26 May 2019
Students present a project to a group of visiting venture capitalists at Stanford University. Photo: Reuters
Students present a project to a group of visiting venture capitalists at Stanford University. Photo: Reuters

Venture capitalists cast entrepreneurial spell on Stanford

Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Michael Dell, Paul Allen, Larry Ellison: What do they have in common? They are all billionaires — and college dropouts.

The fact that many of America’s most successful technology entrepreneurs started their own companies without finishing college is one reason why venture capitalists are looking for promising startups on university campuses.

Stanford, one of the world’s most prestigious educational institutions, is so far the leading alma mater for entrepreneurs receiving early-stage funding from top venture capital firms, according to a Reuters special report.

Here, venture capitalists are not only investing in students’ startups but also teaching a range of courses and even volunteering as mentors, the news agency says. So much so that many student-run firms got their VC supporters at Stanford.

One example is photo-sharing service Snapchat. Its chief executive, Evan Spiegel, dropped out of Stanford two years ago to work full time on the venture, and his first VC backer, Jeremy Liew, is an alumnus of the university.

Probably Stanford’s most famous success story is that of tech giant Google, which was established by Larry Page and Sergey Brin when they were graduate students at the university. They met their first investor through an introduction from their professor David Cheriton, who also ended up investing.

The pervasive influence of venture capitalists in the university is great for budding entrepreneurs, but not everyone is happy about it.

Critics say this entrepreneurial culture is distracting students from their academic pursuits. The university’s role is to educate people, not to turn them into entrepreneurs.

Also, the huge amounts of funding available to students with great business ideas are tempting some to drop out of college. Professors may also find themselves in conflict-of-interest situations.

“VCs can be a bad influence and are not a good role model for students,” Vivek Wadhwa, a fellow at Stanford’s Rock Center for Corporate Governance, tells Reuters.

But some faculty members argue that VCs provide invaluable real-world insights, which students may not be able to learn from textbooks and lectures.

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