After reaching a certain level of experience in your career, the allure of starting your own business can be all too tempting. Many successful entrepreneurs left behind their high-flying jobs to go it alone. For example, Jeff Bezos left behind a vice-president role at D.E. Shaw — one of New York’s leading hedge fund managers to found Amazon.
The global Covid-19 pandemic led to a surge in startup foundations, fueled by a major trend toward resignations during the era. Now known as the Great Resignation, the workforce quit rate reached a 20-year high. While the majority were looking for a new challenge and better pay within their industries, others decided to invest in their own startups.
According to the Census Bureau, a record 5.4 million applications were made for a new business in 2021. There are plenty of important reasons why people choose to set up their own enterprises. For Bezos, it was the chance to explore the rapidly growing online retail sector in the early 1990s with a fledgling mail-order bookstore. For others, it represents a chance to develop a life-long passion into a commercial opportunity.
So which companies are future entrepreneurs most likely to come from? OnDeck has analyzed the career histories of more than 228,000 people working across America’s largest companies to find out.
What We Did
To find out which companies have the most employees who go on to start their own businesses, we created a list of the 100 largest companies in each state using Zippia. We then analyzed the LinkedIn profiles of everyone who worked there to see if they had set up their own company as a founder or co-founder.
- International management consulting firm Bain & Company produces more startup founders than any other business, with 13% of former staff leaving to start their own venture.
- More ex-Twitter employees (6.17%) start their own businesses after leaving than staff at any other tech company.
- Goldman Sachs (5.92%) produces the most future founders of former staff at any finance company.
Major Consulting Firms Produce the Most Future Founders
When it comes to entrepreneurship, one might think that future startup founders would cut their teeth in the big-tech world of Silicon Valley. After all, many of Apple’s former employees have left the company to form billion-dollar ventures over the years. However, our research shows that six of the ten businesses that produce future business founders are consulting firms.
Headquartered in Boston, MA, international management consultants Bain & Company has had more former employees (8.13%) move on to become startup founders than any other company in America. One of the ‘big three’ consulting firms, former high-profile employees include YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki and former U.S. Presidential candidate Mitt Romney — who became CEO of spin-off investment firm Bain Capital. According to financial analysts Tracxn, companies founded by Bain alumni have raised $26.7B in venture capital investment.
Three other major consulting firms — Oliver Wyman (7.93%), McKinsey & Company (7.75%) and Strategy& (7.44%) — also have significant numbers of founders who were formerly among their ranks. One example is Eric Baker, who left McKinsey before co-founding ticket reseller StubHub and later founded competitor Viagogo. The contacts and breadth of expertise a management consultant develops during their career make it an ideal proving ground for future business founders.
More Ex-Twitter Staff Create New Startups Than Any Other Tech Company
The relentless innovation culture within the tech industry makes it a hotbed of entrepreneurial talent. Major players in the sector, like Google and Microsoft, have produced several successful future business founders as a result of years at the top of the game.
However, more ex-Twitter employees have left to set up their own businesses than any other tech company, at a rate of 6.17%. According to Crunchbase, around $7B of funding has been invested in businesses by Twitter alumni. The San Francisco-based social media platform faced a major restructuring in late 2022 following Elon Musk’s controversial $44B takeover, with Musk firing around 50% of its staff after assuming the role of CEO.
Second on the list is Yahoo, with 5.92% of its former staff founding their own companies. As one of the original ‘dot-com’ companies, Yahoo spent more than a decade among the largest and most valuable internet businesses.
However, a string of poor commercial decisions and data breaches plummeted its share price. Despite this, it maintains an impressive reputation for developing ‘power players’ in Silicon Valley. Former Yahoo staffers include Slack CEO and founder Stewart Butterfield, WhatsApp co-founders Brian Acton and Jan Koum and LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner.
Music Giants EMI & Sony Lead the Way For Future Founders
In the media sector, two titans of the music industry produce more business founders than any other. 7.15% of staff at now-defunct EMI Music and 6.92% at Sony Music Entertainment left their roles and went on to start their own companies. While music executives across the industry are known for their entrepreneurial streak, artists themselves have been successful at starting their own businesses.
The music industry produced $7.7B in revenue in the first half of 2022, but EMI was one of music’s major casualties when it was broken up in 2012. In 2007, EMI saw a number of high-profile executives leave the business after a takeover by Terra Firma Capital.
Though tasked with stemming the label’s decline in the early 2000s, their management proved to be disastrous. The label lost contracts with major artists like Paul McCartney and faced lawsuits over unpaid royalties owed to Pink Floyd and other artists. After five years of significant financial losses, EMI was broken up — with the publishing business sold to Sony Music in 2012.
Goldman Sachs Alumni Are Most Likely in Finance to Create Startups
There are plenty of reasons why financial executives make for successful startup founders. Their prudent financial management, strategic thinking and risk calculation are all highly valuable when going it alone.
It comes as no surprise that our research finds that one of the industry’s major players — Goldman Sachs, produces the most future founders of anyone in the space, with 5.92% of their alumni leaving to form their own ventures. That’s more than the World Bank (5.76%), Jefferies (5.20%) and Sapient (5.11%).
It is widely known that those who leave the desks of Goldman Sachs go on to wield power. Former President Donald Trump packed his cabinet with high-profile former executives, including Steve Bannon and Steven Mnuchin, and in 2022, the British Conservative Party appointed former Sachs employee Rishi Sunak as the U.K.’s Prime Minister.
