If you or a young person in your life dreams of one day starting a billion-dollar company, where should you head for university? Ask this question and the majority of answers will name a single school--if you can hack it, Stanford is the consensus choice for the college most likely to nurture future founders.
This isn't a huge shocker. Located in the heart of Silicon Valley and offering stellar academics and world-class industry connections, the school has a long history of turning out (or at least temporarily hosting) illustrious entrepreneurs. But Stanford isn't an option for everyone. If you can't get in, can't afford the huge price tag, aren't keen on California, or are simply looking for a more offbeat option, are there other schools that are just as good at spawning successful founders?
On Medium recently, Teespring CTO and angel investor Lee Edwards claims to have located one. In fact, he even went a step further, arguing that, when it comes to the percentage of graduates who end up heading VC-funded startups, this college outperforms Stanford by a factor of five.
A little entrepreneurial powerhouse
So what is this wonder college? It's a tiny engineering school you've likely never heard of called Olin College, located in Needham, Massachusetts. The whole institution consists of only three degree programs graduating just 75 students per year. But despite its size, Olin punches well above its weight when it comes to incubating successful entrepreneurs, according to Edwards.
Olin "turns out an alumni population where 2.77 percent of alumni found a successfully venture-backed startup, more than five times the rate of Stanford (0.51 percent), MIT (0.75 percent), Harvard (0.28 percent), or any other undergraduate institution for which data is available," he says. And Edwards says the school is only getting started.
"This number is almost certain to grow over the next few years, as Olin's startup density is still likely 12 years away from peak. According to the Kauffman Foundation, the average age of a startup founder is 40, five years older than the oldest Olin alum. The age of the average Olin alum, by contrast, is 28, and the average age of an Olin Founder today is 30," he adds.
Why is Olin so successful?
What's behind the exceptional performance of this little-known school? It could simply be that genius tech mavericks are attracted to Olin and that these are also just the sort of people who often do incredible things in the world of startups, regardless of their educational experiences. But Edwards is convinced the school's success isn't all about this sort of selection bias.
You'll need to read his whole, long post for a complete picture of why he thinks Olin graduates so many entrepreneurs (as well as a complete list of existing Olin companies), but his argument boils down to seven factors, from an academic focus on practice rather than theory, to early influence from Y Combinator (three teams from the school got into the incubator's 2006 batch), to a generous scholarship policy that ensures talent matters more than wealth in admissions.
Is Olin the right choice for everyone dreaming of becoming the next Mark Zuckerberg? Not any more than Stanford is, but as this school is so little-known, it does at least deserve a little more publicity so that prospective students can consider it as an option. It sounds like it's a great one for some budding entrepreneurs.