Startups of a different stripe: A gathering of zebras sets its sights on Portland with DazzleCon

Every once in a while, there is a moment. Where something strikes a chord. When it taps into an unspoken need. Crystallizes a not-yet-codified opinion. Becomes a rallying cry. And rarely—but magnificently—sometimes that moment gains momentum of its own. And becomes a movement.

That’s where Portland founders and CEOs Astrid Scholz and Mara Zepeda found themselves—along with coauthor Jennifer Brandel—when they published “Zebras fix what unicorns break,” an astute and well crafted treatise that elegantly captured the festering but unspoken ethos just below the surface of the broader startup community: chasing fantastical beasts fosters nothing but our own detriment.

And that’s all it took. Voicing that idea, albeit far more eloquently. And suddenly, what started as a moment—a blog post—is now a movement.

So what now? Where do the zebras and would-be zebras go from here? What is the path forward?

Well, when you have more questions than answers, that seems like a really good time to get a bunch of likeminded folks in the same room to hash it out. And that’s exactly what the authors of the post are endeavoring to do: Unite the zebras.

Startup culture cannot be fixed by #decencypledges, tearful mea culpas, or diversity training. From the start, it has excluded countless capable founders and ignored the important products and services they’re passionate about bringing to the world. We’ve come to realize that many of these founders are actually not interested in gaining entry to a unicorn kingdom. These founders don’t align with the scene, the values, the culture, the business models, and the economic imbalance it perpetuates. When a system is corrupted, why endorse it by joining it? Instead of fighting to change this existing reality, why not design a new one of our own?

And so, those selfsame startup founders—now joined by Aniyia Williams—have a brand new startup taking on a life of its own. It’s an event called DazzleCon (a group of zebras is called a “dazzle”). And the inaugural gathering is coming to Portland late this fall.

We’re inviting about one hundred and fifty founders and funders to discuss and design the support companies like yours need and the community you’d like to see, as well as compile a list of shared resources. We’ll also jointly create a definition of what it means to be a zebra.

The event will be held November 15-17, 2017. Tickets cost $395. Limited scholarships will be available.

Interested in attending? Apply to be part of the founding dazzle of zebras. Applications close August 19, 2017. Wanting to lend support to the movement? Visit Zebras Unite.

[Full disclosure: Mara is a PIE alum. I am the cofounder and general manager of PIE. But even if that weren’t the case, I’d still be enamored of the zebra concept and this entire movement.]

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