What did VCs study in college?


Although some colleges may offer a major program in business or entrepreneurship, there isn’t exactly a major in venture capital or angel investment.

Crunchbase News has already examined where professional VCs and angel investors went to college (yes, there’s some truth to the Harvard and Stanford stereotypes) and when having an MBA matters in the world of entrepreneurial finance. But we haven’t yet looked at one facet of startup investors’ educational backgrounds: what they studied in college. So that’s what we’re going to dive into today.

To accomplish this, we’re going to use the educational histories from nearly 5,000 VC American and Canadian investment partners (e.g. folks who are employed by and invest on behalf of a venture capital firm) and nearly 8,500 angel investors in Crunchbase. For those with undergraduate degrees (e.g. B.S., B.A., A.B., and all manner of other variations) and majors listed, we then categorized majors into broader fields of study.1

In the chart below, you’ll see a breakdown of professional VCs’ college degrees.

Because startup investors are ostensibly focused on technology companies, the fact that most professional venture capitalists have a background in engineering (electrical, mechanical and industrial engineering mostly, but there are some more niche areas like nuclear engineering represented here) or technical subjects (like information systems and materials science) is predictable.

What might be most interesting here is just how few investment partners majored in formal sciences like math or computer science, ranking lower than the humanities by just a hair.

However, this is not the case with angel investors. The chart below displays the breakdown of college degrees for U.S. and Canadian angel investors. It keeps the same color coding as the chart for VCs’ degrees.

Among individual angel investors who are unaffiliated with a venture capital firm, a background in math and computer sciences is more likely.

There are a number of other fun facts to be found in the data:

  • For both professional VCs and angel investors who studied in the social sciences, economics majors vastly outnumber other disciplines like political science, sociology and psychology.
  • Finance, somewhat unsurprisingly, was the most popular subject for investment partners who majored in a business-related field. Undergraduate degrees in marketing and business administration were also common.
  • A lot of angel investors studied entrepreneurship as undergrads, whereas comparatively few professional VCs formally studied the subject.
  • History was, by far, the most popular subject area in the humanities for both angels and venture capitalists.

So what does all of this tell us? At least by our reading, the academic backgrounds of startup investors is quite diverse. And this would make sense. There isn’t a clear career path to becoming a venture capitalist or to having enough money and enthusiasm to make angel investments.

Our first-blush analysis also suggests that folks who studied computer science, mathematics and statistics are potentially under-represented among professional venture capital investors. Considering that many of the startups in which VCs invest are built around a new computing technology on the software or hardware side, this is a rather weird and inexplicable irony.

If you find yourself in college and want to invest in startups someday, either as a professional VC or as an angel investor, study what you want. There’s going to be a lot of other factors besides your undergraduate major that will land you a position in the field.

Footnotes:

  1. Biology, chemistry and geology degrees are more broadly categorized as “natural sciences.” Math and computer science are “formal sciences.” Political science, economics, psychology and sociology are part of the “social sciences” field.



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