Unicorns, feminism and innovation: What big businesses can learn from startups

29 . 10 . 18

unicorn [yoo-ni-kwarn] (n):

1) a rare mythical creature, currently at the centre of a cultural craze

2) a startup company valued at more than a billion dollars

Once upon a time, unicorns were barely-considered minor characters in fairy-tales. Now, however, they are culturally and financially taking over the world. As of spring 2018, 279 unicorns were active worldwide and this time the phenomenon isn’t a fairy-tale; startups are making moves and winning markets. Big businesses with decades of experience still form the bedrock of the commercial world, but there is much they can learn from the fresh and exciting companies thriving in markets today.

Attitude to innovation

When the company itself is new, innovative ideas are supported and moreover encouraged. Apple created the cutting-edge of technology as a startup with the iPhone, leading the way for others to follow. Startups are placed in the excellent position of searching for innovation and excitement; they want to find the niche in their market and create something new. DeepMap, for example, is developing software to help driverless cars “see” the road, solving the issues that companies like Tesla have been wrestling with for years (Tesla’s autopilot mode was at the centre of a deadly crash in California). Large corporations, like Tesla, are further back from the initiation of their design and therefore further from the search for innovation. They need to plug back into the breaking waves of their markets and approach their problems from a fresh perspective, as startups do, to be of true relevance.


In a startup, nothing is restricted internally by lengthy processes, paperwork or people. The endless bureaucracy and tedious procedures of big business operations are cut out, and what remains is a clean-cut, efficient process by which the necessities are completed and results seen faster. Part of the speed of startups originates in the energy of the team; startups typically consist of young and motivated individuals. Perhaps, therefore, larger businesses should pull younger minds into the older, higher strata of their structures; an injection of fresh energy could be just what’s needed.


Large corporations require strict criteria and often hefty experience to even apply for a position within their firm. Startups, however, take everyone into account; they find the best person for the job, whether the candidate has 2.75+ years of experience or not. At Digital Radish, we consider people of all experience and education for a position – recruiting for attitude over aptitude,  believing in a person’s potential, not just what boxes they tick. It’s time for big businesses to redefine what they mean by “talent,” creating a process that doesn’t just rule out a person if they don’t have a 2:1, and instead helps people show what they can do, irrespective of their past experience and achievements.

The Power of the Female

On a similar note, women are much less restricted in startup environments than in big businesses, which are frequently called out for a lack of women in positions of power. Only 7 of the FTSE 100 companies have a female CEO – but there’s an entirely different story for startups. Data from the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor revealed that the proportion of female entrepreneurs recently rose by 45%, while the proportion of male entrepreneurs by only 27%. Take our own company; we are proud to be led by two inspirational women, Lorna and Renaye. The likelihood of finding two female CEOs in a large business is, however, sadly extremely low. To stay ahead of the game, and frankly to enter the 21st Century, large corporations must look towards the inclusive, fast-paced, avant-garde attitude that permeates the world of a startup.