Do College Drop Outs Thrive?

The WSJ ran the headline, College Dropouts Thrive in Tech, a couple of weeks ago (sub required). The article highlights well known dropouts (Jobs, Zuckerberg) and Thiel Fellowship winners, even referring to one as a wunderkind (a concept I reference in my forthcoming research on student entrepreneurs at US colleges and universities).

From the piece ,

Messrs. Weinstein and Kramer live at Mission Control with 10 others, including two women; half are under 21 years old. Three, including Messrs. Weinstein and Kramer, are Thiel Fellows. The house was originally leased by fellowship organizers for grant winners; other young entrepreneurs moved in as some initial residents left.

More dormitory than frat house, there is more working than partying at Mission Control. Residents come from varied backgrounds with diverse interests, but share some common traits: a brush with early success, disillusionment with the education system, an irreverent world view and healthy self-confidence.

The housemates share their schedules through a Google calendar and conduct group chats on Facebook Messenger, alerting each other to events like Wine-and-Cheese Wednesdays, Freestyle Fridays, and house dinners. There are impromptu all-night sessions of role-playing games such as Werewolf, but the most popular activity is tinkering with technology

I pulled the above quote because my research investigates whether the campus offers frontier like attributes that support innovation and entrepreneurship. The picture painted above provides some insight, but the data set — 2 Thiel fellows — is too small and not sure how representative these folks are of ‘dropouts.’

My data, which includes many students in the information industries — ranging from software and saas to e-commerce and search engines, includes notable dropouts, but most of the students that created high growth ventures while in school do in fact graduate.

Interesting commentary on the article over at Y Combinator Hacker News.

More to come. I will be defending my PhD in mid-July.


Wall Street Journal on Grads Making Their Own Jobs

Entrepreneurship by necessity has always accounted for much startup activity. Toddi Gutner has a piece in the Dec 23rd Wall Street Journal highlighting recent grads launching firms and also some of the structures and assets that the campus presents to entrepreneurs. Kauffman, Babson, Y Combinator, business plan classes, etc. The article is worth reading, here is a snippet:

Andrew Levine knew he wouldn’t find a job in investment banking when he graduated with an M.B.A. from the University of Miami in 2008. Wall Street was in the midst of a financial collapse. So instead the 24-year-old focused his efforts on launching a start-up. “I figured that starting my own company was the best use of my time while I waited for the market to thaw,” says Mr. Levine.

Faced with an unemployment rate of 16% for 20- to 24-year-olds, a growing number of recent college and grad-school graduates are launching their own companies, according to anecdotal evidence from colleges, universities and entrepreneurship programs around the U.S.

For his part, Mr. Levine built upon a business plan for a niche social-networking company he had created for an entrepreneurship class the prior year.

Column From Y Combinator Participants

The Globe and Mail in Toronto (where my friend Richard Florida offers his blog) has a great column by Michael Parkatti and Michael Marrone, current Y Combinator participants. For a bit on Y Combinator click here.

The one of the reason’s that we follow Y Combinator is because it is on the leading edge of new funding/advising models. The column is enjoyable and provides some insights into the paths of two young entrepreneurs (which include much time on campus). They will be writing columns each week during their three months in Cambridge at Y Combinator.

From their column:

For those unfamiliar with Y Combinator, it can be roughly described as a Venture Capital firm that provides seed funding for startups. However, their obvious corollaries with the traditional venture capital industry end there.

From a first-time founder’s perspective, Y Combinator is exactly the sort of program that provides the means to achieve our ambitions. On top of the seed investment, they also provide many of the intangibles (product advice, connections, ready access to hundreds of potential investors) that first-time entrepreneurs usually lack. In exchange they receive a small percentage of equity from each founding team. For the current three-month session (June to August), 22 teams have converged on the Boston area.

For two Canadian guys from St. Albert, Alberta and Belleville, Ontario who are long on ideas and short on connections, it’s exactly the opportunity we were looking for to take our startup to the next level.

WSJ: Harvard Kids Want to Be Like Mark

I was fortunate to grow up in Chicago in the 80s/90s and was even more fortunate that my mom’s business partner’s husband (got that?) was an executive with the Chicago Bulls. We got to go to lots of playoffs games and see the Bull’s win 6 NBA crowns. Everyone in Chicago wanted to ‘Be Like Mike.’

According to Vauhini Vara of the WSJ, lots of people at Harvard now want to ‘Be Like Mark.’ Mark Zuckerberg that is, as in Facebook. Vara has a nice piece that explains that Harvard is new to the entrepreneurship game (compared to MIT, Carnegie Mellon, Stanford, etc.) and that Facebook’s explosion has led to a cultural change on campus.

The piece profiles a handful of Harvard campus entrepreneurs and their ventures and explains how the school has had to revisit many policies regarding student run businesses over the past few years. From the piece, Continue reading “WSJ: Harvard Kids Want to Be Like Mark”