The $3.9 Trillion Impact Of A Harvard Degree

Harvard Business School - Ethan Baron photo

Harvard Business School – Ethan Baron photo

If there are any doubts about the prestige and power that comes with a degree from Harvard University, the school just produced a pretty emphatic answer. Harvard researchers recently set out to find the entrepreneurial and social impact their alums have on the world. And it turns out, it’s quite a bit.

The researchers used an online survey and internet research of the school’s more than 375,000 living alums to produce what it is calling the Harvard Impact Study. According to the report, if living Harvard alums were to create their own country, it would be tiny, but possibly one of the most influential in the global economy.

The report estimates that 39% of living Harvard alums have founded 146,429 for-profit and nonprofit ventures, have generated at least 20.4 million jobs and have a combined yearly revenue stream of nearly $3.9 trillion, worldwide. That’s more than the GDP of Germany, the fourth largest economy in the world.


“This study has helped to confirm what we’ve long believed—Harvard University alumni are central players in the global ecosystem of entrepreneurship,” said Josh Lerner, a Harvard Business School professor, in a statement.

“The research also helps us to better understand the depth and breadth of their roles as founders of firms that collectively have an indelible impact on the world economy by creating jobs, fostering prosperity, and bringing innovative products and services to market.”

But it’s not the stereotypical 20-something delving into new ventures. The study revealed that the median age of a Harvard alum who does a startup is 40. But the entrepreneurial bug infected a broad range of alums with the prestigious school on their resumes. Some 32% of all the ventures were initiated when the founder was under 35, while 5% were started by alums who meet the often accepted age of retirement: 65. The largest group of profit-making enterprises founded by Harvard alums were in professional, scientific or technical services (30%), followed by finance and insurance (14%), media and information (8%), healthcare (7%), and finally manufacturing (6%).

The school also broke down revenue created by those ventures on a country-by-country basis. In the U.S. alone, for example, the study estimates that Harvard-founded organizations have generated about $1.9 trillion in sales. The next highest amounts are $226.4 billion in Germany, $211.2 billion in Brazil, and $205.1 billion in Canada.

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