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.
You can debate until you’re blue in the face whether you need an MBA to start your own business. What you can’t debate is which business schools produce the startups that attract the most funding from top angel and venture capital investors.
Forget about evaluating a business school on the basis of its entrepreneurial center, the number of startup clubs on campus, or whether there’s a business plan competition or not. The most important issue is whether a business school can help nurture your idea along to the point that it can gain backing from the smart money.
Which schools really win on that basis? Our latest ranking of the top 100 MBA startups over the past five years or so is a good place to start. We tracked the business ideas founded or co-founded by MBA students at schools all over the world. The MBA programs that produced the most startups on our top 100 list–based on the amount of funding they received–are a fascinating lot for a bunch of reasons.
AN MBA FROM A TOP RANKED SCHOOL CONVEYS INSTANT CREDIBILITY AND AUTHORITY
For one thing, the schools prove the old adage that brands matter. Sure, you can learn the business basics and how to craft a business plan anywhere. But the bigger the school name on your diploma, the more credibility it instantly commands when you have to pitch your idea to a group of skeptical investors. For another, the big brand schools, even when they are late to the entrepreneurship party, have vastly superior resources to throw at students who want to do a startup.
And finally, the alumni networks of these schools often are crucial to the success of MBA entrepreneurs. Alumni can provide seed funding, critical early stage advice, as well as early customer endorsements of a product or service. Those assets can prove far more valuable than the percentage of faculty or students active in entrepreneurial endeavors, or the number and reach of mentorship programs–attributes measured by other rankings of entrepreneurship programs.
Not surprisingly, perhaps, Harvard Business School and Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business duked it out for the top spot again. Harvard had a remarkable 40 of the top 100 startups on our list, to take first place yet again. Stanford, with the advantage of being in the middle of the Silicon Valley startup ecosystem, put up some impressive numbers, too, with 31 startups among the top 100, including the top three on the list. While the total was down from last’s year’s 32 new ventures, Stanford MBAs took smart advantage of their proximity to the VCs and angels on Sand Hill Rd. Startups from Stanford collectively raised more than $2 billion in funding, yet were still outdone by the HBS startups on the top 100 who raised more than $1.9 billion in funding.
MIT SLOAN, WHARTON, ROSS, BOOTH & COLUMBIA SCORE HIGHLY
The mammoth numbers raised by Stanford and Harvard prove investors are very willing to throw their support (and millions) behind a good idea.. Consider SoFi, the highly successful student loan company. The team of Stanford grads behind the financial services company has raised a whopping $399 million—more than any other startup on our Top 100 list–with the exception of another Stanford startup, Skybox Imaging, that was acquired by Google last year.
Also making good on investor money were startups from MIT’s Sloan School of Management. Last year the school was third with 10 startups. This year they are again in third place but with 13 startups. Additionally, the funding raised jumped from just over $189 million last year to more than $477 million this year. The University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School also increased its representation on the list by one additional startup, giving the school sole possession of fourth place with five startups raising $381.6 million.
Davis Smith, who founded two top 100 Startups, dinda.com.br and outdoor gear and apparel company Cotopaxi, says the network he gained during his time at Wharton was a game changer in raising funding. “First, most VC partners are themselves MBAs,” Smith says. “Second, I was introduced to new networks. I gave a similar Powerpoint presentation before and after receiving my MBA. I raised about $4.5 million on the Powerpoint after I got my degree. I was the same person both times, but I just didn’t have the networks before the MBA.”
A BIG HELP TO FOUNDERS: CULTIVATING RELATIONSHIPS OUTSIDE THE BUSINESS SCHOOL
When it comes to MBA startups, it helps when a business school breaks down the natural barriers to other schools and departments on campus. That way, the MBAs get to work with engineers, computer scientists, and others to bring different skills to the startup. That was true in SoFi’s case. The members of the founding team boast not only an MBA graduate but also graduates with master’s degrees in applied economics and computer science engineering. Similarly, MIT Sloan’s Okta, an identity management company, has raised $155 million was founded by a team comprised of an MBA and computer science major.
Bill Aulet, who heads up the Martin Trust Center for Entrepreneurship at MIT, says it’s no coincidence the center’s building is physically placed outside of the business school and in a spot with easy access for students from multiple colleges. “One thing we consider is does a startup really need three MBAs from MIT,” Aulet says. “We like to consider if the startup is a hybrid and if it helps people. Does it include hardware, software and big data? Does it help people? I don’t think we are so much into creating the next dating app. Dating can be a good thing before you’re married. But what is going to add benefit to the world?”
Regardless of the diversity of founding members or the efficacy of startup output, not all B-schools are created equally in terms of entrepreneurship. Be it tradition, hybridization of disciplines, resources, geography or faculty expertise, some schools simply produce a higher quantity and quality of students establishing successful startups.
(See the next page for our list of the Top B-Schools for Entrepreneurship.)