This report on Tech Founder Education was written primarily by Tihana Mirkovic. With the recognition of entrepreneurship playing a key role in economic growth and relevance for society, it has climbed up on the governments’ priority lists and a growing interest in entrepreneurship education has been voiced by officials, universities and students. Before we take a closer look at the current state of entrepreneurship and innovation education at Canada’s top universities, in this report, we present an analytical portrait of the educational background of some of Canada’s leading entrepreneurs. Did they receive a university education, or were they college dropouts as typically portrayed in the media? What were the most popular bachelor’s degrees in? How many founders went to graduate school? Did they have to be professors in order to realize their potential, or did they all need an MBA to make it in the startup world? Where were they educated? Is it typically men or women who start companies and how old are the founders?
To research the educational and demographic profile of entrepreneurs in Canada, we focused on the founders of Canada’s private tech companies that had accumulated funding above five million dollars. We have examined 585 founders across 335 Canadian tech companies (Exhibit 1). The companies in the study have been broadly subdivided to belong to eight different industry sectors, five which are more technical, including computer hardware and services, electronics, mobile and telecommunication, internet, and software. The other three that are more distinct include the industrial, healthcare and consumer products and services sectors. Internet, mobile and telecommunication and healthcare were the most dominant sectors for startups in this study. Most of the companies have been founded after 2000, and only six before 1990, the oldest one having been established in 1908. The distribution of founding years and their corresponding industry sectors have been depicted in Exhibit 2.
Our findings at a glance
On the surface, the most apparent and overwhelmingly clear results in our study indicate that most tech entrepreneurs are highly educated (Exhibit 1). There are, however, significant demographic differences that have also been observed once area of educational specialization of these entrepreneurs and the industry sector of the startups have been taken into account.
- 95.4% of all startup founders have a bachelor’s degree.
- At 34.9% of all undergraduate degrees, engineering was the most popular, followed by science at 21.4%.
- Founders with business, computer science or humanities and social sciences undergraduate degrees represented a smaller fraction, each at 12–14%.
- The vast majority, 79.8%, of founders received their undergraduate education at one of Canada’s universities, top five being University of Waterloo, University of Toronto, University of British Columbia, Western University and McGill University.
- 50.9% of those with a bachelor’s degree, also obtained a graduate degree. The most common graduate degree was a PhD.
- The second most prevalent graduate degree was an MBA, primarily taken by engineering and humanities, and social science students, whereas science students obtain very little business education.
- Scientists attain the highest level of education overall: 85% of undergraduate degree holders go to graduate school, while only 19% of business students get a second degree. 37% of founders with a science backgrounds hold professorships, while none of the founders with a business undergraduate degree hold academic positions.
- Only 5.8% of startup founders are women. Women with graduate degrees in humanities or social sciences make up 37% of that educational demographic – by far more than in any other sub-discipline.