Harvard Vs. Stanford: The Entrepreneurial Battle Of Goliaths

Harvard Business School versus Stanford Graduate School of Business.

Rankings aside, most people agree these two institutions sit at the top of the highly competitive world of graduate management education. They are also archrivals, competing head-to-head for the world’s brightest and best students and faculty. And despite the general belief that Harvard is the breeding ground for the corporate elite who will one day occupy the C-suite of the largest corporations, while Stanford is the hothouse for some of the most successful entrepreneurial ventures, the truth is quite different. Both schools can, in fact, rightly claim highly influential positions in both parts of the economy.

Yet Stanford’s location in the epicenter of Silicon Valley — with its access to leading venture capitalists, high-tech chieftains, and the most innovative founders of new enterprises — gives the school a distinct advantage in the entrepreneurial economy. If any one school has bragging rights when it comes to the new economy of high technology, innovation, and social media, it is Stanford. Year after year, Stanford MBAs create new enterprises in nearly every sector of the economy, from private equity and venture capital to consumer products and healthcare. But in technology alone, the latest crop of GSB grads in 2018 has launched companies in software, e-commerce, Internet services, fintech, edtech, artificial intelligence, and e-media.


So it may come as little surprise that in this year’s Poets&Quants‘ ranking of the top 100 MBA startups, those founded by Stanford grads in the past five years greatly outnumber those from Harvard, 39 versus 21. The Stanford startups, moreover, have raised a total of $1.3 billion, nearly twice as much as the $729 million in funding racked up by the HBS startups on the list.

Since 2013, when Poets&Quants first started tracking startups founded by MBAs while in school or soon after graduation, the storyline has revolved around two schools: Stanford GSB and Harvard Business School. Over the past six years, Poets&Quants has singled out 605 different MBA startups on our annual lists of the 100 startups that have raised the most money, and a remarkable 363 of those 605 ventures were founded by an individual or team from Stanford or Harvard. In only one year — 2017 — did GSB- or HBS-founded ventures not account for more than half of the list (that year it was 48). This year alone, Stanford- and HBS-founded companies in the top 100 have raised a combined total exceeding $2 billion in venture backing.

On our inaugural list of the 100 top funded MBA startups in 2013, Harvard could rightly claim a whopping 34 of the 100 companies on the list, with Stanford closely behind with 32. Three years later, in 2016, HBS topped out with 42 companies out of 100, while the GSB bottomed out with 20 entries. But since then, Harvard’s dominance has slowly diminished, leading up to this year when Stanford MBAs raced far ahead, represented by 39 ventures versus Harvard’s 21 — the lowest amount for the latter school since we’ve compiled the list.


Deborah Whitman of Stanford GSB

After peaking at 42 startups on our top 100 MBA startups in 2016, HBS has now seen its position fall to a record low this year of 21 startups. Meanwhile, Stanford GSB had its largest year at 39 startups on this year’s list.

While the actual number of ventures is one thing, the amount of funding raised by MBAs from angel investors and venture capitalists is another. In 2016, Stanford GSB-founded ventures amassed a total of nearly $2.6 billion in funding, which was substantially higher than Harvard Business School’s $1.9 billion despite having 23 startups on the list compared to Harvard’s 42. The funding difference can likely be attributed to the numbers of Stanford grads who play prominent roles at leading VC firms in Silicon Valley.

“The heart of our approach to entrepreneurial education is the same,” says Deb Whitman, who heads up the Center for Entrepreneurial Studies at the GSB. “We continue to offer more than 60 different courses related to entrepreneurship and innovation, allowing our students to craft a curriculum that fits with their interests and learning goals.”

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