Many people want to start their own businesses. But founding and successfully running a business is challenging for even the most talented entrepreneurs. Luckily, colleges across America have realized that they can help their students found and grow businesses in ways that boost their chances of success. The colleges in this article all excel in giving students business support.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to colleges supporting student entrepreneurs. Instead, colleges that really want to ensure that their students’ companies thrive need to offer a range of business empowerment solutions. Therefore, the colleges in this article can demonstrate that they have multiple avenues of entrepreneurship aid that suit a diverse range of students and business ideas.
In 2020 and 2021, businesses all over the world have had to adapt to coronavirus. Colleges and student startups are no different. Some colleges have either produced startups that are fighting coronavirus or are assisting businesses in coping with coronavirus. These efforts also contribute to this ranking. They provide evidence of the colleges, and the startups that they produce are quick to adapt to new business challenges, which is a vital skill for any business to have.
Any one of the colleges in this article is a strong choice for a prospective student who wants to start a business in a supportive environment. However, it’s also possible that none of the colleges below are right for you. If that’s the case, then this article can still be a great resource. Each entry contains a detailed summary of what the college is doing to support its student-founded businesses. These have been included for you to contrast and compare with your own college options. If a college you’re considering is supporting student businesses like the following colleges, then that’s a strong sign that it’s worth attending!
The basis of this article comes from sources that highlight colleges that support entrepreneurs. These sources are as follows:
CollegeChoice, 50 Best U.S. Colleges for Aspiring Entrepreneurs
Forbes, 5 Amazing College Incubators
The Yale Tribune, 15 Best Student Startups From 2000 to 2020
After sourcing the colleges from these articles, we then conducted further research into their student business support. This research formed the final ranking.
The ranking criteria for this article are as follows: Evidence of a college providing varied business support to students, evidence of a college/college startup supporting businesses through coronavirus or fighting coronavirus, evidence of innovation in a college’s business support, and a combined number of mentions on the methodology sources.
Our ranking, from 30 to one, is as follows:
30. New Mexico State University
Las Cruces, New Mexico
In early 2020, before coronavirus came to America, New Mexico State University was lucky enough to gain over $300,000 to help even more students with their businesses. The college’s center for innovation, the Arrowhead Center, has also supported businesses as they developed solutions to coronavirus. For instance, it has supported Wildlife Protection Management, Inc, which is developing solutions in delivering humane vaccines to wild horses, preventing the spread of a range of zoological diseases that can develop into pandemics. Forbes notes that New Mexico State University has an incredible business incubator.
29. Texas A&M University
College Station, Texas
Since 1999, Texas A&M University has supported business-minded students with the McFerrin Center for Entrepreneurship. This center runs dozens of programs that allow student businesses to succeed. For example, Start-Up 101 helps students start their own businesses through a series of workshops with successful entrepreneurs. The college has also strengthened its business connections throughout coronavirus. For example, in late 2020, the college collaborated with Worlds Inc to develop a coronavirus breathalyzer. Forbes states Texas A&M University has one of America’s top startup business incubators.
28. University of Washington
Since 1991, the University of Washington has had the Arthur W. Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship. It offers students “an exceptional curriculum, real-world experiences, and connections to the Seattle entrepreneurial community.” Some of the opportunities that the center offers are startup competitions, innovation challenges, business accelerators, and more. And the college’s entrepreneurial efforts have focused upon coronavirus. For instance, one of the colleges’ startups has helped the fishing industry form solutions for testing and managing coronavirus in their workplaces. CollegeChoice names the University of Washington the 16th best college for entrepreneurs.
27. Boston University
The Boston University Center for Career Development has many resources for students interested in startups and entrepreneurship. These include the BUild Lab coworking space, 39 on-campus business clubs/organizations, and more. And the college’s student and alumni business leaders have been supporting the fight against coronavirus. For instance, some have launched a free marketplace to list and share emergency medical supplies, and others have built apps that monitor coronavirus symptoms. CollegeChoice names Boston University the 14th best college for entrepreneurs.
