In the Central West End neighborhood of St. Louis, an IKEA rests in the shadows of towering grain towers. The massive blue-and-yellow big box store marks the eastern edge of the Cortex district and provides a sharp visual reminder of the entrepreneurial renaissance happening in a city once decimated by the rise of suburbia and the fall of manufacturing. “There is no non-coastal city that has an innovation and entrepreneurship community of this scale,” says Henry (Hank) Webber as he walks through the 203-acre district.
Webber is the executive vice chancellor and chief administrative officer at Washington University in St. Louis. He was brought here in 2008 from the University of Chicago by Washington’s former chancellor, Mark Wrighton, to build Cortex — and, essentially, to revitalize a once-booming city.
So far, he’s done just that. Since 2002, Cortex has grown to include hundreds of thousands of square feet of coworking space and offices. It is home to more than 350 businesses large and small, about a half-dozen accelerators, some 4,500 jobs, award-winning restaurants, and, soon, a hotel space and apartment complex.
When it comes to the startup ecosystem in the United States, entrepreneurial hubs on the coasts have grabbed most of the attention. But middle-of-the-country outposts have been emerging. Schools like Washington University and cities like St. Louis have been doing their Midwest thing and quietly keeping pace with the coastal entrepreneurial pack. In some cases, these tucked-away, startup-rich communities are proving that location is secondary to resources, connections, and commitment.
27 SCHOOLS MAKE INAUGURAL ENTREPRENEURSHIP RANKING
Finding them is exactly what we set out to do when we launched our inaugural ranking of business schools with the best entrepreneurship opportunities for full-time MBAs — and it may come as little surprise that atop the list is the Olin Business School at Washington University in St. Louis. From 2016 to 2018, some 20.7% of Olin MBAs launched companies within three months of graduation — more than any other ranked school. Olin also has nearly $1 million in annual funding for student entrepreneurs, and about three of every four MBA students are involved in the entrepreneurship club at the school.
In all, 27 schools made our inaugural ranking. All but three are based in the United States. A familiar school in the heart of Silicon Valley followed WashU, as Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business in Palo Alto came in second. MBAs at Stanford have close access to Sand Hill Road and all the venture capital money that awaits there. Between 2016 and 2018, 15.67% of Stanford MBAs elected to launch businesses within three months of graduation. Stanford MBA-founded startups launched in the past five years have raised nearly $1.5 billion in combined venture capital. During that same five-year timeframe, 297 recent Stanford MBA grads elected to launch businesses instead of going to work with the likes of McKinsey, Goldman, or Google.
Another well-known entrepreneurial power on the opposite coast from Stanford comes in third. At Babson College, just outside of Boston, 16.63% of graduates between 2016 and 2018 launched companies immediately after graduation. The University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, where 17.33% of MBAs launched businesses right after graduation over the past three years, landed in the fourth spot. Rounding out the top five is Barcelona-based ESADE Business School.
To measure the best, we first consulted with entrepreneurship directors at some of the world’s top B-schools to come up with an authoritative approach. Those consultations resulted in a ranking that takes into account 10 metrics, including the percentage of electives offered, the number of MBAs focused on entrepreneurship and innovation, the percentage of recent grads to launch businesses while in school or immediately afterward, and accelerator space and mentors available to MBAs. Another key category: published research on entrepreneurship from the school’s faculty.
THE IMPORTANCE AND INTEREST IN A THRIVING ENTREPRENEURIAL CLIMATE
Thriving entrepreneurship programs within the business school and university space are essential to global economic growth and prosperity. While the debate continues over whether an entrepreneur really needs an MBA to launch a startup, some of the world’s most game-changing ventures are coming out of business schools.
Companies such as Wharton School-founded Deliveroo, Stanford GSB-founded DoorDash, and Harvard-founded Blue Apron have changed the way we get food. Ventures such as Commonbond and SoFi, which came out of Wharton and Stanford, respectively, have changed personal finance and loan refinancing for millions. Grab — Singapore-based and Harvard Business School-founded — changes the way millions of people in Southeast Asia get around. Startups like Warby Parker, Harry’s, Rent the Runway, and Stitchfix — all of which were incubated within the walls of business schools — have changed the game in their respective consumer product markets.
These inspirational success stories and many others continue to drive interest in entrepreneurship among students who choose to incubate their business ideas in an MBA program. At the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, two-thirds of 2019 graduates counted entrepreneurship among their academic concentrations, up from half just eight years ago. Over the past five years, 356 Harvard Business School grads have founded companies during or immediately after graduating with their MBA. Nearly 300 companies have been birthed at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, and another 216 have emerged from The Wharton School. Other schools have also recently had large numbers of MBAs elect to launch companies, including Columbia Business School, which has seen 146 recent graduates create companies immediately after graduation, MIT’s Sloan School of Management (137), and Chicago Booth (83).
At Stanford, every MBA student takes at least one elective in entrepreneurship and innovation. The rate has been around 98% to 100% over the past three years, up from 92% to 95% five to 10 years ago. Stanford MBAs are also joining startups at a higher clip. Over the past few years, 16% to 24% of the school’s MBA output has elected to join a startup immediately after graduation. “The level of interest in entrepreneurship is staying quite steady at Stanford GSB over the past five years, but certainly has increased relative to 10 years ago,” says Deb Whitman, the managing director of Stanford’s Center for Entrepreneurial Studies.
Best In Class: The Top B-Schools For Entrepreneurship