data courtesy of Sage

February 13, 2017

Cornell Ranks 9th in Producing “Unicorn” Founders

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Cornell University ranked in the top ten worldwide for producing the most number of founders of “unicorns” — a term for a billion-dollar start-up — according to a recent study conducted by Sage, a “cloud accounting software company.”

The five “unicorns” founded by Cornell alumni are Lyft, Wayfair, Illumio, Eventbrite, and Human Longevity, which rank 29th, 85th, 150th, 183rd, and 238th respectively in valuation, according to the study.

John Zimmer ’06, the co-founder of Lyft, a billion-dollar taxi service company based in San Francisco, told Cornell Alumni Magazine that he found inspiration for his company from a city planning class that he took as an undergraduate student in the College of Architecture, Art and Planning.

During a particular lecture on the evolution of U.S. transportation, Zimmer recalled thinking “If those are the first three slides in the presentation, what would be the fourth slide ten years from now?” Eleven years after Zimmer took the course, Lyft is a now $5.5 billion private company, according to Barnes.

The second “unicorn” founded by Cornell alumni is Wayfair, a $2 billion online home store founded by Niraj Shah ’95 and Steve Conine ’95, Barnes added. Shah and Conine called themselves “Cornell entrepreneurs” at the second Cornell Entrepreneurship Summit in 2013 and also said they found inspiration from their undergraduate courses.

“We were three doors apart on our freshmen dorm floor at Cornell and then without really planning it, we ended up starting a company right out of Cornell,” Shah said at the summit. “The reason we did that [is] we were Cornell engineers. One of the elective courses we took our very last semester was the entrepreneurship course in the Johnson School.”

As an assignment for the course, they created a consulting business which quickly paved their career into commercial internet and eventually to their founding Wayfair.

The three remaining “unicorns” founded by Cornell alumni are valued around $1 billion, according to the research by Sage. Illumio, founded by PJ Kirner ‘15, is valued at $1 billion; Eventbrite, founded by Renaud Visage ‘94, M. Eng., is valued at $1.06 billion; and Human Longevity, founded by Robert Hariri ‘87, M.D. and Ph.D., is valued at $1.2 billion.

“The billion-dollar start-up was once the stuff of myth, which is why private companies worth in excess of $1 billion have come to be dubbed unicorns,” said James Barnes, spokesperson for Sage.