If you've created a unicorn, it means your company is worth more than $1 billion. Where do people learn to do this? And if you want to meet any of them, where should you go to college? Do certain schools tend to produce a disproportionate number of these unicorn founders? Research by cloud accounting platform Sage shows the correlations between unicorn founders sand where they went to college.
Sage notes the majority of unicorns were founded by more than one person, so in most cases, all the credit shouldn't be given to a single founder. However, these are the schools that produced the most unicorn founders.
- A Sage report found that 172 of the 498 unicorn founders or co-founders came from only 10 universities.
- The well-known Ivy League schools, Stanford and Harvard, are the alma matter for many well-known founders of unicorn companies.
- Meanwhile, overseas universities, such as the Indian Institute of Technology, the University of Oxford, and Tel Aviv University have also helped create such founders.
- Some founders, however, dropped out before graduating, such as Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg, who left Harvard early, and Travis Kalanick of Uber, who didn't finish school at UCLA.
Stanford knows how to produce big-name unicorn entrepreneurs—51 and counting to be exact. They include:
- Peter Thiel, founder of PayPal (PYPL) and Palantir
- LinkedIn founders Allen Blue, Eric Ly, and Konstantin Guericke
- Avery Wang and Dhiraj Mukherjee of Shazam
- WhatsApp founder, Brian Acton
Of course, it certainly doesn’t hurt that Standford is barely 20 minutes from Silicon Valley.
You probably know the story of Facebook (FB) founder, Mark Zuckerberg, who started the company in his dorm room at Harvard. Although not as close to Silicon Valley, the New England region is also well-known for its technological prowess.
Zuckerberg, who left Harvard before graduating, isn’t counted by the Sage report as one of Harvard’s 37 unicorn founders. Making the list, however, are Hulu’s Jason Kilar, Zynga’s Mark Pincus, and Airbnb’s Nathan Blecharczyk.
University of California
The University of California, which is a public school—unlike the previous two—boasts GoPro’s Nicholas Woodman and Lyft’s Logan Green as alumni. It's worth noting that the University of California has 10 campuses across the state of California. Woodman attended the campus in San Deigo and Green the campus in Santa Barbra.
Meanwhile, Uber founder Travis Kalanick did attend the University of California at Los Angeles—aka UCLA—but did not graduate and isn’t officially counted by Sage.
Indian Institute of Technology
Not all unicorn founders are schooled in the U.S. Sachin Bansal and Binny Bansal are founders of the e-commerce site, Flipkart, while Abhay Singhal started the online marketing company, InMobi. These are three of the 12 names on Sage's list graduating from the Indian Institute of Technology in India.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
You would expect MIT to make the list, right? Graduates include Dropbox founders, Arash Ferdowsi and Drew Houston, Buzzfeed’s Jonah Peretti, and seven others.
University of Pennsylvania
Don’t feel bad if you don’t think of the University of Pennsylvania as a school on the technology-nirvana level of MIT—many people don't. Nevertheless, Elon Musk, founder of SpaceX and co-founder of Tesla, hails from Penn, along with eight other unicorn founders.
University of Oxford
Across the ocean, you’ll find the University of Oxford in the U.K., where eight unicorn founders studied, including Reid Hoffman, co-founder of LinkedIn.
Tel Aviv University
Tel Aviv University has put out an impressive number of unicorn founders. The list includes Omer Kaplan and Tamir Carmi, co-founders of IronSource, a company that builds products for other developers, along with six others.
New York Ivy League school Cornell University has produced six unicorn founders, including Lyft’s John Zimmer and Wayfair’s Niraj Shah and Steve Conine.
University of Southern California
Well within driving distance of Silicon Valley, the University of Southern California has also produced six distinguished entrepreneurs, including James Burgess, John Hering, and Kevin Mahaffey of Lookout.
The bottom five schools on the list—the University of Waterloo, INSEAD, WHU, University of Michigan, and Brigham Young University—combine for 26 unicorn founders, including the progenitors of Groupon—Emil Jersling, Brad Keywell, and Eric Lefkofsky. Other notable names include Dominik Richter of HelloFresh, and David Elkington and Ken Krogue of InsideSales.com.
The Bottom Line
Whether or not these founders would credit their college education for their success is debatable. As noted above, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg dropped out of Harvard once Facebook became popular. The report also found beginner’s luck seems to be alive and well, with 60% of companies being the founder’s first go at such an endeavor.
All the same, there’s no denying some schools churn out an impressive number of multi-billion-dollar entrepreneurs. In fact, 172 of the 498 unicorn founders or co-founders came from only 10 universities. Maybe paying up to almost $60,000 per year in tuition is worth it after all.