Small Business Economics

, Volume 52, Issue 2, pp 359–374 | Cite as

Hidden champions and unicorns: a question of the context of human capital investment

  • Erik E. LehmannEmail author
  • Julian Schenkenhofer
  • Katharine Wirsching


The Silicon Valley model of high-tech entrepreneurship has been placed in the spotlight by academics in the past at the expense of the plenitude of Main Street businesses — businesses beyond the high-tech and ICT sector and the highly scalable platform economy. This study aims at resolving this one-sidedness contributing to unexplained aspects of entrepreneurship theory. Our focus lies on a subgroup of Main Street companies, known as hidden champions, as the counterpart of Silicon Valley high-growth firms, the unicorns. In spite of a worldwide distribution, just as unicorns are highly skewed to a few countries and regions, so are hidden champions. On a snapshot, it appears that unicorns and hidden champions are substitutes rather than complementary to one another. We illustrate that the emergence and skewed distribution of these two types of firms can be explained by the institutional context, in particular the provision of human capital. In an explorative approach, our line of reasoning puts forward that the centralization (public provision) vs. decentralization (individual investment) in organizing the accumulation of human capital helps to explain the different and path-dependent evolution of both, the Silicon Valley and the Main Street models of entrepreneurship.


Main street entrepreneurship Hidden champions Human capital 

JEL classification

J24 L26 M13 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Erik E. Lehmann
    • 1
    Email author
  • Julian Schenkenhofer
    • 2
  • Katharine Wirsching
    • 2
  1. 1.Faculty of Business and EconomicsUniversity of Augsburg and CCSE (Augsburg/Bergamo, It)AugsburgGermany
  2. 2.Faculty of Business and EconomicsUniversity of AugsburgAugsburgGermany

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