Chamath Palihapitiya

Is Chamath right about HBS entrepreneurs?

February 10, 2014: 4:13 PM ET

harvard_business_schoolNot too many 'unicorns' went to HBS. Or any other business school.

FORTUNE -- Venture capitalists are biased against would-be entrepreneurs who went to Harvard Business School.

That was the message imparted top current HBS students at a conference keynote this past weekend by Chamath Palihapitiya, a current venture capitalist and former Facebook (FB) executive. From DealBook:

"It's really unfair to you guys, but I think you're discriminated against now," Chamath Palihapitiya, the founder of the venture capital fund Social+Capital Partnership... "I would bet a large amount of money that the overwhelming majority of us would not look favorably on a company started by one of you."

It's a fascinating message, particularly given how many venture capitalists once attended HBS (including one of Palihapitiya's partners, Mamoon Hamid). And it is virtually impossible to prove or disprove scientifically, without access to all of the business plans that have reached VC desks without affirmative reply.

One thing we can look at, however, is how many highly-valued startups have been founded by HBS alumni.

To do so, I pilfered Aileen Lee's list of "unicorns" -- a group of 39 tech companies founded since 2003, and which were valued at $1 billion or more by the private or public markets (note: her list has not been updated since last November).  

Of those 39 companies, only three had at least one co-founder who went to HBS. They were:

  • Yelp: Jeremy Stoppleman (HBS 2005, but dropped out)
  • Zynga: Mark Pincus (HBS: 1993)
  • Gilt Groupe: Alexis Maybank (HBS 2004), Alexandra Wilkis Wilson (HBS 2004)

But this isn't just an HBS issue. Only 12 of the 39 companies had any MBAs within their co-founding teams (i.e., just 28%) and, of those, only four had multiple MBAs. The leader (barely) is Stanford, with MBAs at five unicorns (Homeaway, Fab.com, Marketo, Tableau Software and Workday)

For venture capitalists who pray at the altar of pattern recognition, it would be hard to ignore how few massive tech successes have been founded by entrepreneurs with MBAs on their resumes. In fact, Palihapitiya could have made the same comments at any other business school in the world, including Stanford.

But fret not MBA candidates. VC firms are still hiring...

[Note: An earlier version of this story didn't note that Stoppleman dropped out of HBS after founding Yelp]

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