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Who will the next Zuckerberg be? Data may have the answer

ECONOCOM 22 Jul 2015

Is there a typical profile  of a successful entrepreneur? Looking at Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs or Bill Gates, you might say: a young man, under thirty, who has eschewed a suit and tie in favour of flip-flops and dropped out of studying computer science to set up an innovative, ambitious project… But you’d be wrong.


According to data collected by Haas School of Business, Berkeley, University of California, as reported in the New York Times, the average founder is 38, with a master’s degree and 16 years of work experience.


Determined to dispel stereotypes and detect the ideal profile, Bloomberg Beta, Bloomberg’s tech investment fund, teamed up with researchers from Haas to create Future Founders, a programme that relies on a predictive algorithm to identify the tech giants of tomorrow.





Around forty, a master’s and around fifteen years’ experience: it may not sound like the typical profile of someone pitching to a seed fund – and yet, according to an algorithm developed by Haas and Bloomberg Beta, that’s pretty much the textbook profile of the person most likely to set up a business that could interest investors. But as investors tend to look for Zuckerberg or Gates-type candidates, they miss out on some potentially great opportunities, according to Roy Bahat, head of Bloomberg Beta:


“We have a myth in our heads of what the prototypical start-up founder is, and that myth is an early- to mid-20s white male who studied computer science at an elite school and dropped out.  But a small number of data points ends up incredibly captivating our imaginations. The truth is we might just be wrong.”



USING analytics TO dEtect THE MOST PROMISING profilEs


The aim of the programme developed by Bloomberg Beta and Haas is to find the next big tech entrepreneurs. Thanks to data from recruitment agency and startup investment website AngelList, Future Founders can predict who in the technology sector is most likely to set up a company funded by venture capital. Venture capital finds can then get in touch with these potential entrepreneurs before they’ve even set up –  or even thought about setting up – their business!


This one-of-a-kind programme provides a broader and more diverse pool of talent for investors to choose from. And the Haas research came up with some surprising results: for example, while only 12 percent of current founders are women, when the researchers searched for potential founders based on the other characteristics of successful founders, 20 percent of the people they found were women. Another myth that was dispelled is that a computer science degree isn’t an essential prerequisite: only 53 percent of founders have technology backgrounds.


Less surprising, perhaps: most of the people identified had previously worked for a venture-backed company or Google, that hotbed of future start-uppers. It is interesting to note that people who stayed at the same job a long time were unlikely to start companies, while people who had tried and failed to start one were more likely to succeed in raising venture capital on another try.


350 potential founders were identified last year in the San Francisco Bay Area and New York, where Bloomberg Beta is established. All of them received an email, which some dismissed as a scam:


“You’ve been chosen… as one of the most likely people in the technology industry to create a company.” 


It is too soon, however to assess how effective the programme is. Of the 350 potential founders identified, eight have started companies, three raised venture capital and Bloomberg Beta invested in just one (i.e. 0.29% of the total potential founders).


But this isn’t a problem for Bahat: even if the people Bloomberg Beta finds don’t start companies, they might make good hires at companies in which it invests.… So he’ll be repeating the experiment!



Photo credit: Marco Bellucci – Question mark / / Licence CC BY 2.0


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