Kamiak High School, Harvard University and University of Washington graduate Michael Bervell’s new book, “Unlocking Unicorns,” profiles 10 founders of billion-dollar companies in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Kamiak High School, Harvard University and University of Washington graduate Michael Bervell’s new book, “Unlocking Unicorns,” profiles 10 founders of billion-dollar companies in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Kamiak graduate profiles the ‘Unicorns’ of the business world

Michael Bervell’s new book features 10 entrepreneurs who created billion-dollar startup companies. What do they have in common? None of them are white Western men.

In business, a “unicorn” is a privately held startup company valued at more than $1 billion.

The term was popularized by venture capitalist Aileen Lee, who chose the mythical creature to represent the statistical rarity of such successful ventures.

Michael Bervell, 24, of Mill Creek, is the author of “Unlocking Unicorns,” a book that profiles successful billion-dollar startup founders in Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

“Most people, if you ask them to name a super-successful business founder and entrepreneur, they might say Steve Jobs, or Bill Gates, or Warren Buffett, or maybe Jeff Bezos. They’re all men, they’re all white men, so where are the rest of the startup founders?

“I wrote a book that looks at female founders, out of the U.S., and non-white founders, out of the U.S., who have still been successful. They have lesser-known stories with even more interesting lessons.”

“Unlocking Unicorns” features 10 entrepreneurs who found the key to success — including Jack Ma, founder of e-commerce giant AliBaba; Robin Li, co-founder of the search engine Baidu; Ritesh Agarwal, founder of OYO Rooms for budget hotels; Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, founder of Biocon, a biopharmaceutical company; Mudassir Sheikha, founder of the vehicle-for-hire company Careem; Bang Si-Hyuk, producer behind the boy band BTS; Cher Wang, founder of HTC, a consumer electronics company; and Mitchell Elegbe, founder of Interswitch, a cashless payment processor.

“Unlocking Unicorns” explains how 10 founders in non-Western nations overcame and adapted to brain drain, leapfrogging technologies, location-based discrimination and government unrest.

Here’s another business term for you: Bervell is an angel investor through M12, Microsoft’s venture fund, meaning he provides capital for startup companies — when most investors aren’t yet prepared to back them — in exchange for convertible debt or ownership equity.

“I would describe what I do now as ‘Shark Tank,’” he said. “Entrepreneurs will pitch our team different ideas of startups that they’ve created, and we use Microsoft’s money to invest in these startups.

“It’s a really fun and interesting job because you get to see essentially five years into the future at what people are trying to build to become the next multi-million dollar company.”

The Kamiak High School graduate is writing what he knows. Bervell has helped to found and lead a number of organizations, including the Enchiridion Corp., a marketing consulting company, and Billion Dollar Startup Ideas, a media and innovation company.

“I really grew to love technology as a fast-growing method for changing the world,” said Bervell, who has worked as a venture fellow at Harlem Capital, product manager at Microsoft and a software engineer at Twitter. “It’s making a positive impact.”

His daily blog, about billion-dollar startup ideas, has more than 750,000 readers and 10,000 subscribers from 150 countries. He founded the Billion Dollar Startup Club on TikTok — his account is @startupideaking — which has more than 832,000 views.

“It’s my way of being curious about the world,” Bervell said. “I love looking at the world, and trying to find a problem with it, and thinking about how could you build a business to solve this problem. And eventually a bunch of other people thought that was a really cool idea as well.”

At Kamiak, Bervell also co-founded Hugs for Ghana, a nonprofit that sends gifts to kids in hospitals and orphanages around the world. (He is a Ghanaian-American.) Since 2007, the student-run organization has expanded its operations to Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya, Sierra Leone and the United States.

After graduating from Kamiak High School, he earned his bachelor’s degree in philosophy and computer science at Harvard University and his master’s degree in communication at the University of Washington.

Janice Riley, a marketing revisions editor for New Degree Press, was assigned to edit his book. Together, Michael and Janice unlocked the book’s potential.

“We’re asked what are we interested in, what do we like reading and what is our expertise,” Riley said. “Since I had experience working in business development for a software startup for four years and ran a business incubator for six years, it was kind of a no-brainer to assign Michael’s book to me.”

Riley said Bervell’s book is destined to be a best-seller because it’s about startup companies from around the world — not just the U.S. What makes “Unlocking Unicorns” special, she said, is that it doesn’t profile the billion-dollar companies all Americans know: Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft, Apple, Google, etc.

“The world’s bigger than the just the United States,” she said. “Artificial intelligence, tech advances and cutting-edge technology exists in other countries. There are scientists and technologists and engineers doing amazing things around the world.”

