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Where Do Successful CEOs Study?

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Where Do Successful Startup Founders Go to School?

If you think formal education is irrelevant to startup success, you're in good company.

Billionaire dropouts are all over the news: Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg all famously founded their companies after dropping out of college. And they're not the only ones: Ralph Lauren, Simon Cowell, and Whole Foods founder John Mackey all lack college degrees.

So does that mean aspiring entrepreneurs shouldn't bother with college?

Although there are plenty of famous examples of successful dropouts, the data reveals that they're outnumbered by successful startups founded by entrepreneurs with college degrees.

Why do some entrepreneurs seem to not need formal education, or even be hindered by it? It comes down to learning style: Many successful dropouts are naturally self-taught learners, or "autodidacts." They find that the classroom environment stifles their own learning process, instead of encouraging it.

But autodidacts are in the minority. That's because it's difficult to forge your own path and know which direction to take when you have little or no knowledge of the subject. Most students benefit from the guidance their teachers provide.

That's probably why most successful startup founders have at least a bachelors degree and years of industry experience.

But the dream of the billionaire dropout is out there, with enough real examples to appeal to those who don't want to wait years or decades to put their new business idea into action. Why wait years to earn a college degree when you can start making the big bucks now?

Some colleges have started to react to this entrepreneurial dream by offering courses and degrees designed to cultivate entrepreneurship, instead of general business degrees.

Which of these colleges are turning out the most successful entrepreneurs? What schools are all the venture capital going to, and which schools were the birthplace of which companies? Find out in in the graphic below.


Transcript: Where Do Successful Startup Founders go to School?

Schools across the nation specialize in a variety of areas, including the arts, sports, teacher education, and technology. A handful of universities, however, have a special commitment to educating tomorrow's entrepreneurs and producing graduates of some of the top startup companies of the last few years.

Top Schools

These are the top universities with graduates founding VC Companies from 2010 to 2013.

University RankingNumber of Alumni Founding Companies that Received a First Round of Venture Capital Funding
1. Stanford University190
2. UC Berkeley160
3. University of Pennsylvania131
4. Harvard124
5. MIT115
6. Cornell110
7. University of Michigan93
8. University of Texas80
9. Carnegie Mellon University79
10. Indian Institutes of Technology77
  • Other universities like the University of Illinois, Brown, and Yale made the list in individual years.
  • Seven of the eight Ivy League Universities are in the top 16 of VC-backed startup founders.
  • Carnegie Mellon and Princeton, although not leading in number of successful startups, has the highest average amount of VC raised in the first round by graduates at $12 million and $11.4 million respectively. Stanford has only $5.1 million average in the first round.
  • In CNN's top 100 startups, Harvard has 34 on the list, Stanford has 32, and MIT has 11.

The Educated Entrepreneur

  • Stanford
    • Over 31,000 degrees awarded in the Graduate School of Business
    • About 44% of MBA graduates founded companies
    • About 18% of the class of 2013 chose to found a startup rather than join an existing company.
    • Allows students to take a year of absence to pursue entrepreneurial interests with simple re-admission.
    • Has organizations like StartX and BASES to provide resources to aspiring entrepreneurs.
    • Has an alumni support center with discussion boards, peer groups, and alumni circle meetings.
    • Stanford had 66 alumni founded startup companies in 2012 alone.
  • UC Berkeley
    • Lester Center for Entrepreneurship
    • Motto: "Redefine how we do business."
    • Skydeck incubator supports student startups with resources and mentoring
  • Harvard
    • Offers MBA and doctoral degrees
    • Offers a variety of electives in entrepreneurship courses, including finance, marketing, global capitalism, business in China, leadership, online economy, and many more
    • Recognizes alumni achievements through annual awards
    • Accounts for 8-10% of student entrepreneurs
    • Harvard has raised the most cumulative VC funding with over $4.1 billion, with Stanford right behind at $3.7 billion.
  • MIT
    • Motto: "Mens et Manus" (Mind and Hand)
    • Focuses on foundational skills and theory
    • Offers a variety of electives, including industry focused courses, technology entrepreneurship, and global entrepreneurship
    • Allows for independent activities periods for hands-on experience across campus
  • Cornell
    • Combines courses across disciplines that contain entrepreneurship content to create degree
  • University of Pennsylvania
    • Their Wharton Business School was the first to have an entrepreneurial program for students in 1973.
    • Each year the Wharton Business Plan Competition allows students to compete with their business ideas for $115,000 in cash and prizes.
    • Their Venture Initiation Program allows students to build and launch their startups.

Notable Alumni

  • Stanford
    • Evan Spiegel, Snapchat
    • Reed Hastings, Netflix
    • Peter Thiel, PayPal
    • Larry Page, Google
  • UC Berkeley
    • Gordon E. Moore, Intel
    • Steve Wozniak, Apple
    • Eric Schmidt, Google
  • University of Pennsylvania
    • Elon Musk, Tesla & PayPal
    • Mark Pincus, Zynga
  • Harvard
    • Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook
    • Bill Gates, Microsoft
  • MIT
    • Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah, HubSpot
    • Colin Angle, iRobot Corporation
    • William Reddington Hewlett, HP
  • Cornell
    • Paul Graham, Viaweb & YCombinator
    • Irwinn M. Jacobs, Qualcomm

Successful entrepreneurship often lies in a foundational education and a variety of resources. Who are the next great startup company founders we might see from these top universities?


KeriLynn Engel

About KeriLynn Engel

KeriLynn has worked as a freelance writer for various websites. She is an advocate for domestic abuse victims and has way too many hobbies.


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September 23, 2015

[…] There are certainly successful entrepreneurs who are Princeton graduates, but the University is “not leading in number of successful startups.” There is a reasonable number of Princeton students who use startup experience during college as a […]