Top B-Schools For VC-Backed Startups

Students at Stanford GSB 2017 commencement. Learn more about Stanford GSB average GMAT

Graduates during Stanford GSB’s Class of 2017 commencement. Photo by Nathan Allen

When it comes to launching a business straight out of business school, two institutions are home to by far the most successful alumni. Both in terms of numbers and dollars raised, Harvard Business School and Stanford’s Graduate School of Business do more to feed the pipeline of MBA founders and entrepreneurs than any other schools — and it’s not even close. And this year, for the first time in the five years we’ve tracked top MBA startups coming out of business schools, Stanford GSB produced more highly funded ventures over the past five years than HBS. The 27 Stanford startups that made this year’s list of 100 Top MBA Startups raised more than $858 million together — significantly higher than the roughly $543 million raised by the 26 listed HBS-founded ventures.

Combined, the two schools totaled 53 of the 100 ventures, an improvement on last year’s combined 48, when the schools tied with 24 startups each. Yet even that impressive total is significantly lower than in the first three years of our Top MBA Startups, when the two schools accounted for 65, 71, and 66 of 100 spots in 2016, 2015, and 2013, respectively. But it’s not just about the number the companies. Raising more than $1.4 billion in funding, GSB and HBS startups this year also accounted for over half of the more than $2.4 billion raised by all 100 startups on the list.

The drop in Harvard and Stanford’s presence over the past couple of years seems to be a result of either better reporting or better results among other schools. In particular, the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania has grown from three startups on our 2013 list to 12 last year, before falling to nine this year. Similarly, the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business and Columbia Business School have climbed from three ventures in 2013 to eight and seven, respectively, this year. Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management has also made inroads, going from no startups in 2013 to eight last year and seven this year.

At Stanford, Deb Whitman, director of the Center for Entrepreneurial Studies, says current student interest in particular areas of entrepreneurship matches industry trends. “We’re starting to see a little more interest among students in AI ventures and continued interest in the financial services space,” Whitman tells Poets&Quants on a phone call. “I think it’s kinda the same thing you see out in industry.”

Stanford boasts more than 60 electives focused on entrepreneurship or innovation, with the hope students are able to form a curriculum specific to their interests. “That lets students pick the classes that are a good fit for them,” Whitman says of the volume an diversity of courses offered. Available courses range from experiential classes like Startup Garage, which charges students to form teams and start a business within the semester, to industry-specific courses that focus on topics like biodesign and food and agriculture. There are function-focused classes like Entrepreneurial Finance and The Psychology of Startup Teams, and then, Whitman explains, there is Formation of New Ventures and Managing Growing Enterprises, which she describes as the “heart of the entrepreneurial curriculum.”

“You look at all those classes and put together the pieces that make the most sense for you based on what you want to learn and what you’re interested in,” Whitman says.


Wharton’s rise over the years seems to be the result of a renewed commitment to entrepreneurship. In 2015, long-time Wharton professor Karl Ulrich was hired as vice dean of entrepreneurship and innovation. Three years before moving into the role, Ulrich was instrumental in creating Wharton’s Semester in San Francisco program for full-time MBAs, which was imbued from the start with a heavy entrepreneurial bent. More recently, the Wharton entrepreneurship program re-branded as the Penn Wharton Entrepreneurship — emphasis on “Penn,” says Clare Leinweber, managing director of the program.

“We welcome all students and encourage that interdisciplinary approach,” Leinweber says. The added resources and programs have led to significant interest and growth among the entire Penn community, Leinweber explains. First, Leinweber notes, is the growth in female founders. “We have noticed an increase in women engaging in the incubator we run,” Leinweber says, noting last year 43% of the founders working in the school’s incubator were female — one percentage point off the 44% of women entering the full-time MBA program in the Class of 2017. “That was wonderful to see and we expect to build on that. I don’t expect to see that decline,” Leinweber adds.

Penn Wharton Entrepreneurship’s Entrepreneur Expert-in-Residence Program has seen the biggest gains. According to Leinweber, there was a 620% increase in students scheduling meetings with expert residents across the entire program last year. “What that shows is across the University of Pennsylvania, students have a strong appetite to sit and meet in an office hours format with experienced professionals in the startup ecosystem that can mentor them and be a connection for them,” she notes. Another extracurricular program that made gains last year was the Startup Expo, also hosted by Leinweber’s office. Held at the beginning of each academic year, the expo saw a 57% increase in participation last fall.

The biggest challenge Leinweber’s office is faced with: meeting the growth of interest among students. She says one way Wharton plans to expand the programming soon is by maintaining strong relationships with recent alumni who have founded companies. Leinweber says her office has recently made additional efforts to connect current students with recent alum founders by expanding the Philadelphia and San Francisco incubators to take alumni applications for participation.

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