26. University of Miami
Coral Gables, Florida
The LaunchPad at the University of Miami is a community of over 5,000 entrepreneurs. Its mission is to help people succeed with business ideas large and small. And since its foundation in 2008, it has expanded its community to colleges across the country, formed a cross-campus mentorship program, and much more. And the college is helping businesses that are fighting coronavirus. For example, in 2020, it became the first college testing site for a coronavirus breath analyzer product. The Yale Tribune names the University of Miami student-founded company EarTop Technologies the sixth-best student startup of the 21st century.
25. New York University
New York City, New York
The New York University startup ecosystem is college-wide. And the college fosters this ecosystem by encouraging multi-disciplinary collaboration, accelerating innovation, and cultivating leaders. Some of the resources that student entrepreneurs can access include a $300,000 competition, future labs, an innovation fund, business accelerators, and much more. This startup ecosystem has adapted well to coronavirus. For instance, the college has hosted events with titles like “Challenges Building an Ed-tech Company in the Midst of COVID with The Thinkers.” CollegeChoice considers New York University to be the seventh-best college for entrepreneurs.
24. University of Dayton
The statistics of student and alumni business success at the University of Dayton speak for themselves. For instance, in the last decade, 131 new ventures have been launched by the college’s alumni, thanks to $21.6 million in funding. The college is also home to the 4th largest student-run business in America. Despite coronavirus, the University of Dayton has been able to accelerate its business support activities. For example, in late 2020, the college launched a new program for entrepreneurs to move start-ups forward. Entrepreneur considers the University of Dayton to be the fourth-best college for providing hands-on entrepreneurship experience.
23. California Polytechnic State University
San Luis Obispo, California
In 2010, California Polytechnic State University’s Cal Poly Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship opened its doors to students. Since then, it has launched over 120 companies, created over 1,000 jobs, raised over $250 million in capital, and provided over 10,000 alumni mentor hours. Shortly after coronavirus came to America, this center announced that it would help small businesses to prepare for coronavirus impacts. The Yale Tribune names the California Polytechnic State University student-founded company iCracked as the eighth-best student-founded startup of the 21st century.
22. Lehigh University
The student business accelerators at Lehigh University contributed to Entrepreneur naming the college the second-best for a hands-on entrepreneurial experience. However, this business accelerator is just scratching the surface of Lehigh University’s student and alumni business support. For example, the college also runs the Baker Institute for Entrepreneurship, Creativity, and Innovation; a Silicon Valley immersion event; a series of business competitions; a collaboration with the Nasdaq Entrepreneurial Center; a small business development center, and much more. In 2020, the CARES Act awarded $515,000 to the college’s Small Business Development Center, which allowed the center to expand its services to hundreds of new clients.
21. Columbia University
New York City, New York
The Columbia University database for commercialization and entrepreneurial resources lists dozens of opportunities for student entrepreneurs. This ranges from the more typical resources, like startup accelerators and entrepreneurship programs, to more unique resources, like a chemical probe synthesis facility and a digital storytelling lab. And the college’s startup businesses have thrived during coronavirus. For instance, from March 2020 to March 2021, the college’s startups raised $7.2 billion in funding. CollegeChoice names Columbia University the ninth best college for entrepreneurs.
20. University of Houston
Both The Yale Tribune and QS note that a University of Houston student founded the website WordPress. The home of student business support at the college has been The Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship since 1991. This center has many programs on offer to help students become successful entrepreneurs. This includes hosting outside speakers every week, running mentoring, holding competitions, organizing retreats, and much more. Even with the constraints of the pandemic, the University of Houston is still increasing the global business reach of its education. For example, in October 2020, the college’s School of Business announced opening an office of global initiatives.
19. The George Washington University
Since 2010, The George Washington University has had the Office of Innovation & Entrepreneurship. To date, it has helped thousands of college community members with their business endeavors. Possibly the most impressive aspect of this office is that it runs the GW Innovation+Entrepreneurship Lab with MakeOffices. This lab organizes events, workshops, advising sessions, an open co-working space, collaboration spaces, a resource center, and an innovator access program. The lab is open to all of the college’s students. The college’s entrepreneurial activities are now helping businesses overcome coronavirus. For instance, in 2021, the college announced that the Wells Fargo Bank had given the college $75,000 to help fund activities that help startup businesses adapt to coronavirus-related risks. The Yale Tribune states that The George Washington University student-founded business AthleteTrax is the fourth-best student startup of the 21st century. CollegeChoice names it the 44th best college for entrepreneurs.
