The future is female.
The decades-old rallying cry that invokes the breaking of glass ceilings rings true on this year’s Poets&Quants’ list of the Top 100 MBA Startups. In tracking the world’s fastest-growing and exciting MBA startups every year since 2013, not once has a fully woman-founded team made it to the top of our annual list — until this year. And not only did a woman-founded company claim the top spot, it was followed in the ranking by another fully woman-founded team, and a third team with a female co-founder.
The future is female: In all, 29 companies on our 2020 list have female founders or co-founders, six more than last year and seven more than the year before that.
At the top in 2020 is Guild Education, the Stanford Graduate School of Business-founded adult education-focused startup. Founded in 2015 by Brittany Stich and Rachel Carlson, Guild has been climbing our list for years as it raised large amounts of venture capital-backed investments. In 2017, Guild ranked 50th, then climbed to 18th in 2018, and to 12th last year. Now, thanks to a $157 million Series D funding round announced last November, Guild has surged to the top of this year’s list with $228.5 million total raised in funding.
The latest funding round gave Guild a $1 billion valuation, making it one of a handful of female-founded startups to earn unicorn status in 2019.
TOP MBA STARTUP LIST HAS INCLUDED MAJOR DISRUPTERS AND GAME-CHANGERS
Poets&Quants annually huddles with the top business schools around the world to compile our top-100 ranking of the hottest startups coming out of MBA programs.
The ranking is based on a sole data point — how much money they’ve raised from angel investors and venture capital firms. Those third-party investments by veteran professionals are the ultimate test of a startup’s promise.
Regardless of which startup ends at the top from year to year, one common thread rings true: MBAs are launching some of the most interesting and influential ventures in the world.
To qualify, startups must have been launched between January 1, 2015 and December 31, 2019, and they must have at least one founder that graduated with an MBA during that same time. Past top-ranked ventures have included Stanford-founded Branch Metrics, Harvard Business School-founded Farmers Business Network, Wharton-founded Deliveroo, and SoFi, also founded by a team of Stanford GSB grads.
While we’ve had women on founding teams of startups at the top of our list in the past — like Branch Metrics, last year’s winner — we’ve never had a top-ranked team made up entirely of female founders. We’ve also never had a social enterprise top the list. But Guild, which is based in Denver, is both those things — and more. Guild acts as a third-party service, helping large companies match employees with colleges so they can work towards degrees. Essentially, Guild helps large companies manage their employee education benefit programs. Some of their clients include massive employers like Walmart and Disney.
In fact, Guild’s client list has millions of employees eligible for education benefits; the company is contacted by around 10,000 employees each month inquiring about education benefit options.
STANFORD HAS MOST STARTUPS ON LIST FOR THIRD STRAIGHT YEAR
In terms of the B-school where it incubated, Guild was not at all alone on this year’s list. For the third straight year, Stanford GSB had more startups in the Top 100 than any other school, with 34. Harvard Business School followed with 23 startups. While the gap between Stanford and Harvard was large, it is smaller than last year, when Stanford had 38 of the Top 100 and Harvard had 21. In the seven years P&Q has been tracking startups based on funding, both Stanford and Harvard have now had the exact same number of startups on the list — 210.
While Stanford’s total number of startups on the list decreased, the combined funding startups on the list increased from just over $1.3 billion last year to more than $1.4 billion this year (see MBA Programs (see The Best MBA Programs For Venture-Backed Startups). Harvard ventures on this year’s list have raised a combined $469.85 million, compared to $729.10 million on last year’s list. Stanford’s dominance of the funding on this year’s list is once again impressive. Between all 103 startups on this year’s list (there are more than 100 because of ties), the total funding raised is $3,019.54 million. Of that, Stanford-founded ventures make up about 47% of the funding. Startups from Stanford account for $1,427.40 million and all other schools combined on the list account for the remaining $1,592.14 million.
Following Stanford and Harvard is the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School which had nine startups make this year’s list that have raised a combined $162.10 million. Following Wharton is the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business which had eight startups raise a combined $201.36 million. Next was the University of California-Berkeley’s Haas School of Business with seven startups raising $117.20 million. Haas was followed by Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management where six startups raised $218.74. Columbia Business School followed with five startups but those five raised a combined $236.40, which was the third-highest total funding among all schools behind Stanford and Harvard.
AWAY LUGGAGE IS SECOND FEMALE-FOUNDED UNICORN ON THIS YEAR’S LIST
Columbia Business School’s higher funding amount was thanks mainly to Away Travel, which came in second among all startups with $181 million total in funding raised. Launched in 2015 by Steph Korey and Jen Rubio, Away picked up a hefty $100 million Series D funding round last May. Away makes high-end luggage targeted at the frequent traveler. The lightweight suitcases are meant to easily lift and fit into overhead bins on airplanes and is available online and in a dozen stores, 10 of which are in the U.S. with one in Canada and one in the U.K.
A fellow unicorn — valued at $1.4 billion in May — Away has offices in New York City and London that have more than 300 employees combined. Before Korey ended up at Columbia Business School and the duo launched Away, they both worked at Wharton-founded Warby Parker. Recently, Away has had an awkward few months as the Verge published an in-depth expose on a toxic work culture at Away, caused by Korey. After the December article was published, Korey said she would resign as CEO just to tell The New York Times weeks later she would actually remain co-CEO with Stuart Haselden, who was hired to replace her.