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B-Schools With The Most ‘Unicorn’ Founders

Unprecedented venture capital backing and frothy valuations have made the rare unicorn — a privately held company valued at over $1 billion — a little less elusive. Recently released data from Sage, a London-based software company for small businesses, reveals which B-schools claim the most graduates behind current unicorns. Two entrepreneurial giants stand above the rest. According to Sage, no other business school can claim more unicorn founders than Harvard Business School with 23. Stanford’s Graduate School of Business follows with 19.

On a university-wide level, those two schools flip-flop but still boast alumni  behind more unicorns than any other university in the world. Some 51 graduates from Stanford University — which includes the 19 GSB graduates — are on founding teams of unicorns. At Harvard University, the number was 37. Interestingly, only 19 GSB graduates made up 51 total Stanford founders behind unicorns while more than half of Harvard’s unicorn founders came from the business school (23 of 37). At the University of Pennsylvania, all nine founders behind unicorns came from The Wharton School.

Sage gave founder credit to each school by the latest degree a graduate earned. “So if a founder studied for a masters at Harvard and for a Ph.D. at Stanford, then they would fall under the latter bracket,” explains James Barney, a researcher at Verge Search, which provided Poets&Quants with the data. It also doesn’t necessarily mean a graduate earned an MBA. Tessa’s Elon Musk, for example, is included in Wharton’s count because he earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from Wharton. Impressively, HBS and the GSB claim a combined 42 of 89 MBA unicorn founders. What’s more, both of those schools do not have undergraduate business programs like Wharton and UC-Berkeley Haas.

The data also doesn’t reflect the number of companies coming from the schools. For example, four of the nine founders at Wharton — Andrew Hunt, David Gilboa, Jeffrey Raider, and Neil Blumenthal — are all from Warby Parker. At the university level, the data does point to a geographical advantage. More unicorns reside in California and have roots in California universities than any other region or country in the world. Being home to 96 unicorns, California boasts more billion dollar companies than China, which claims the second highest unicorn total at 47. The United States stakes claim to 144 total unicorns. At 19 unicorns, New York claims the second highest state total.

Sage also pieced together some interesting data surrounding the unicorn founders. One datapoint highlights the massive gender gap in unicorn founders. Only 6% of total unicorn founders are women. Only seven total (7.9%) of business school unicorn founders are women. And all seven of those women come from either HBS or the GSB.

Sage’s data might also drive some serial entrepreneurs crazy. Some 60% of the unicorn founders have only founded one business, which in turn ended up being a unicorn. Teams seem to do better as well, as 67% of the founding members have at least one founding teammate. In terms of industry, 49 of the global unicorns are in “consumer internet” while 48 are in software. The next highest industry is E-commerce with 37 unicorns. Interestingly, more unicorns (29) were founded in 2007 than any other year. The majority of unicorns (35) took four years to reach unicorn status. And at 86, 2015 saw the most companies gain unicorn status. The number of companies reaching unicorn status has consistently increased since 2012 when 12 companies became unicorns. In 2013, the number inched to 17. The boom came in 2014 when the number catapulted to 58. After the 86 in 2015, the unicorn wave ebbed in 2016, dropping to 41 new unicorns, suggesting a potential slowing of the market.

(See here for a list of the unicorns and the next page for Sage graphics on unicorn trends.)

  • hard to believe

    Any list that includes “Gilt Groupe” as a unicorn is a disaster. Late stage investors got crushed and it sold (at a loss) for 25% of a billion dollars.

  • C. Taylor

    “many are no longer unicorns”

    Actually they are just the unicorns which got away. From Britannica:

    Unicorns are good and pure creatures with magical powers. They are strong, often white in color, and difficult to catch.’

  • smartie

    well many are no longer unicorns … thats exactly my point
    and many others might not continue to be unicons next year
    unless the company is sold or IPOed.. the value is heresay and cloud money
    so ranking schools on cloud money is futile

  • C. Taylor

    “ranking B schools on valuations”

    They’re ranking them on unicorns attained according to Sage.

  • smartie

    and only top 10% of VC”s beat an index fund.. 90% dont
    whats your point???
    My point is ranking B schools on valuations which change every month are meaningless
    B school startups should be ranked only after the sale of the startup or IPO because valuations change every month( ie. after the exit)
    otherwise its “money in the clouds” and
    My point is this ranking is meaningless cause the writers dont understand basic finance

  • C. Taylor

    So many things wrong with your conjecture here. I’ll provide some limited comments:

    1. VC’s usually lose money on their investments. It’s the business model.
    2. Only ~14% was purchased at $1b v.
    3. Gilt should only have accepted an amount of VC money which it could expect to cash out.

    It’s the founders’ own fault Gilt selected the funding/growth model which resulted in issues.

  • smartie

    I dont tjhink u understand ROI.
    U bought 10% of a house for 400K when the house is valued at 4milllion but then 2 months later the entire house is sold for 350k
    do the math… and see what your 10% is worth
    gosh !

  • SranfordOrBooth

    Booth has BrainTree, GrubHub, and Mu SIgma. What is the fourth?

  • C. Taylor

    “a huge huge loss”

    A bit of an overreach on your part, here. Gilt apparently raised $286 million (46 in the last round). The final sale price was $239 million, per Hudson’s. Getting 40% minimum back is really not bad by VC standards.

    At 100’s of millions in revenue and purported 50% margins, a unicorn valuation was reasonable, if highly anticipatory. They just threw the money away in search of unrealistic overnight expansion (flash sales of lux clothes can only get so big).

  • Data?

    Where is Booth on this list? I can think of 4 unicorns off the top of my head. Same with Kellogg- they’ve had a number of B2B unicorns. Something seems wrong with the data.

  • smartie

    P&Q writers need to go to B school. Valutations are meaningless till the sale of a company or the IPO
    Gilte group was sold for $250 million , even though it was once valued at 2BN- please do some homework. which meant a huge huge loss
    This site will do anything to promote HBS and Stanford