18. Northeastern University
In 1958, Northeastern University became one of the first colleges to create an entrepreneurship program. Thanks to this head start, the college now has a wide range of business support activities for students and alumni. These activities are headed by the D’Amore-McKim Entrepreneurship & Innovation Group. This group’s activities include a venture accelerator, a guild of expertise-based service providers, a mentoring network, and an entrepreneurship club. In the wake of coronavirus, Northeastern University has helped both international businesses and local businesses. For example, it has published papers that offer solutions for international corporations. In 2020, the college won an award from the Greater New England Minority Supplier Development Council for continuing to support minority-owned businesses through the pandemic. Entrepreneur considers Northeastern University the third best school for offering students hands-on entrepreneurial experience. CollegeChoice ranks the college as the 40th best for entrepreneurs.
17. Johns Hopkins University
Perhaps the most exciting center for student entrepreneurship on the Johns Hopkins University campus is Fast Forward U. Fast Forward U is a 10,000-foot creative space that serves as a “hub for student entrepreneurship and innovation.” Within the span of one year, this space managed to work with over 1,300 students from various disciplines to make their business goals a success. And the college’s support has led to entrepreneurial students assisting in the fight against coronavirus. For example, in early 2021, the student formed a startup named Polair, which creates technologically advanced surgical masks, was awarded $250,000. Forbes notes the Johns Hopkins University has one of America’s top business incubators. CollegeChoice names the college the 36th best for entrepreneurs.
16. University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
A student who wants to start a business while studying at the University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign will find a wide ecosystem of support. The college’s system currently offers these students seven innovation spaces, five funds, and a range of unique opportunities, such as Silicon Valley workshops, a living-learning community, a proof of concept program, and much more. In 2020, one of the college’s startups, Serionix, started developing face masks that used air filtration technology, offering people a new way to protect themselves from coronavirus. CollegeChoice names the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign the 17th best college for entrepreneurs. Forbes notes that the college’s system has produced the 10th most venture capital-backed startups of any college to date.
15. Carnegie Mellon University
In 2015, Carnegie Mellon University alumnus James R. Swartz, a founder of the global venture capital firm Accel, donated $31 million to Carnegie Mellon University to create the Swartz Center for Entrepreneurship. This center currently runs 16 programs that help student entrepreneurs succeed, including funds, competitions, and labs. Companies that the college has supported have gone on to fight the pandemic. For example, Airviz Inc, which began and is currently based in the college’s Create Lab, provides clean air filtration solutions for indoor environments. The Yale Tribune considers the Carnegie Mellon University student-founded company Modcloth to be the 11th best student startup of the 21st century. CollegeChoice considers the college to be the 13th best for entrepreneurs.
14. The University of Texas at Austin
The student business support at The University of Texas at Austin has led the college to establish itself “as an essential engine of the booming innovation and knowledge economy.” Some of the resources that entrepreneurial students can access at the college include an interdisciplinary enterprise program called Longhorn Startup, the Austin Technology Incubator, the IC2 Institute, the Herb Kelleher Center for Entrepreneurship, and more. In 2020, the college’s business work focused on coronavirus. For example, three student entrepreneurs created a platform called Big & Mini that connected older and younger adults through virtual communication. CollegeChoice names The University of Texas at Austin, the 12th best college for entrepreneurs. Forbes notes that the entire University of Texas system has produced the ninth highest amount of venture capital-backed startups.
13. University of California, Los Angeles
Los Angeles, California
The University of California, Los Angeles campus has had a center for entrepreneurship since 1987. Today, the Harold and Pauline Price Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation oversees a wide range of business growth activities, including Startup UCLA, which connects students with alumni who have successfully created startups and other startup founders in Southern California. During the coronavirus pandemic, business-minded students have focused on aiding nonprofits. This has been handled through the college’s Crisis Response Corps, which connected 71 students with 27 organizations. Forbes notes that the University of California, Los Angeles is affiliated with one of the best business incubators, Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator. CollegeChoice names the college the fourth-best for entrepreneurs.
