How to Become a Global Business Unicorn

The term unicorn was coined in 2013 by venture capitalist Aileen Lee.  She chose the mythical animal to represent the statistical rarity of business ventures with a valuation of more than $1 billion. With grit, hard work and a little bit of luck, global markets, powered by the Internet, possess the potential for you to transform your business into a unicorn.

FACT: There are more than 450 unicorns around the world.  Variants include a decacorn, valued at over $10 billion, and a hectocorn, valued at over $100 billion – for a cumulative valuation of more than $1,317B. 


Despite the growth in unicorns, it’s still hard to become one.  Any startup has a 1.28 percent chance of becoming a unicorn.  Why is it so hard to reach the pinnacle of business success? Because you have to build the right product, have the right value proposition, commit to rapid growth, prepare to scale, and recover fast from mistakes. Bottom line:  it’s not magic – as you’ll see in a moment.

While there is no shortage in funding for these high-value companies, there remains a discrepancy between the number of male and female founders that reach the coveted unicorn status. Five (4 percent) of new unicorns in 2019 had female-only founders and 16 (12 percent) were co-founded by a female-male team. Overall, 114 (84 percent) unicorns in 2019 had male-only founders. – Source:  crunchbase News,

We’ll be covering this hot topic at one of the biggest global trade conferences held in Chicago on April 17, 2020.  In preparation, I asked CEOs, C-Suite executives and founders to weigh in on what it takes to become a global business unicorn and here’s what they said.

Rajiv Khatau, Managing Director, LODAAT Pharma: “Becoming a business Unicorn takes an immense amount of creativity and thinking outside the realm of what is deemed possible. This can only happen if you’re open to constantly learning and questioning existing industry assumptions. Interacting with global ideas, working with the best and brightest, and networking with those in different practices can transcend you into a visionary paradigm shift. “

Lori Novak, VP Foreign Exchange, Capital Markets, Associated Bank: “Global Unicorns are fueled by the belief that the product or service they are offering will improve the world.  They have a vision to solve a problem people don’t even know they have. They work endlessly and surround themselves by expertise at all levels to help champion their brand.”

Heather Acerra, co-founder, LUX Blox: “For anyone who aspires to become a global unicorn, do not overlook the many free resources to support exports from the state in which your business resides.  I have received research assistance, help with global testing standards, reimbursement for various expenses, and the opportunity to participate in a trade mission to Southeast Asia by working with the International Trade Center at our local university.  These baby steps will hopefully lead us, or anyone who take the same steps, to unicorn status someday.”

Danny Park, CEO and Co-founder, RoboTHINK LLC: “To be a global unicorn, it’s all about tapping into sales and marketing in different countries. Whether it comes in the form of a local salesperson who is an expert in the industry, localizing your website and launching an online ad campaign, or meeting someone from a certain country or region at a trade show, you must have a sales and marketing presence to be able to have someone buy your products or services from overseas.”

Aisha Ceballos-Crump, CEO and founder, Honey Baby Naturals: “To be a global unicorn is to be able to adapt to different situations, to be leading the pack, to be unique, innovative, creative and to think outside the box. A unicorn is mystical and sets trends. So, for me, being a global unicorn means being a trendsetter by introducing my completely original product to global environments, and not being afraid to take risks and chances when it comes to worldwide trade.”

Whether you reach unicorn status doesn’t matter.  What does matter is setting yourself up for global success from the very start.