Guess the background of India’s unicorn founder club? Over a half – 67 per cent – have engineering backgrounds. But two years ago, almost 85 per cent of the founders of the elite start-up club with $1 billion valuations were engineers. As the number of unicorns has grown — it’s 114 now compared to the 100 in 2022 — the background of the founders/co-founders has gotten a bit more diverse.

Of the 206 co-founders/ founders of unicorn ventures, there are now more founders with a business/economics degree and with niche backgrounds like architecture, hotel management, and fashion technology. Of the 33 per cent of non-engineers, graduates of business, commerce, and economics make up the next biggest pool at 9 per cent, according to an analysis of the start-up database of YNOS Venture Engine, an IIT-Madras incubated organisation. Women make up only around 7.2 per cent of this pool. India has more than 3 lakh registered startups.

The club opens up

Founders with undergraduate degrees in architecture, law, philosophy and fashion technology also find a place in India’s unicorn journey as do college drop-outs. Zepto founders Aadit Palicha and Kaivalya Vohra dropped out of Stanford, and Bhavin Pandya, an engineering graduate from Purdue University, chose to quit his fully-funded PhD program in Economics at NYU to start and run Games 24*7.

Lead School’s Smita Deorah, Souvik Sengupta of Infra Market, and Shiprocket’s Gautam Kapoor are among the 23 founders who have an undergraduate degree in business/commerce or economics. Many of them went on to do an MBA. Sengupta and Deorah are also Chartered Accountants. 

Shagufta Anurag, the co-founder of interior design start-up Livspace, comes from an architecture background. Roman Saini of Unacademy is a former doctor and also cleared the UPSC Civil Services exam. Pharmeasy’s Dhaval Shah also has a degree in medicine. Interestingly, serial entrepreneur Kunal Shah, who is known for his philosophical takes on the business world, holds an undergraduate degree in philosophy from Wilson College, Mumbai.

“Today, there is more diversity among startup founders compared to 10 years back. D2C is seeing greater diversity of educational backgrounds and gender; deep tech too is seeing serious tech talent taking charge,” says Rajesh Sawhney, founder, GSF Accelerator. However, engineers have an inherent advantage to iterate faster and also rank high in confidence and risk-taking abilities compared to non-tech people, he added.

Among the engineers, 60 per cent are from the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs). Seven per cent of them completed their engineering undergraduate program from the Delhi Technology University and another 6 per cent from the Birla Institute of Technology.  (cut for print)

Thillai Rajan, a professor in the Department of Management Studies at IIT Madras, and founder of YNOS, said that more entrepreneurs are realising the importance of diverse skill sets in founding teams. “The ability to find co-founders with complementary skill sets is also getting better with time,” he added.  

(With inputs from Shreyas Arora, an intern with businessline)