Here’s Where Funded Founders Went To School

Every year or so at Crunchbase News, we take a look at which U.S. universities graduate the highest number of funded startup founders. And each time, we find few surprises in the top rankings.

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The leading schools for funded founders are reliably Stanford, Harvard and MIT. The top regions are California and the Northeast. And the top business schools are Harvard, Stanford and Wharton.

These trends held steady for our latest dataset, which looks at companies that raised their last private funding rounds in 2020 and 2021 and pulled in $1 million or more. This time around, however, we added more universities to our watchlist.

Turns out that while very few universities see hundreds of graduates raise funding in a given year, a lot of schools see several dozen. We lay out the top 35 in the chart below:

We chart business schools separately. Below are the top 14, per our count:

Key takeaways

The broad takeaway from the above lists is that a large portion of the nation’s most prestigious private colleges and public research universities do a pretty good job attracting and graduating fundable founders.

Some schools’ rankings are particularly impressive considering their small student body size. For instance, University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business and Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management each have fewer than 1,300 full-time students. Caltech has fewer than 1,000.

Other schools on the list, meanwhile, are considerably larger, with The University of Texas at Austin and University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign each counting over 50,000 current students.

From a regional perspective, we see California’s two largest and most prestigious state universities — UC Berkeley and UCLA — churning out more funded founders, while University of Southern California, a private school, has been moving up the ranks since we began these data dives.

We also see some improvement in Southern and Sunbelt states, most notably UT Austin, Duke and Georgia Tech. That said, schools in Sunbelt states, with the notable exception of California, still have a disproportionately small number of graduates becoming funded founders relative to size. That’s a topic we’ll explore in greater detail in next week’s column.

Getting back to school

Meanwhile, before signing off, we’ll explore a question that current students with entrepreneurial aspirations may be wondering in this most odd of years: Will university affiliation matter as much in the future as it has in the past?

Obviously, the past year has been off-putting for college and university students, with the social component of school severely curtailed. It’ll be interesting to see if this has an effect on college founder networks post-pandemic.

My guess is it probably will. That’s because even though few students pick a school with a startup network in mind, universities have a rich history on this front.

Take the “Paypal Mafia.” The famous founder group that pioneered the online payment platform — which includes Peter Thiel, Elon Musk and Max Levchin — met in the late 1990s through student networks at Stanford and University of Illinois. They have gone on to found or seed-fund companies collectively valued in the trillions.

Founders of Google and Facebook, two of the five most valuable U.S. tech companies, had founders who met in college. A third, Microsoft, hit hypergrowth mode after founder Bill Gates brought in Harvard buddy Steve Ballmer. (Of course, Gates and Mark Zuckerberg aren’t technically graduates as they dropped out to pursue their startups. But you get the idea.)

Today’s unicorn club also has its college network ties. Stock trading platform Robinhood’s story, for instance, begins at Stanford, where co-founders Baiju Bhatt and Vlad Tenev met as roommates and classmates.

Had any of the above-mentioned founders attended college in a year of no parties, grab-and-go meals, face masks and virtual classes, it’s likely they would not have met their future co-founders during that time.

But now that 2021 is upon us, things are looking up. In coming months, we can expect more students to be celebrating the return of in-person classes, shared meals, parties and dorm socializing. Perhaps the more entrepreneurial among them will find time to hash out a few startups too.

Methodology: The list is not exhaustive, in part because many Crunchbase founder profiles do not include a university affiliation. Additionally, some founders attended more than one university on the list and were counted twice. The funded founder list focuses on companies that raised a private funding round in 2020 or 2021, but some of those have since gone public after raising those investments. 

Illustration: Dom Guzman

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