Who should read this book? Bervell said “Unlocking Unicorns” is for aspiring startup founders or emerging economy investors who want to do business in the 21st century.

He said it’s not that hard to think of a billion-dollar startup idea. “If 1 billion people are facing a problem, and you solve it for $1, and they’re willing to pay it, then you’ve created a business that could potentially be a billion-dollar business,” he said.

There’s your unicorn.

Riley recommends the book if you like watching ABC’s “Shark Tank,” in which entrepreneurs pitch ideas for a business, or CNBC’s “The Profit,” which follows venture capitalist Marcus Lemonis.

What’s next for Bervell? “I definitely want to write a second book,” he said. Bervell is thinking about profiling startup companies in Latin America, the Caribbean and Australia. “Maybe ‘Unlocking Unicorns’ could be a series of different books about startup founders and startup stories all around the world.”

Maybe he’ll launch an “Unlocking Unicorns” podcast to go with his blog and TikTok, he said.

Bervell also has applied to go back to Harvard to get another master’s degree, this time in business administration.

All this, and he’s only 24 — “What’s he going to accomplish by the time he’s 30?” Riley asked.

With his own key to success, Bervell might just make it to Forbes’ 30 Under 30 list.

Sara Bruestle: 425-339-3046; sbruestle@heraldnet.com; @sarabruestle.

“Unlocking Unicorns”

By Michael Bervell

New Degree. 196 pages. $19.99.

Talk to us

More in Life

Jeff Barnett, owner of Salish Sea-Boathouse during the soft opening in Edmonds on November 24, 2021. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Salish Sea sets sail at second location in Edmonds

In honor of the nearby waterfront, The Boathouse has a decidedly nautical feel — and it’s more of a taproom and brewhouse than its sibling brewpub up the street.

Jacob Akers in his replica Dude sweater from The Big Leboswki on Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2021 in Everett, Wa. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Dude, you’re knitting some bodacious ‘Big Lebowski’ sweaters

Jacob Akers, 29, a Costco shelf stocker, knits cardigans made famous by the 1998 cult classic guy flick.

Bill Howell, a plant pathologist from Prosser, created the Lucy Rose apple variety as a cross between the Honeycrisp and an Airlie Red variety. They are notable for their red centers.(Jennifer Bardsley)
Sweet treats for the holiday season direct from Washington growers

Washington State farmers survived a difficult year. The fruits of their labor deserve admiration.

Roger Fisher pauses while jamming in the garden at his Monroe home.
Monroe resident Roger Fisher reflects on his time with Heart

He was a co-founder of the Seattle group that rose to worldwide fame in the 1970s. He left the band when his romance with Nancy Wilson went south.

This Jewish chef puts a Mexican twist on her latkes

Patti Jinich serves them with a crunchy, citrusy Mexican crema made with fresh squeezed lime juice and zest and finely diced fennel.

The Pacific Ice rink under construction at Port of Everett on Friday, Nov. 26, 2021 in Everett, Wa. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Port of Everett unveils seasonal ice rink on the waterfront

The outdoor rink will be open through the end of January. The port plans for it to return annually.

The 2022 Mini Cooper is available in two-door or four-door hardtop models. A two-door soft-top convertible model is also offered. (Manufacturer photo)
2022 Mini Cooper reinforces the brand’s reputation for fun

An exterior freshening, new 8.8-inch touchscreen and value-driven Oxford Edition model are highlights.

Don Sarver, left, and Kyle James, right, snowshoe on the Skyline Lake Trail on Saturday, Jan. 26, 2019 in Leavenworth, Wa. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Don Sarver, left, and Kyle James, right, snowshoe on the Skyline Lake Trail on Jan. 26, 2019, in Leavenworth. (Olivia Vanni / Herald file)
Outdoors classes and activities around Snohomish County

The listings include Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest updates and REI Lynnwood workshops.

Baden-Baden: Getting naked with strangers

Relaxing at the spa resort of Baden-Baden in southern Germany’s Black Forest,… Continue reading

Where have all the workers gone?

Many of us wonder why there are so many vacancies in so… Continue reading

Book-related events in Snohomish County.
Author events and poetry readings around Snohomish County

The listings include Third Place Books, Everett Public Library and Neverending Bookshop events.

Lady Gaga in "House of Gucci." (Courtesy of Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures Inc./TNS)
A stone-cold Lady Gaga brings down the ‘House of Gucci’

Ridley Scott’s movie dives into a luxury brand and a family laid low by greed and infighting.