But in business, Sachs alumni have found success in founding their own ventures. Crunchbase data shows that $35B of investment funding has been raised for startups established by former employees. Zillow co-founder Spencer Rascoff is among the most successful entrepreneurs with banking experience.
Porsche is American Auto Industry’s Top Founder Factory
According to Zippia, America’s automotive sector supports over 7.5 million jobs, from sales to engineering. While traditional players like Toyota, General Motors and Ford still dominate the market share, there is a growing space for innovation and new ventures in the industry. A 2017 McKinsey report into the automotive startup landscape identified a trend towards electric vehicles and autonomous driving technologies, with $62B of funding now being injected into emerging businesses in the space.
Our research found that German marque Porsche has the best track record when it comes to former staff leaving to start their own businesses. 4.31% of ex-workers started their own ventures, more than those at AutoTrader (3.31%) and Tesla (2.95%). Famed for its iconic 911 sports car, Porsche made headlines internationally in 2022 after listing on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange — the largest IPO in Germany since 1996.
Ex-Reebok Staff are Most Likely to Be Self-Made Entrepreneurs
The retail sector is changing beyond recognition, with the Covid-19 pandemic further accelerating the global trend toward online shopping. According to U.S. Census data, e-commerce sales topped $815 billion in 2020, with non-store retailers benefiting the most from stay-at-home policies. The landscape has paved the way for a new wave of retail startups seeking to disrupt traditional businesses.
Sportswear brand Reebok has the most former employees now acting as founders of their own businesses — at 4.55%, more than Procter & Gamble (3.74%) and Ralph Lauren (3.66%). With humble beginnings in Bolton in the North West of England, Reebok grew in popularity in the U.S. during the 1970s and ‘80s, eventually securing major supplier deals with the NBA and NFL. The brand struggled after its merger with Adidas in 2006 and was later sold to Authentic Brands Group in 2022.
Colorado’s Ski Resorts among Hospitality’s Most Prolific Future Founders
Across America, the hospitality sector is recovering from the lows of the Covid-19 pandemic. According to research from the American Hotel and Lodging Association, hotels are expected to employ 2.19 million people by the end of 2022, 93% of their 2019 levels. Deloitte’s Travel Industry Outlook suggests that young and wealthy travelers are fueling the resurgence.
However, when it comes to entrepreneurs setting up their own businesses, two major Colorado-based ski resort companies — Aspen Skiing Company (4.19%) and Vail Resorts (2.76%) produce among the most in the sector, along with luxury hotel and casino chain Wynn Las Vegas (2.88%).
The Aspen Skiing Company owns four resorts across Colorado, including Buttermilk, which received a $23m makeover in 2022. The business has a strong record with innovation and clean energy, partnering with a local energy firm to build a $5.5m methane power plant in 2012.
Vail Resorts, meanwhile, is the country’s largest ski resort company, with 55 properties across North America. The company was bankrupted in 1992 by local businessman George Gillett, himself a prolific entrepreneur who left Vail to create several new ventures, including rival Booth Creek Resorts. Gillett, along with fellow investor Tom Hicks, controversially bought Liverpool Football Club in the U.K. in 2007 before selling on to New England Sports Ventures in 2010.
New York-based IBM Is America’s Most Prolific Founder Factory
Business ownership is thriving in the United States. According to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, more than 31 Americans own their own company, equivalent to around 16% of the workforce. Total entrepreneurial activity has recovered from the temporary pandemic-induced slump in 2020.
Our research shows that at least one company in each state has seen 25 or more of its former employees start their own businesses. With 22,000 ex-staff in charge of their own ventures, IBM is the most prolific company in both their home state of New York and the U.S. overall at producing future startup founders. On the West Coast, 15,000 former staff at Washington-based Microsoft and 10,000 at California-based Google went on to start their own companies.
Our research also shows that Mitchell Madison Group, a management consulting firm based in Jackson, Wyoming, is America’s most prolific company at producing startup founders. More than one in ten (10.31%) of their former employees own their own ventures. The company was liquidated in 2001 following the burst of the dot-com bubble, re-launching two years later.
America’s Founder Factories — Where Does Your Business Rank
Have you ever been inspired to leave your nine-to-five job and start your own business? You can explore our full dataset of 228,000 employees to see which companies in each major industry produce the most startup founders in the table below.
Going it alone in the commercial world can seem daunting at first, especially when you’re locked into a secure role in a major organization with access to all of their company perks. Yet it can be extremely rewarding. A Cox Business survey found that the opportunity to create something from the ground up and to be your own boss are two major factors when founders consider starting on their own.
The Covid-19 pandemic was a turning point in many people’s lives, and research suggests that one in four Americans in the workforce considered starting their own venture during those years. Entrepreneurial spirit also appears to be alive and well with Gen-Z, as 60% of teens in a 2022 survey preferred the idea of being their own boss over working a regular job. As corporate America evolves throughout the 2020s, expect to see more talented people leave major organizations to become business founders.
Methodology & Sources
Then we used the LinkedIn search tool and its filters to record the number of former employees who used to work at these companies and the number of former employees who are now founders. This allowed us to calculate the percentage of founders for each company.
The data was collected in September 2022.
Note: gathering data for Meta, we selected both names (Meta and Facebook) in the search filter.
Note: gathering data for Warner Bros. Discovery, we selected three names (WarnerMedia, Discovery Inc. and Warner Bros. Discovery) in the search filter.