8 Jun 2021

10 Tech Founders Who Launched Their Startups In College

Evan Spiegel, Google, Snapchat, Startup, Venture Capital

The hallowed halls and raucous dorms of Ivy League colleges and Universities have seen the conception of many of today’s biggest modern brands. 

Everyone knows that the likes of Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg dropped out of college to found their companies, and, since then, many other founders have followed suit while others dreamt up their ventures in the classroom and saw their degree through to the end.

Here are some big names of big brands that founded their companies during college. 

Evan Spiegel: Snapchat

Founder and CEO of Snapchat Evan Spiegel and founding partner Bobby Murphy dreamt up the idea of an app that could send photos that would disappear at Stanford University. Spiegel dropped out of Stanford University to pursue Snapchat, which went by the name ‘Picaboo’ at the time, just a few credits short of finishing his degree. 

Snapchat now has an appraised net worth of $5 billion

Larry Page and Sergey Brin: Google

The powerhouse of the internet was founded by Larry Page and Sergey Brin as they attended Stanford University. They built the search engine from their dorm rooms and caught the attention of the academic community and Silicon Valley investors. In 1998, the pair was written a check for $100,000 by Andy Bechtolsheim, co-founder of Sun Microsystems, and the rest is history.

Startup, Venture Capital, Snapchat, Google, College Dropout

Snapchat: image via www.quotecatalog.com

Joy Buolamwini: Algorithmic Justice League

Perhaps most well known for the Netflix documentary Coded Bias, based on her research, Joy Buolamwini founded her non-profit in 2016 before completing her Master’s degree at MIT.

Buolamwini works as a researcher at the MIT Media Labs, and is an expert on algorithmic bias in artificial intelligence which, she has found, are severely set against women and people of colour. AI systems with biases can impact everything from job opportunities to medical treatment and college acceptances.

The Algorithmic Justice League aims to use art and research to highlight the social implications of AI and galvanize industry experts to mitigate AI bias and its harms. 

Joy Buolamwini, Algorithmic Justice League, Startup, Venture Capital, College

Joy Buolamwini, founder of the Algorithmic Justice League. Image via Joy Buolamwini, LinkedIn.

Aaron Levie: Box

The idea for cloud-storage company Box was thought up in the halls of the University of Southern California by Aaron Levie, who started it as a class project. A year later, Levie left college to found Box in 2005

Levie has come under fire recently over claims from an activist investor in Box that the company is underperforming. He is now reportedly exploring sale options for the cloud-storage company. 

Limor Fried: Adafruit Industries

Limor Fried is the CEO of Adafruit Industries, a company which she founded from her dorm room at MIT and has built to earn more than $40 million annually. Adafruit Industries is a company that reflects her own passions, having graduated MIT with a BS in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, and sells all the hardware and electronics you need from 3D printing to colourful LED strips. The aim of Fried’s company was to “make building electronics at home easier”. 

Startup, Venture Capital, Google, Dell, Snapchat

Limor “Ladyada” Fried via Adafruit Industries via Flickr. No modifications made. All rights reserved: Adafruit Industries.

Michael Dell: Dell Inc.

Michael Dell left college after freshman year. He studied pre-med, but it was his side-hustle of building, fixing and selling PCs to his fellow classmates out of his dorm that consumed his attention. His parents were reportedly worried that his entrepreneurial interests would disrupt his studies at the University of Texas. A parent’s instinct is never wrong, but in this case, they had no reason to be worried; within a decade Dell went on to become the youngest CEO ever to head a Fortune 500 company.

Michael Dell, Dell, WordPress, Startup, Venture Capital

Michael Dell, founder of Dell. Image via Kevin Krejci and Flickr.

Meredith Perry: UBeam

Meredith Perry and her team of four won the esteemed University of Pennsylvania “PennVention” competition of 2011 with an ultrasonic wireless charging device called UBeam.

UBeam then went on to raise fundraising of $40 million as Perry pushed forward with her vision for a cordless future and her uBeam device which could charge your phone from across the room using ultrasound frequencies.

In 2018, Perry announced that she was stepping down as CEO of uBeam and the company was going to switch to a b2b model instead of trying to build its own line of consumer products. 

Matt Mullenweg: WordPress

Matt Mullenweg started developing the idea of content management system WordPress way back in high school. He continued this work as a political science major at the University of Houston before dropping out of college to work with CNET Networks and starting WordPress in 2003.

WordPress now powers a staggering 40% of all websites on the web. 

Elizabeth Holmes: Theranos

Elizabeth Holmes is another Stanford dropout. She left college when she was 19 to pursue her blood-testing startup Theranos. She grew the company to a valuation of $9 billion and quickly became the youngest self-made billionaire.

However, now Holmes and Theranos are caught up in legal troubles in a fall from grace as they battle a federal fraud claim which could result in 20 years in prison.