The 15 colleges that graduate the most successful startup CEOs

You might be surprised by the range of schools on a list of entrepreneur alma maters recently compiled by Crunchbase News.

Crunchbase recently compiled a list of universities in the United States that graduate the most CEOs of high-performing startups. They looked only at startups that raised $1 million or more in the past year.

According to their analysis, the top 15 CEO-producing universities are:

  1. Harvard University*
  2. Stanford University
  3. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)*
  4. University of Pennsylvania*
  5. Columbia University*
  6. University of California, Berkeley*
  7. Cornell University
  8. Northwestern University*
  9. Yale University
  10. University of Michigan*
  11. University of California, Los Angeles*
  12. Carnegie Mellon University*
  13. University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign*
  14. Duke University*
  15. University of Southern California*

*Note to readers: EAB congratulates member institutions that appear on the list. Member institutions listed here are marked with an asterisk.

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Unsurprisingly, Harvard and Stanford top the list, each with nearly 150 alumni acting as CEOs of successful startups. Not only are these schools located close to the largest venture capital networks in the United States, but their students also have ample opportunity to develop social networks with successful alumni, corporate contacts, and investors, explains Melissa Schilling, a professor at the New York University Stern School of Business.  

There's also some self-selection at work. "The prestige of the schools ensures that they have their pick of applicants, so their students tend to be strong and well-connected even before they arrive on campus," Schilling notes.

But the list also includes a number of other Ivies and large research institutions. Many of them have top-ranked business programs where the entrepreneurs in the analysis received their MBAs. For example, nearly half of the CEOs from Northwestern graduated from the Kellogg School of Management.

But while there are nearly 5,000 startups worldwide that meet Crunchbase's criteria for analysis, the data company was only able to account for the alma maters of roughly two-thirds of their leaders—meaning there are many successful startups whose CEOs didn’t attend any schools on the list.

"You don't have to go to a prestigious school to be a profoundly important innovator or entrepreneur," Schilling notes. "Breakthrough innovations often come from outsiders, who are willing and able to break the mold precisely because they are not well-embedded in the social networks that currently dominate an industry" (Glasner, Crunchbase News, 5/9; Mejia, CNBC, 5/16).

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