The Mark Zuckerberg myth: Most startup founders are not uni dropouts

More than four in five startup founders in Australia are university graduates, smashing the romantic stereotypes of Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates making their dreams come true after dropping out of tertiary education.

The figure comes from a new report jointly authored by Startup Muster and Universities Australia called “Startup Smarts: universities and the startup economy”, which was released in Canberra this month.

“Many students now want to start their own businesses and careers – rather than work for someone else,” said Universities Australia chief executive Belinda Robinson. “A growing and impressive list of university programs and courses help students to learn the entrepreneurial skills they will need to turn a clever idea into a new Australian business.”

Startup Muster surveyed more than 600 startup founders to compile the report, with 64% having university-level software development skills and 61% in business. Marketing (37%), scientific research (13%), engineering (14%) and legal aptitude (11%) also featured.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the report also found that tertiary-educated entrepreneurs were also more likely to be founding cutting-edge startups in fields like medical technology, education and fintech.

Many universities now also have in-house accelerators and incubators to foster entrepreneurship, such as Melbourne University’s Melbourne Accelerator Program and Queensland University of Technology incubator Creative Enterprise Australia. There is even a top-secret long-term incubator in Sydney that four universities jointly founded back in 2000.

“This report validates some of the work we’ve been doing at CEA that focuses on the fact that students want to be able to make a job, rather than just get a job,” said QUT CEA chief executive Anna Rooke.

Founder and chief of online furniture marketplace startup Brosa, Ivan Lim, benefitted from the Melbourne Accelerator Program in 2014.

“Though we were only three months old and still niche and small, we were already generating revenue; having this early traction helped us to get into Melbourne University’s Melbourne Accelerator Program,” said Lim, who is now a mentor at the accelerator.

“With any accelerator, it’s always helpful when you know in advanced your product offering and why people want to purchase it. Probably more so for university accelerators because they have a huge database of alumni who are quite broad that can help open doors and set up meetings that will help the startup.”

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