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 wanted to meet any of them, where should you have gone to college? Do certain schools tend to produce a disproportionate number of these unicorn founders?

The cloud accounting platform Sage did some research and discovered some correlations. 

Unicorn Founders – Who Educates Them?

Sage also notes that the majority of unicorns were founded by more than one person, so don’t give a single person all the credit in most cases. All the same, these are the 15 schools that produced the most unicorn founders. 

Stanford University

It’s not just the university that figured out how to beat Alabama in one of the biggest upsets in college football history; Stanford also knows how to produce big-name unicorn entrepreneurs, 51 and counting to be exact. Among those are Peter Thiel of PayPal and Palantir; Allen Blue, Eric Ly and Konstantin Guericke of LinkedIn; Avery Wang and Dhiraj Mukherjee of Shazam; and WhatsApp founder Brian Acton. Of course, it certainly doesn’t hurt that the university is barely 20 minutes from Silicon Valley. (For more, see Why Silicon Valley Unicorns Could Soon Be Extinct.)

Harvard University

You know the story of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, who started the company in his dorm room at Harvard. Although not close to Silicon Valley, the New England region is also well known for its technological prowess.  According to Forbes.com, Zuckerberg, who left Harvard before graduating, isn’t counted by the Sage report among Harvard’s 37 unicorn founders, including Hulu’s Jason Kilar, Zynga’s Mark Pincus and Airbnb’s Nathan Blecharczyk.

University of California

You’ll find such names as Uber founder Travis Kalanick – who also didn’t graduate and isn’t officially counted by Sage – and GoPro’s Nicholas Woodman and Lyft’s Logan Green, both of whom did and are. Yes, it’s a public institution, but it has a world-class reputation. (For more, see The Story of Uber.)

Indian Institute of Technology

Not all unicorn founders are groomed in the United States. While you might not know of these companies, Sachin Bansal and Binny Bansal are founders of the ecommerce site Flipkart, while Abhay Singhal started the online marketing company InMobi. They’re just one-fourth of the 12 that have come from this school.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

You would expect MIT to make the list, right? Graduates include Dropbox founders Arash Ferdowski 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. 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 pond you’ll find the University of Oxford, where eight unicorn founders studied, including Reid Hoffman, co-founder of LinkedIn.

Tel Aviv University

Israel often makes the news for its tensions with the Palestinians, but tech experts know that 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.

Cornell University

New York State 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 Others

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 names: 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 that 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 that some schools churn out an impressive number of multi-billion-dollar entrepreneuri. 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. (For more, see Why the Unicorn Hunt May Reap Big Profits in 2017.)


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