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Grads From This Midwestern School Are More Likely to Start a Billion Dollar Company Than Founders Who Went To Stanford, Harvard, or MIT: Study Some surprising schools outranked Ivy League universities with the likelihood that their grads would found a unicorn.

By Sherin Shibu

Key Takeaways

  • Founders of a U.S. startup who studied or worked at the University of Cincinnati are 3.3 times more likely to achieve unicorn status than grads from other schools, says a Stanford professor.
  • Founders associated with the University of Utah were 3.2 times as likely.
  • The change is new; three months ago, Yale, Columbia, and Stanford had the top odds ratios following the same methodology.
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A team at Stanford found that startup founders linked to the University of Cincinnati and the University of Utah were more likely to hit a billion-dollar or more valuation, or unicorn status, with their startups. These schools are more likely than Ivy League universities to produce a unicorn, the report found.

Ilya Strebulaev, the David S. Lobel professor of private equity and professor of finance at the Stanford University Graduate School of Business, revealed that founders of a U.S. startup who studied or worked at the University of Cincinnati were 3.3 times more likely to found a unicorn than average. Strebulaev's own workplace, Stanford, was 1.6 times the average for comparison.

General view of the University of Cincinnati campus. Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

"We started by identifying the educational and professional background for founders of 1,110 US-based VC-backed unicorns and 1,028 randomly selected VC-backed companies," Strebulaev wrote in a LinkedIn post. Of that group, 1,081 unicorns and 961 random sample startups had at least one founder associated with a university.

Related: Here Are 3 Strategies Startup Founders Can Use to Approach High-Impact Disputes

The team at the Stanford University Graduate School of Business Venture Capital Initiative, which Strebulaev founded, then looked at which universities tied back to unicorns, and which ones were in the random sample group to determine which ones were most likely to tie back to unicorn founders.

The University of Cincinnati, for example, was linked to 1% of the 1,081 unicorns that the team looked at and to 0.3% of the 961 random sample startups. Dividing those two percentages yields 3.3 or in Strebulaev's words, "the odds ratio of producing a unicorn."

The University of Utah had an odds ratio of 3.2; Yale and Vanderbilt followed with a ratio of 2.0. The University of California, Berkeley stood at 1.5.

Related: Report: The Majority of Recent College Grads End Up in Jobs That Don't Need Bachelor's Degrees

The study's findings contrast with previous work from the team examining the same question. Three months ago, Strebulaev identified that Yale, Columbia, and Stanford had the top odds ratios following the same methodology. The difference in results could be caused by which companies were in the random selection group this time around.

One notable unicorn from the University of Cincinnati is Astronomer, which surpassed a billion-dollar valuation in 2022. Ry Walker, a co-founder at the startup, recently served as an Entrepreneur-in-Residence at UC's Venture Lab.

Here are the top 5 schools with the highest odds ratio of producing a unicorn:

  1. University of Cincinnati — 3.3 times more likely
  2. University of Utah — 3.2
  3. Yale and Vanderbilt — 2.0
  4. Columbia, BYU, and Stanford — 1.6
  5. The University of California, Berkeley — 1.5.

Click here for Strebulaev's full announcement of the analysis.

Sherin Shibu

Entrepreneur Staff

News Reporter

Sherin Shibu is a business news reporter at Entrepreneur.com. She previously worked for PCMag, Business Insider, The Messenger, and ZDNET as a reporter and copyeditor. Her areas of coverage encompass tech, business, strategy, finance, and even space. She is a Columbia University graduate.

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