3 ways business school can help you turn a startup into a unicorn

July 16, 2019

Becoming a billion-dollar startup

Pic of a unicorn
Becoming a billion-dollar unicorn is the mark of a startup's breakout success.

Unicorns - privately held companies valued at $1 billion or more - hold an almost mythical status among startups. Companies like Facebook, Uber, Airbnb, SpaceX, and Spotify are all either current or former unicorns. However, as befits their name, unicorns are rare, with only a tiny fraction of the tens of thousands of venture-backed startups ever reaching $1 billion valuation.

The ones that do succeed, however, tend to have a lot in common, regardless of the sector or industry they work in. The good news is that the right skills could help to increase your chances of building the next unicorn. Here’s how.

1. Most unicorns aren’t built by 20-somethings alone in their basements

People like Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates have helped create the myth that unicorns are founded by young people working on their passion project alone in their garage or dorm room. While Zuckerberg and Gates make for great stories, they are outliers. Instead, according to venture capitalist Aileen Lee, who first coined the term “unicorn,” the average age of people when they first found unicorns is 34.

And these unicorn founders aren’t lone geniuses. Instead, on average a unicorn has three founders. In other words, experience matters when it comes to creating a unicorn and 80 percent have at least one founder who had previously founded another company. The experience you already have from your career along with the chance to network with others in your EMBA are key ingredients for success.

Pic of business school graduates
Unicorns are typically founded by experienced groups of people working together.

2. Unicorn founders are well-educated and come from the best business schools

Another myth about unicorn founders - again fuelled by Zuckerberg and Gates - is that they are often college dropouts. However, on Lee’s original 2013 list of 39 unicorns, just eight were led by college dropouts and of those 7 had already had experience in the tech sector (the one exception being Zuckerberg). The rest were college graduates, almost all of them coming from prestigious institutions.

In fact, attending an EMBA program at a highly ranked school can help you gain the trust and confidence of venture capitalists. WU Executive Academy’s Global EMBA, for instance, is ranked as the 12th best joint program in the world in the QS 2019 World University Rankings and hosts a number of events were students can network with investors, including venture capitalists.

Pic of the WU business school in Vienna
An education from a highly ranked university, like WU, can increase your odds of success.

3. Your EMBA program can help you identify trends and opportunities in existing industries

Companies like Uber and Airbnb are huge disruptors of their industries. Such companies were founded in the early days of the smartphone and cloud computing, which helped facilitate their phenomenal success. However, the opportunities for unicorns to achieve success through disruption appear to be drying up. Nowadays, unicorns are more likely to be companies that build software for niche sectors, like agriculture, automotive, and healthcare, that are still in the process of digitizing. Instead of disrupting, startups are now filling the needs of established sectors and companies. While that may not sound as revolutionary as upending entire sectors of the economy, it is a more reliable recipe for success.

That’s where the ability to identify trends and opportunities within specific sectors becomes valuable. At our business school you’ll learn about corporate and entrepreneurial strategy, where you’ll gain insight into creating competitive advantages in order to build successful ventures. You’ll also visit companies around the world, where you can gain firsthand knowledge of the challenges and opportunities they are facing.

Do you want to elevate your career?

Contact WU Executive Academy to learn about our Executive Master of Business Administration.

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