Over the past 20 years, the world has seen the emergence of more than a thousand unicorns.
These startups valued at over $1 billion, like Airbnb or Uber, have shaken up the lines of traditional
economy, thanks to their innovative nature and strong growth.
In the context of an ecological crisis and growing social inequality, many governments are proudly
publicizing the fund-raising announcements of their national unicorns without questioning their
social utility or the potential risks associated with their activities. Just as a country’s overall
performance is measured by its GDP, a unicorn’s overall performance is generally measured
solely by its financial valuation.
But the most emblematic tech companies have no positive impact intrinsically linked to their
activity. In other words, they do not address social or environmental issues through their
products and services. For example, the Chinese unicorns Tik Tok and Shein, the American
video game developer and publisher Epic Games, or N26, Germany’s leading neo-bank, have
an activity that has at best no impact on society, at worst a negative one.
But what about the 28 French unicorns?
Only 25% of them have a positive impact intrinsically linked to their activity. This finding is more
balanced if extended to French Tech Next 40 companies. 38% of firms in this government’s support
program for startups considered as the most successful respond to a social
or environmental problem through their activity. One of the reasons for this is the inclusion of
social and environmental criteria in the selection process.
This is the case, for example, with BackMarket, the marketplace for refurbished electronic
products. Fully integrated into the circular economy, the company has even decided to go one
step further by obtaining B Corp certification and Mission Statement status in 2022, with its
purpose “giving all humans the power to make machines last through circularity and repair”.
According to Camille Richard, Director of Sustainable Development at Back Market, this
purpose is a “compass in all our strategic decisions and in our relations with our stakeholders”.
Another example of an “impact” business model, carpooling company Blablacar contributes
to the development of greener, more inclusive mobility, accessible to as many people as possible.
On a different note, some start-ups are committed to transforming society and preserving the
environment, without actually being involved in inherently virtuous activities. This is the case, for
example, of Contentsquare, the platform specializing in consumer behavior analysis and
behavioral data mining, which has been granted the status of a company with a mission in 2022
and whose purpose is “to help brands create a more humane digital world”. However, the company
has yet to communicate the action plans and objectives that will align its business model with this purpose.
For its part, ManoMano, a marketplace for products and services in the DIY, gardening and
home sectors, has published an impact report for 2021, in which it explains how it will achieve
its goal of becoming “Europe’s leading responsible online home furnisher”. On the
environmental front, the company has launched carbon footprint reduction solutions, as well as
a responsible offer strategy to make the catalog more virtuous. Concrete targets and indicators
have been defined, such as the number of products displaying eco-responsibility information or
the proportion of products without over-packaging.
However, over 70% of French unicorns have neither a positive impact intrinsically linked to their
activity, nor a clear commitment strategy. For some of them, the “mission” or “purpose” is
primarily to serve their customers better, such as a fintech whose mission is to “free the
administrative and financial team from the mental burden of managing company expenses”, or
an artificial intelligence platform that aims to “free insurers to be present in different ways for
even more customers”.
Unicorns play a key role in the transformation of our society, having a direct impact on the
behavior of companies and individuals. Tomorrow’s lifestyles and consumption patterns will be
affected by their products and services, illustrating the need for these companies to create more
sustainable and inclusive models by committing to a positive impact strategy.