Which Schools Produce The Most Unicorn Founders? This Stanford Prof Has Crunched The Numbers

Age of unicorn founders. Source: Ilya Strebulaev and Standford’s Venture Capital Initiative via LinkedIn

Who’s the audience for this research?

That’s a very good question, and it is why I started the LinkedIn posts.  As an academic, my original, most important audience is my fellow academics – people who know the methodology, know the data very well, the economic reasons and so on. 

But when I started the Venture Capital initiative, I wanted other people to become aware of this as well. The first audience I thought about were policymakers. I think policymakers in this country are really unaware about the importance played by startups, innovation, and venture capital in long-term economic growth. 

Then, I’ve had a chance to meet many aspiring entrepreneurs who don’t have access to Stanford MBA classes, and I realized that this knowledge would be interesting to them. I think some of the value is that it is partly inspirational. I mean, if you look at the comments people make on my posts, that’s what they say. Maybe academics care less about that, but if you can show that you don’t need to fit a very specific profile to be successful, that there are many profiles for success, that is inspirational. 

Now, because I’m talking to Poets&Quants, another big audience I have in mind is students and aspiring students of business schools elsewhere. If you’re at business school and reading Poets&Quants right now, the very first thing you should do is to go to my LinkedIn profile and have a look at the posts. (Laughing) 

My goal is to post at least twice a week. I have enough posts to last many, many months, and I hope that people find them useful, informative, but also inspirational. 

Instagram post from Ilya Strebulaev

Does this research live anywhere in particular? Is there a website people can go to, or just follow your LinkedIn?

We are now in the process of forming something, but right now there are many LinkedIn posts on the profile. There’s also some posts on LinkedIn Articles, which aren’t as popular these days, but are a much more detailed description about how I got a certain post. 

A lot of people reached out to me and suggested a newsletter because a newsletter would allow us to go into much more detail about how the data was sliced, caveats to the data and so forth. I haven’t done that so far, but I’m considering it. Again, this is the start of the journey, and if readers have any suggestions about how to make this more informative for them, I would love the feedback. Feel free to email me.

The LinkedIn posts are really about the research, I think, but I just recently — and you’re really one of the first people I’m telling about this — started an Instagram account where I’m posting slides from my MBA venture capital class. 

What’s coming down the pike? What questions will you be asking and posting about in the coming weeks?

An interesting series we’re going to post soon is more about unicorn founders. We’re going to post about academic majors of unicorn founders, which I think is really interesting. We’re going to post about the ethnicity of unicorn founders, and then at some point later, we’re going to post about immigration status, which I think is also extremely interesting. 

Gender of unicorn founders: Source: Ilya Strebulaev and Standford’s Venture Capital Initiative via LinkedIn

Next we will be posting about  unicorn outcomes. So what happened to all those unicorns in our dataset? I’m interested in coming back to unicorn founders and looking at what they did prior to their unicorns? Did they work at venture capital backed companies? Did they work at large companies? At small companies. Then finally, I will have several more posts about corporate venture capital. So my LinkedIn plate is quite full. 

Watching your LinkedIn for the different ways you parse out the data has been interesting and pretty fun, actually. But why do you think venture capital research is important? Why does it matter?

Well, I think this matters because the largest companies right now in the United States were created with venture capital. So, I think startups — not just unicorns — along with financing and funding innovation are really critical components of our future. If you look at the 10 largest publicly traded companies in the U.S., seven of them didn’t exist 40-50 years ago. All of them were venture capital backed.  My prediction is that 20-30 years down the road, we will have the same number — 7 out of 10 — of the largest companies created through venture capital backing. This is, of course, pure speculation. Some of them may be companies that right now are very small startups. Some of them may already be unicorns, and some of them maybe have not yet been born. Some of them may be born this year or next year by one of those people who hopefully read my LinkedIn posts. 

These companies have a huge impact. I should think that the impacts of venture capital and Angel financing is much much larger than has been appreciated by many — including by the policymakers and by society in general. I think the future is going to be determined in a large way, by the way this industry is going to operate. Well, that’s my conviction. I think that is really the main reason, at the end of the day, why it’s important.


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