Get expert advice on every topic you need as a small business owner, from the ideation stage to your eventual exit. Our articles, quick tips, infographics and how-to guides can offer entrepreneurs the most up-to-date information they need to flourish.

Subscribe to our blog

See where the founders of the latest $1B “unicorn” startups went to school

Posted by Kanika Sinha

July 7, 2021

The stereotype for a founder of a billion-dollar company in the U.S. is that they must be young — most likely in their early 20s — and hold a gold-plated STEM degree from the nation’s most elite universities, and probably an Ivy League at that.

But does this formula actually hold true for the latest entrants to the “unicorn” club?

Let’s explore the list of startups that reached a $1 billion-plus valuation in 2021’s second quarter and find out if there were any discernible patterns among new unicorn founders who created such wildly successful ventures.

Do they all have an elite alma mater?

There’s no denying that top-tier U.S. schools churned out an impressive number of billion-dollar entrepreneurs in Q2. Many of the latest unicorns have at least one founder who is an alum of either Stanford or MIT.

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

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

There are a plethora of other schools represented among the latest unicorn founders. But the educational engine for the latest unicorn startups doesn’t appear to be Ivy League universities. The only Ivies appearing on the list were Cornell, Harvard and University of Pennsylvania.

Is Silicon Valley the launchpad of most unicorns?

California’s San Francisco Bay Area region spawned the most U.S.-based unicorns in Q2. About half of the unicorns from the dataset have their headquarters in Silicon Valley.

The area’s ready access to top venture capital firms, thriving startup scene and formidable networking opportunities continue to make it a magnet for entrepreneurs.

California unicorns

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

Here’s where else unicorn founders set up shop

Among those unicorn founders who launched their startups outside the traditional hub of Silicon Valley are the businesses below.

Texas unicorns ..... The Zebra, Firefly Aerospace, Caris Life Sciences

Chicago unicorns ..... ActiveCampaign, Amount, project44

New Jersey unicorns

..... Axtria, Misfits Market

New York unicorns

..... Bowery Farming, Capsule, Current, Injective Protocol, Paxos, Vise

Pennsylvania unicorns

..... Phenom People 

Washington, D.C.-area unicorns

..... Cava Group, Trader Interactive

OK, but are they all aged 20-something males?

Although the overwhelming majority of unicorn founders in Q2 2021 are men, there are some female founders on the list.

Lori Stacey and Chris Nolan are both women who single-handedly led their startups — Trader Interactive and Spot-On, respectively — to breach $1B valuations. Software firm HoneyBook and apparel brand Skims have female co-founders, Shadiah Sigala and Kim Kardashian, respectively.

Meanwhile, a minority of the $1B startup owners founders were under age 30, such as Handshake’s Garrett Lord, Ben Christensen and Scott Ringwelski. Many were in their 30s.

For example, Phenom People founder Mahe Mahe Bayireddi, The Zebra founder Adam Lyons and Recharge co-founders Oisin O'Connor and Michael Flynn were in their mid-30s when they launched. Capsule founder Eric Kinariwala built his pharmacy venture in 2015 to become a successful under-40 entrepreneur.

It wouldn’t be wrong to say that the highest growth startups of April 2021 were founded mostly by super-talented adults in their 30s!


Kanika Sinha
Kanika Sinha

Kanika is an enthusiastic content writer who craves to push the boundaries and explore uncharted territories. With her exceptional writing skills and in-depth knowledge of business-to-business dynamics, she creates compelling narratives that help businesses achieve tangible ROI. When not hunched over the keyboard, you can find her sweating it out in the gym, or indulging in a marathon of adorable movies with her young son.

We provide you with essential business services so you can focus on growth.