MBA Grads Are Behind 38 ‘Unicorns’

Harvard Business School Baker Library - Ethan Baron photo

Harvard Business School Baker Library – Ethan Baron photo

It’s a constant and hotly argued debate. Is the MBA a worthwhile pursuit for startup success? On the one hand, the degree doesn’t come cheap. It requires a huge commitment of time. Even administrators at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, nestled against and within Startup Mecca, now tell students to at least wait until after graduation starting a venture.

On the other hand, entrepreneurship inside the confines of a business school campus reduces risk. There’s hand-holding from professors and entrepreneurship directors. There’s financial and physical support. And there’s access to potential co-founders and investors galore.

New research from seed investment firm, NextView Ventures adds to the pro-MBA camp. A second-year Harvard Business School student at NextView Ventures, David Fairbank, set out to find just how many ‘unicorn’ companies have MBAs on the founding team. It turns out, quite a few do. Out of the 157 world-wide companies to hit unicorn status as of the end of January, 38 (24%) have at least one MBA founder. What’s more, a total of 63 MBA founders are represented on those 38 companies. As a reminder, the majestic ‘unicorn’ is an independent company valued at greater than $1 billion.


Those 38 unicorns have been valued at a combined $64.7 billion. They’ve also raised a combined $18.7 billion in funding. And like the Poets&Quants Top 100 MBA Startups of 2016, one school unsurprisingly stands well above the rest. Harvard Business School can lay claim to 13 MBA-founded unicorns, with 18 total founders. Next up is Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, with seven unicorns and nine founders. The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania has five unicorns and also has nine founders total. Rounding out the top four schools is INSEAD with four unicorns and five founders.

Harvard-founded unicorns are valued at nearly $26 billion and have raised a collective $6.3 billion in funding. Wharton’s unicorns, valued at nearly $11 billion, slightly edge out Stanford for second place.  The Stanford unicorns have a combined value of  $10.5 billion. The Wharton-founded billion-dollar-and-up players have also received $5.1 billion in backing, while Stanford GSB-founded unicorns have generated $2.9 billion.

The most valuable MBA company of all? Korean e-commerce venture, Coupang, valued at $5 billion. Widely known as the “world’s fastest growing e-commerce company,” Coupang was founded by HBS grad Bom Kim in 2010. Not that far behind is Chinese mobile internet company, Dianping, which sports a $4.05 billion valuation. Tao Zhang of the Wharton School founded Dianping in 2003. The third highest MBA-founded venture is e-commerce fashion site, Global Fashion Network. The venture has the highest valued cross-university founding MBA team, drawing on MBAs from INSEAD, Harvard, Wharton, Chicago Booth and IIM-Calcutta.


Perhaps most impressive is the diversity in schools represented. Out of the 38 unicorns, 18 different MBA programs are represented. Besides Harvard and Stanford, there’s IIM-Calcutta in India, Vienna University in Austria, and Washington University in St. Louis. Interestingly, four unicorns were founded by MBAs from multiple schools and a dozen were launched by at least two MBAs from the same school. No surprise, U.S. B-schools hold the majority of MBA-founded unicorns, but five schools outside of the U.S. have 10 unicorns represented.