CORRECTION: This story has been substantially updated since its original publication to reflect the fact that several business schools have come back to Poets&Quants to inform us of other MBA startups that met our criteria for inclusion.
These days you can’t walk the hallways or classrooms of a business school campus and not overhear excited conversations among MBA students about their business plans and startup ideas. Talk of using the MBA experience as a place to fine-tune an idea, recruit partners, gain access to seed capital and finally launch a startup is becoming as ubiquitous as discussions about those forthcoming job interviews with McKinsey & Co. and Goldman Sachs.
MBA students today have greater interest in entrepreneurship than ever before, says Bill Aulet, an MIT Sloan senior lecturer who also serves as the managing director at the Martin Trust Center for Entrepreneurship. “What I see today with young people is a desire to take control of their destinies,” he says. “We expect our MBAs to come out with the spirit of a pirate and the discipline of a Navy SEAL. And I think we are only seeing the beginning.”
And what a beginning it is. MBA founders are routinely raising billions of dollars for their new ventures. What kinds of ideas are getting funded? Which schools have been most successful at graduating entrepreneurs with the best ideas?
THE TOP 11 MBA STARTUPS EACH HAD AT LEAST $100 MILLION IN FUNDING
For the second time, Poets&Quants has tracked the most successful MBA founders to come up with a newly updated list of the Top 100 MBA startups. Our list is based solely on funding—the most accessible apples-to-apples comparison for these still private enterprises. If a startup rocketed to success and was acquired by another company, we used the amount it was sold for in lieu of funding raised.
This year competition among the top 100 intensified. Last year, when WildFire topped the list after its acquisition by Google, a nine-figure funding amount would have secured a top two place. This year the top 11 companies all had at least $100 million in funding each. That’s a massive vote of confidence in MBA startups from the investment community.
But the competition wasn’t exclusive to the top of the list. From the time we put out our first casting call for startups in December to our publishing date the cutoff jumped from $1.6 million to the $6.1 million it is now. What’s more, more than half of the top 100 MBA startups have raised more than $18 million each.
GOOGLE PAID $500 MILLION FOR NO. 1 STARTUP SKYBOX IMAGING LAST YEAR
Akin to our inaugural rankings, the top spot went to a company that was sold to search engine giant Google. Last year’s third place finisher, satellite imaging company Skybox Imaging reached agreement with Google last August to be acquired for a whopping $500 million. SoFi, the student loan financing outfit, zoomed from sixth place last year with $77.2 million in investor money to $399 million of funding today. Rounding out the top three was last year’s 13th placed startup, RelateIQ, which was sold for $390 million to Salesforce.
While all of the top three have founders from Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business, the GSB boasts a total of 31 startups on this year’s rankings—down from 32 last year. Meantime, Harvard Business School held strong with 40 startups out of the top 100, including 10 out of the 20 with the most funding. It all goes to show that prestige credentials count when you’re making a pitch for money. MIT’s Sloan MBAs are behind 10 startups that made the cut, down from 10 last year. Wharton followed with six startups on the list.
But there was also a diversity of schools making the list. From Rice University in Texas to IMD Business School in Switzerland and seemingly everywhere in between, there was big time moola to be had. All told, investors poured more than $2 billion into startups with a Stanford MBA attached to it. Startups by Harvard MBAs raised more than $1.9 billion. All in all, the top 100 startups convinced investors to put in more than $4.9 billion.
MOST IDEAS LEVERAGE THE INTERNET, BUT THERE’S A WIDE RANGE OF FIRMS
Most of the startups leverage the Internet, outsourcing many functions from software development to server hosting, to get to market fast and cheap. The businesses run the gamut from highly sophisticated enterprises in financial services and high tech to e-commerce outfits, mobile payment firms and even an online physicians’ network. A couple of Yale School of Management MBAs are behind Privateer Holdings, the private equity firm that is shaping the future of the legal cannabis industry.
To find the best MBA startups, we reached out to the top 50 business schools around the world. We spoke with directors of entrepreneurship centers, and we consulted professors who often mentor these MBA entrepreneurs. The companies that made our list were founded between 2009 and 2014 and had to have at least one founder graduating with an MBA during those years.
The earliest startup on the list, No. 1 Skybox Imaging, was launched Jan. 5, 2009. The latest new business, No. 76 Glossier, got its start in September, 2014, and was one of four startups in the top 100 to be launched last year.