Thanks to a handful of extremely successful college dropouts like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Mark Zuckerberg, you might be under the impression that an outsized proportion of those who found wildly successful companies are long on dreams and grit and generally short on academic credentials.

A new analysis from GoodCall proves that popular misconception isn't just wrong. It's very, very wrong. Not only do most founders of so-called unicorn companies (those valued at more than $1 billion) have degrees -- the vast majority of them actually graduated from a tiny handful of elite universities.

In fact, when GoodCall crunched the numbers it discovered that 90 percent of unicorn founders came from just three percent of the nation's colleges. The analysis dubs these schools "unicorn breeders."

Whether that's a sign of Silicon Valley bias and group think, or a testament to the superior quality of educations and incredibly networking opportunities at these universities, I'll leave it up to you to decide. But here's a roll call of the top "unicorn breeders" along with the number of super successful founders each has produced.

  1. Stanford University, 38
  2. Harvard University, 21
  3. University of California, Berkeley 12
  4. Stanford Graduate School of Business, 10
  5. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 10
  6. Harvard Business School, 9
  7. Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, 8
  8. Cornell University, 7
  9. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 6
  10. Yale University, 6
  11. Columbia University, 6
  12. Brigham Young University, 5

But don't fret if you went to art school.

While this is an interesting analysis for startup watchers, it could be interpreted as discouraging by would-be founders without a top academic pedigree. It probably shouldn't be. While the best schools clearly turn out a huge percentage of top entrepreneurs, GoodCall also offers a list of some of the startups with the highest current valuations and the universities their founders attended.

It's equally clear from this second list that, while going to to the likes of Stanford is undoubtedly a leg up, it's quite possible to found a billion-dollar business without a gold-plated degree. Two of Airbnb's founders, for instance, are alumni of The Rhode Island School of Design (several other art schools also make an appearance on the list), while one of WeWork's founders went to City University of New York Baruch. Plus, there are those well known dropouts I mentioned in the intro.

The point is, identifying unicorn breeders is perhaps useful for young would-be entrepreneurs with stellar grades, and entertaining for the rest of us, but it probably shouldn't be taken too seriously by anyone wondering if their startup idea might just become the next unicorn in town. The right academic background clearly helps, but it's hardly a requirement for success

Published on: Dec 13, 2016