12. Duke University
Durham, North Carolina
In 2020, Duke University’s entrepreneurship efforts were able “to respond swiftly and creatively to the virus.” For example, the college launched the Student Founder Program, which, despite coronavirus, held 538 coaching sessions. And the 2020 summer accelerator for student businesses was able to run for nine weeks and provide $50,000 in summer stipends. On a more long-term basis, the college’s Melissa & Doug Entrepreneurs program has raised over $21 million for students since 2014. The Yale Tribune names the Duke University student-founded company A Small Orange, the second-best student startup of the 21st century. CollegeChoice names the college the 15th best for entrepreneurs.
11. Babson College
Babson Park, Massachusetts
Entrepreneur states that Babson College is number one in giving students hands-on experience to entrepreneurial students. CollegeChoice also names the college the 33rd best in America for entrepreneurs. The college states that its alumni startup resources “empower entrepreneurs to build and grow ventures of all kinds.” This includes pitching competitions, accelerator programs, workshops, mentorships, and more. During coronavirus, Babson College has been using its Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program to highlight the issues that small businesses face. For instance, in September 2020, this program reported that 88% of small businesses had exhausted their government Paycheck Protection Program loans.
10. Cornell University
Ithaca, New York
The entrepreneurship programs at Cornell University are governed by the deans of 12 different schools within the college. They are also supported by over 100 advisory council members. Thanks to this large support, the college offers business-minded students eight business incubators, nine startup funds, mentoring, agencies, legal clinics, and more. This entrepreneurial leadership has helped students provide solutions to coronavirus. For example, in May, a student team designed a smart mask that monitors the wearer’s vital signs. Forbes notes that Cornell University is responsible for the sixth-highest venture capital back startups of any college. CollegeChoice names the college the 10th best for entrepreneurs.
9. University of Southern California
Los Angeles, California
Every year, the University of Southern California gives $340,000 to student-founded startups. The college’s student organizations also offer entrepreneurial students a wide range of unique opportunities, such as the chance to speak to Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk. In the pandemic, the college’s Jimmy Iovine and Andre Young Academy is helping businesses. For example, one of the academy’s faculty members, Matthew Manos, is developing Los Angeles’s LA Optimized program with the city’s mayor’s office. The Yale Tribune names the University of Southern California student-founded company EnjoyNow the third best student startup of the 21st century. CollegeChoice names the college the fifth-best for entrepreneurship.
8. Yale University
New Haven, Connecticut
In 2021, Yale University’s student body increased its support for student entrepreneurs, despite the coronavirus pandemic. The Yale College Council decided to spearhead a program that would help undergraduate entrepreneurs succeed. However, there were already many opportunities for student business support at the college. For example, students could enter the Yale Innovators’ Prize, access a startup consulting clinic, apply for the Tsai CITY Student Catalyst Fund, enroll in mentorship, and much more. QS notes that Yale University was the birthplace of Time Magazine and FedEx. The Yale Tribune considers the college’s students responsible for the 15th best startup of the 21st century, Verb Energy. CollegeChoice names the college the 21st best for entrepreneurs.
7. University of Virginia
Thanks to the University of Virginia’s education, the company BetterWorld has helped other businesses access fundraising opportunities throughout the pandemic. The former student who started this business, Whit Hunter, has said that the University of Virginia “helped him step back and think about the business and its potential way forward in new ways.” Today, the college has a range of centers, communities, conferences, workspaces, accelerators, competitions, and funds that help student businesses succeed. QS and The Yale Tribune both note that a University of Virginia student founded the website Reddit. College Choice names the college the 26th best in America for entrepreneurship.
6. University of Michigan
Ann, Arbor, Michigan
Entrepreneur Magazine believes that the University of Michigan gives students the fifth-best hands-on entrepreneurial experiences. CollegeChoice names the college the eighth-best for entrepreneurs. And Forbes notes that the college is one of the top 10 for producing the most venture capital-backed startups. Student businesses at the University of Michigan are supported by Innovate Blue, which runs over 15 programs and centers in entrepreneurship. In May 2020, the college also released an app that helped small businesses stay open by conducting health screenings. By September of 2020, over 2,500 employers were using the app every day.
