Forget unicorns. Why startups should seek “polar bear” status.

Partners in Clime
Partners in Clime
Published in
4 min readJul 22, 2022

Unicorns. Decacorns. Zebras. The startup zoo is getting a little crowded. And maybe a little bit too horse-like.

But in a year of rampant inflation, a global energy crisis, and a growing food shortage caused by the war in Ukraine, startups need to step up their game to make a meaningful impact on generations to come.

Away with the horse ideals.

Enter the polar bear — the holy grail of startup animals that balances profits with saving the planet.

But before we dive into what it takes to become a polar bear, let’s look at how we got here.

The rise and fall of the unicorn

In 2013, venture capitalist (VC) Aileen Lee dreamed up the term “unicorn” to describe startups with a valuation of over $1 billion. And joining the Unicorn Club quickly became the goal of entrepreneurs across the land.

The original list contained just 39 companies and included big names like:

  • AirBnb
  • Uber
  • Square
  • Dropbox

Facebook (now Meta) also made the list, but it was already head and shoulders above the rest with a dizzying valuation of $122 billion.

And there lies the unicorn’s Achilles heel. In an era of free money, lightning-fast growth, and questionable valuations, the $1 billion entry fee to the Unicorn Club was all too attainable.

Between 2013 and 2022, the official list of global unicorns ballooned from 39 to 1,100. And the elite club that entrepreneurs had been jostling to join suddenly wasn’t so exclusive anymore.

So the unicorn evolved… badly.

From decacorns to zebras

As $1 billion valuations lost their cool, unicorns became the lame horses of startup land. Instead, entrepreneurs were competing for decacorn status — a private company or startup valued at over $10 billion.

But in some corners of the VC world, questions were being asked about the single-minded goal of “more money please”. And so, in 2017, the zebra was born.

“[Zebras] 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.”

However, the wool is not so easily pulled over our eyes at Partners in Clime. We see this for what it is: A shallow exercise in branding and nothing more. We do not believe the companies given this label are truly focused on saving the planet.

Meet the polar bears: where profits meet sustainability

Think about climate change and what do you see? A polar bear floating on a thin sheet of ice as it slowly melts at the edges.

This desperate image has been appearing in David Attenborough’s documentaries for decades. It’s a powerful symbol of sadness and isolation, reminding us that we need to act now.

But it’s also a symbol of hope. As long as polar bears walk the Earth we have a chance of turning things around if we choose to.

The polar bear is smart, curious, and adaptable. Scientists recently discovered a population of bears surviving without annual sea ice. Some have even ventured south into Canada to mate with grizzlies, giving birth to the aptly named “pizzly” bear. Seriously, look it up.

Let’s invoke the spirit of the polar bear ourselves to create companies that measure success by making a meaningful impact on the planet.

What is a polar bear startup?

A polar bear is a startup that’s valued at over $1 billion and has either saved 50M tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) or created 500 jobs in Green Tech.

Why tracking emissions alone isn’t enough

Cutting emissions is by far the most important goal in stopping climate change. But it’s very tricky to track.

By emphasizing creating more Green Tech jobs, we can find the talent that will help solve those problems.

Or, as Larry Fink, CEO of BlackRock predicted in his 2022 letter to CEOs:

“The next 1,000 unicorns won’t be search engines or social media companies, they’ll be sustainable, scalable innovators — startups that help the world decarbonize and make the energy transition affordable for all consumers.”

Let’s build the next polar bear together

This is our true calling.

And if you’ve read this far — it’s possible that it is your true calling too.

The time for change is now. Enough with mythical creatures and over-inflated valuations. The next generation of founders needs to stand up, step up and save our planet. And we’ll be standing right alongside them.

At Partners in Clime, we’re on a mission to create 10,000 jobs in Green Tech. We fund exceptional founders and help them solve big problems that will fix our climate.

Want to join us? Become a Partner In Clime here →



Partners in Clime
Partners in Clime

Building and scaling Green Tech Startups to fix our climate.