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?
The cloud accounting platform Sage did some research and discovered some correlations.
Unicorn Founders – Who Educates Them?
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 15 schools that produced the most unicorn founders.
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. They include:
- Peter Thiel of PayPal and Palantir
- Allen Blue, Eric Ly and Konstantin Guericke of LinkedIn
- 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. (For more, see: Why Silicon Valley Unicorns Could Soon Be Extinct.)
You probably 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. 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-quarter 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. (For related reading, see: 4 Billionaires Who Graduated From MIT.)
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 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 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 State Ivy League school Cornell University has produced six unicorn founders, including Lyft’s John Zimmer and Wayfair’s Niraj Shah and Steve Conine. (For related reading, see: Is an Ivy League Degree Worth It?)
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 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. (For more, see: Why Venture Funders Are Shunning Baby Unicorns.)