The Best B-Schools For MBA Startups

Stanford University Graduate School of Business – Ethan Baron photo

No doubt, entrepreneurship continues to be more than a buzzword across business school campuses. Year-after-year, elite B-schools around the world continue to invest more and more time, resources, and faculty into entrepreneurial programs, centers, and research. Many schools boast accelerators, business plan competitions, and even significant seed money for their very best resident entrepreneurs. So which school does it best?

Each year, when we compile our list of top MBA startups, we take a look at the schools producing the most ventures to make the list. And for the first time ever, Harvard Business School did not claim the outright most. Instead, HBS has to share the top spot with cross-continent rival, Stanford Graduate School of Business. Both schools notched 24 ventures on this year’s Poets&Quants‘ Top 100 MBA Startups ranking for 2017. The list ranks ventures founded by MBA graduates in the past five years solely on venture capital raised. At the top of this year’s list was Deliveroo, a London-based food delivery venture founded by William Shu, who earned his MBA in 2012 from Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. The startup has raised a frothy $474.59 million since launch in 2013. To make this year’s list a startup had to have more than $4.22 million in VC-backing.

Since launching the list in 2013, HBS has done nothing but increase its presence — until this year. In 2013, HBS claimed 34 ventures to Stanford’s 32. In 2015, Harvard startups claimed 40 spots while Stanford dropped one venture to 31. Last year, HBS increased the gap even more, placing an astonishing 42 ventures on the list to Stanford’s 23. But this year, HBS dropped significantly to 24 companies while the GSB claimed one more to equal HBS at 24. Stanford’s ventures, however, were able to open VC pocketbooks wider, totaling $958.64 million across the 24 ventures. Meantime, HBS’ 24 ventures racked up $618.29 million in total funding.


Still, the 48 combined HBS and Stanford ventures is a significant drop from previous years. After a peak of 71 combined startups in 2015, the schools’ combined totals have been consistently declining and other schools have upped the ante. Columbia Business School, UPenn’s Wharton School, and Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management have made significant year-over-year gains. This year, Wharton vaulted from five ventures in 2016 to 12. Columbia  climbed from seven ventures in 2016 to 11 this year. And Northwestern’s Kellogg doubled up their 2015 number to eight ventures on this year’s list. MIT’s Sloan School of Management increased by one venture to reach seven and round out the top five.

Of course, the actual number of startups by MBAs at each of these schools greatly exceeds these numbers because many highly successful new companies don’t require more than $4 million in funding. In fact, many schools teach a lean startup methodology that encourages bootstrapping over VC funding. Still, raising money from outside investors is a clear market test for founders: They’ve been able to convince knowledgeable angels and VCs that their ideas and their management teams are worth funding.

What remains surprising is the dominance, however diminished, of just two business schools. According to school employment reports, 348 HBS students, since 2012, have elected to launch businesses within three months of graduation. During the same five-year timespan, 309 GSB students have reported launching businesses. Considering HBS regularly enrolls more than 900 MBAs a year compared to Stanford’s more than 400, Stanford’s numbers are impressive.


According to Deb Whitman, the managing director at Stanford GSB’s Center for Entrepreneurial Studies, no recent changes within GSB should affect her school’s presence. Still, she says, the school has “continued to evolve and refresh all curriculum, including the entrepreneurial curriculum.” If anything, Whitman explains, the school’s continued entrepreneurial strength likely stems from a “six-legged” approach. The six legs, Whitman explains, are faculty, curriculum, extra-curricular programs, alumni mentors, historical student interest, and geographical location.

“Students have the opportunity to learn from a wide array of caring and accomplished faculty who care about the skills needed to found and grow companies,” Whitman says, before ticking off such professors as Stefanos Zenios, Ilya Strebulaev, Irv Grousebeck, and Chuck Holloway. The GSB itself offers more than 60 entrepreneurial courses. Across the entire Stanford campus, more than 100 courses with an entrepreneurial bent are in the course catalog. Whitman says the school’s programming is highlighted by the Venture Studio, which had 468 graduate students participate in the last year, the entrepreneurial summer program, and the entrepreneurial workshop series.

“Our location in Silicon Valley allows students opportunities to connect to the broader entrepreneurial ecosystem around us,” Whitman adds. “Students benefit from this in many ways — a rich mix of class guest speakers, accelerators like StartX and Pear Ventures that actively foster programs for student and recent alumni entrepreneurs, and multiple opportunities to meet and learn from investors and successful entrepreneurs.”


Vince Ponzo, the senior director at the Eugene Lang Entrepreneurship Center at Columbia Business School says the Columbia-ventures to make this year’s list share a certain “tenacity.” “A lot of the students who come out of Columbia Business School are the ones that continue to pursue their businesses after graduation,” he says. “And this is not everybody — it’s a generalization — but they tend to have products. I think because they are physical products, because we are in New York City, students can go out on the street and talk to customers. They can get real-time feedback.

“When you think about consumer products, those are the companies that lend themselves to the full MBA education,” he continues. “It involves marketing, operations, sales, and finance. And I think that’s why you tend to see those businesses — at least in the near term — survive and raise money.”