Study: 90% of Unicorn Founders Come from These Schools

Posted By Courtney Price Davis on December 9, 2016 at 10:23 am
Study: 90% of Unicorn Founders Come from These Schools

Some of the most selective colleges in the country are also the birthplace of many major companies.

What does it take to launch a company that will be worth more than $1 billion? Smarts, hard work, and a good bit of luck – oh, and probably a degree from one of just a handful of top colleges in the country.

GoodCall analysts recently took a look at the founders of companies considered unicorns – private companies valued at $1 billion or more – and what schools they attended. At the very least, the results support the notion that students who attend the best schools have a better chance to come out on top. The data show that 90% of current unicorn founders attended just 3% of U.S. colleges.

With 38, Stanford University counts by far the most founders as alumni, especially after accounting for its Graduate School of Business – which adds another 10.

“We offer our students several opportunities to help de-mystify entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship is not for everyone and our goal is to help our students discover whether it is right for them while they are here,” says Stefanos Zenios, professor of entrepreneurship and professor of operations, information & technology for Stanford Graduate School of Business.

The schools at the top are also pretty highly selective. Stanford had the lowest admission rate in the country this fall, admitting just 4.8% of applicants. Harvard, No. 2, admitted just 5.3%, and No. 4 MIT had a 7.9% admissions rate.

Many of the companies the alumni went on to found are ones most people would recognize – Uber, Airbnb, Pinterest, Snap Inc., Drop Box, SpaceX and Hulu are all in the top 10 in valuation. But there are many others that are worth more than a billion dollars that quietly offer business-to-business services or behind-the-scenes products that aren’t top of mind but are making financial waves.

Nearly all the founders were men; only nine of the 188 founders researched were female. Danielle Letayf, program manager for AOL’s #BUILTBYGIRLS, says women will need more female mentors to close that massive gap. “What they really need are advisers that expose them to the real business world early on and help them understand how to go from A to B, whether that means turning their code into a scalable business or understanding how data science could help them in their career as a journalist,” she says.

Among other findings in the data, GoodCall analysts noted:

  • Women were more likely to find success without earning advanced degrees. 16% of the women who founded a unicorn did so with just a high school degree.
  • There are different ways of measuring success. While some big-name colleges have a lot of founders, the most valuable company on the Unicorns list, Uber, was founded by three men who all attended schools outside the top 10.
  • Private schools far outnumber public schools, by almost a factor of 3:1.

Additionally, there were a few surprising findings:

  • There were a handful of unexpected colleges on the list, including The Culinary Institute of America and a community college.
  • Some very prestigious schools, including Yale Law and Harvard Medical School, only claim one graduate – though maybe that’s not as surprising, given the tendency of unicorns to be born of business schools.
  • There were some surprising college majors, including art history and behavioral psychology.
  • No female founders earned a post-graduate degree.

The schools with the most graduates as unicorn founders were mostly private schools:

Institution Unicorn Founder Alumni
Stanford University 38
Harvard University 21
University of California, Berkeley 12
Stanford Graduate School of Business 10
Massachusetts Institute of Technology 10
Harvard Business School 9
Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania 8
Cornell University 7
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign 6
Yale University 6
Columbia University 6

For more data, read the full Unicorn Breeders report.

About the data

GoodCall’s analysts looked the founders of current U.S. unicorns as reported by TechCrunch in Q3 2016. Educational data came from several online sources, including self-reported online profiles .

Courtney Price Davis
Courtney has a journalism degree from UNC-Chapel Hill and has worked at newspapers and magazines as a reporter, designer, copy editor and managing editor. She started a weekly newspaper at age 23 and was executive editor of Lake Norman Publications outside of Charlotte, N.C.

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