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.)