Leadership

Harvard edges out Stanford to be the No. 1 school for successful start-up CEOs

Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg may have both dropped out of Harvard before launching their world-changing companies but both still strongly advocate for getting your college degree. And their alma mater is a safe choice: Harvard is the No. 1 university in the U.S. for producing successful start-up CEOs, a new report from data company Crunchbase finds.

Crunchbase ranked the 20 top American universities by how prolific they were at graduating entrepreneurs who launched start-ups that raised $1 million or more this past year. The alums of these 20 schools became CEOs of more than 800 high-performing start-ups worldwide, the company finds.

"Harvard fares better in its rivalry with Stanford when it comes to educating future CEOs than founders. The two universities essentially tied for first place in the CEO alum ranking," the site notes, adding, "Stanford was well ahead for founders."

Melissa Schilling, a New York University Stern School of Business professor and author of "Quirky," says there are three main reasons why Harvard and Stanford have the greatest advantage in terms of producing people at the top of well-funded start-ups: their proximity to venture capitalists, the schools' prestige and the connections students make there.

"Venture capitalists tend to invest in firms within driving distance, and the two largest venture capital networks in the US are in Silicon Valley and Boston's Route 128," Schilling tells CNBC Make It.

Schilling, who has spent over 17 years researching tech innovation and collaboration strategies, adds that "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."

Lastly, "the social networks among students, alumni, corporate contacts and investors at these schools are exceptional because of the history," Schilling says.

Thanks to these self-reinforcing effects, elite schools like Harvard and Stanford offer future entrepreneurs and CEOs a good head start. Still, there is hope for other aspiring business moguls.

"You don't have to go to a prestigious school to be a profoundly important innovator or entrepreneur," Schilling says. "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."

"Brilliantly creative and driven people are everywhere," she adds.

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