5. University of California, Berkeley
Forbes states that the University of California, Berkeley’s business incubator is incredible, noting that it even offers significant funding opportunities for the businesses that it incubates. The other Forbes source notes that the college has produced the second most venture capital-backed startups of any college. Lastly, CollegeChoice names it the second-best college for entrepreneurs. There is no shortage of opportunities for student entrepreneurs at the University of California, Berkeley. In fact, it currently has seven startup incubators, 10 prominent business-based student groups, three entrepreneurship associations, four business competitions, and much more. The college was also quick to help businesses adapt to coronavirus, with the Sutardja Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology launching a range of initiatives aimed at businesses.
4. University of Pennsylvania
The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania offers students many opportunities to start and grow their own businesses. In addition to degrees, the school offers innovation conferences, scaling workshops, an institute for innovation management, funding, networking, advice, and more. University of Pennsylvania’s president, Amy Gutmann, was swift to announce coronavirus business support. In March 2020, she announced that the college would be dedicating $4 million to support independently owned businesses located in the college’s city district. Forbes considers the University of Pennsylvania to have an incredible business incubator. The other Forbes source notes that the college is responsible for the fifth most venture capital-backed startups of any college. The Yale Tribune states that the University of Pennsylvania student-founded business Insomnia Cookies is the 10th best student startup of the 21st century. CollegeChoice names the college the 11th best for entrepreneurs.
3. Massachusetts Institute of Technology
In 2020, students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology could access over 200 resources that were “dedicated to fostering entrepreneurship and innovation.” This included the MIT Innovation Initiative, the MIT Sandbox Innovation Fund Program, the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship, and much more. Thanks to these opportunities, there were over 30,000 alumni-founded companies in 2014. In late 2020, the college’s Professor Yossi Sheffi published a book that can help businesses recover from coronavirus. CollegeChoice considers the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to be the third-best college for entrepreneurship. The Yale Tribune states that two of the best student startups of the 21st century came from the college’s campus, namely Dropbox and 3dim. Forbes notes that the college is responsible for producing the third most venture capital-backed startups of any college. And the other Forbes source states that the college has an incredible business incubator.
2. Harvard University
Since 2003, Harvard University has had The Arthur Rock Center for Entrepreneurship. This center has a range of tools that help students make their business ideas successful, such as competitions, business accelerators, and alumni networks. And the college has used its many business connections to find solutions to coronavirus challenges. For example, in August 2020, Google Cloud and Harvard’s Global Health Institute teamed up to offer free AI-powered coronavirus forecasting for those engaged with fighting the virus. CollegeChoice names Harvard University the sixth best college for entrepreneurs. Forbes notes that the college’s innovation lab runs an incredible business incubator. The other Forbes source notes that the college is responsible for the fourth most venture capital-backed startups of any educational institution. QS notes that Harvard was the birthplace of Facebook. And The Yale Tribune states that two of the best student startups came from Harvard, namely Facebook and HourlyNerd.
1. Stanford University
The entrepreneurship network of Stanford University has “deep ties to Silicon Valley and regions around the world.” On campus, there are dozens of organizations that focus on different aspects of entrepreneurship. For instance, there is the Center for Entrepreneurial Studies, The Stanford Center for Legal Informatics, the Association of Industry-Minded Stanford Professionals, and many more. Since coronavirus, the Stanford Seed Transformation Program has increased its support to over 800 businesses across Africa and India. This increased support includes mentoring, coaching, business consultants, and more. CollegeChoice names Stanford University the best college for entrepreneurship. The Yale Tribune names the Stanford University student-founded company Snapchat the 14th best student startup. Forbes notes that the college is responsible for the most venture capital-backed startups of any college in the world. QS notes that Snapchat and Google are two of the most successful student businesses started at a college. The other Forbes source notes that Stanford University has an amazing college incubator.