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Which colleges did the latest $1 billion “unicorn” company founders attend?

Posted by Shivali Anand

July 29, 2021    |     3-minute read (538 words)

In the United States, popular opinion holds that the founders of billion-dollar companies are typically millennials with a STEM degree from one of the country's elite colleges, probably an Ivy League.

But does this formula hold true for the newest members of the "unicorn" club? Here we analyze the list of businesses that reached a valuation of $1 billion or higher in the second quarter of 2021, based on data gathered by CB Insights, to see whether there were any discernible trends among the backgrounds of unicorn entrepreneurs.

Do they all have a prestigious alma mater?

There is no disputing that top-tier American universities produced a remarkable number of billion-dollar entrepreneurs in Q2. A slew of the most-recent unicorns includes at least one founder who is a Stanford or MIT undergrad.

Q2 unicorn founders or co-founders with degrees from Stanford include those from Astranis Space Technologies, Capsule, Ethos Technologies and Hive.

Q2 unicorn founders or co-founders with degrees from MIT include those from Astranis Space Technologies, Benchling, Deel Inc. and GupShup.

A bevy of other fine colleges are also represented among the most recent unicorn creators. However, Ivy League colleges do not appear to be the educational powerhouse behind the new unicorns. Cornell, Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania are among the Ivies with unicorn founders that appear on the list at least once.

Is Silicon Valley the birthplace of the majority of unicorns?

In Q2 2021, California's San Francisco Bay Area produced the most unicorns in the U.S. —Silicon Valley is home to almost half of the unicorns in the dataset. The area's proximity to prominent venture capital companies, its burgeoning startup culture and formidable networking possibilities continue to draw entrepreneurs.

Astranis, Chargebee, Benchling, Groq, Deel, Degreed, Gupshup, Hive, Kajabi, MOLOCO, HoneyBook, Mux, Outschool, SambaNova Systems, Recharge, Spot-On, Sendbird, Vectra AI, Sift, Signifyd and more are among California’s Q2 unicorns.

Other locations where unicorn entrepreneurs have established themselves

  • The unicorns listed below were launched by entrepreneurs outside the typical hub of Silicon Valley,
  • The Zebra, Firefly Aerospace and Caris Life Sciences are Texas unicorns.
  • ActiveCampaign, Amount and Project44 are Chicago unicorns.
  • Axtria and Misfits Market are New Jersey unicorns.
  • Bowery Farming, Capsule, Current, Injective Protocol, Paxos and Vise are New York unicorns.
  • Phenom People is a Pennsylvania unicorn.
  • Cava Group and Trader Interactive are Washington, D.C., area unicorns.
Founders aren't just young males in their 20s

Although most unicorn founders in Q2 2021 are men, there are a few female founders on the list.

Lori Stacey and Chris Nolan are both women who led their businesses, Trader Interactive and Spot-On respectively, to $1 billion valuations on their own. Shadiah Sigala, co-founder of software business HoneyBook, and Kim Kardashian, co-founder of clothing brand Skims, are female co-founders.

Meanwhile, a small percentage of $1 billion startup founders were under age 30, such as the three co-founders of Handshake. But the average age is somewhere in the 30s. For example, the founders of Phenom People, The Zebra, Capsule, and Recharge, to mention a few, were in their mid-30s when they launched. 

Takeaway: If there is any overarching commonality, it is that the founders of the fastest-growing firms in April 2021 are super-talented individuals, usually in their 30s.

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