelling argument for the new moniker to represent a far more sane, equitable, and reasonable way of doing business. Where customer and company both win.


We believe 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.

But why Zebras?

  • To state the obvious: unlike unicorns, zebras are real.
  • Zebra companies are both black and white: they are profitable and improve society. They won’t sacrifice one for the other.
  • Zebras are also mutualistic: by banding together in groups, they protect and preserve one another. Their individual input results in stronger collective output.
  • Zebra companies are built with peerless stamina and capital efficiency, as long as conditions allow them to survive.

I have no doubt that this reasoning strikes a chord with a substantial chunk of our community. Because it is very much in line with the types of businesses being built here in the Rose City. Where we consistently champion collaboration over competition. And work to ensure that rising water of our efforts has the highest likelihood to float all boats.

Thankfully, like all of Mara’s pursuits—you may recognize her as the cofounder as Switchboard, Business for a Better Portland (the organization formerly known as PICOC), and XXcelerate Fund—there’s an immediate opportunity for you to get involved. By sharing the zebra manifesto and by visiting Zebras Unite.

Want to meet your herd, err, dazzle (a herd of zebras is called a “dazzle”) in person? Get more information about the inaugural DazzleCon, October 10-13, 2017.

[Full disclosure: Switchboard is an alum of PIE. PIE is a supporter of DazzleCon. I am the cofounder and general manager of PIE.]