Most unicorn founders this year are IITians

Every second founder of Indian startups that turned a this year is an alumnus of one of four oldest Indian Institutes of Technology.

Twenty-six startups entered the unicorn club this year till end-August with a valuation of $1 billion or more.

As many as 30 of the 58 founders of these are engineering graduates from the IITs of Delhi, Bombay, Kharagpur or Kanpur, according to a study conducted by EMA Partners. Including these 58, there are 153 unicorn founders in India and 65 of them are from these four IITs, according to the findings, shared exclusively with ET. India has 62 unicorns, including Swiggy, Byju’s, Ola and Paytm. All IITs together have produced 78 of their founders.

“While IITs have proven to be a wonderful seedbed for unicorn founders, some courses stand out more than others.

Mechanical, electrical and computer science account for 70% of the pool of unicorn founders,” said A Ramachandran, senior partner, EMA Partners India.

A large chunk of unicorns is headquartered in Bengaluru, followed by Delhi-NCR and Mumbai.

These startups have taken on average roughly seven years to achieve the unicorn status. This time taken to achieve the unicorn status is likely to shorten, said Ramachandran.

“Any deep-tech startup needs a good and foundational learning in the tech domain and that is where an IIT education stands out,” IIT-Bombay director Subhasis Chaudhuri said.

And it goes beyond the classroom learning, said IIT-Delhi graduate Mayank Kumar, who is a cofounder of upGrad, an edtech company that recently joined the unicorn club.

“The network and support system is definitely helpful. Also seeing other batch mates/seniors/juniors build larger companies gives one the confidence of going out and aiming for scale. The access, network and exposure you get is invaluable,” he said.

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Companies that turned unicorn this year with founders being graduate engineers from IITs include
Meesho, ShareChat and

“The hard work, excellent alumni support and the thriving ecosystem have enabled the students to grow and convince investors to support them and convert their startups to unicorn companies,” said Chaudhuri of IIT Bombay.

The median age of unicorn founders during the time of the inception of the startup is 30 years – the youngest was aged 19 years and the oldest at 55 years. Most of the unicorns have one or two founders each, according to the EMA study.

Just 3% of the 153 founders are women. They include Divya Gokulnath (Byju’s), Falguni Nayar (Nykaa), Ruchi Kalra (OfBusiness), Saritha Katikaneni (Zenoti) and Gazal Kalra (Rivigo), according to the study.

Twenty-one of the unicorn founders have passed out from Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) and 85 are postgraduates.



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