UVA Darden School Survey Shows UVA Entrepreneurs Significant Impact on Economy

15 December 2014

By Carlos Santos

An in-depth survey of the University of Virginia‘s entrepreneurial alumni details their dramatic impact on the international, national and Virginia economies.


Of the more than 221,000 living graduates, an estimated 60,000 have been involved in new ventures, according to the just-released survey. The survey responses suggest that the University’s entrepreneurs have launched 65,000 companies, which have in turn employed 2.3 million people worldwide and generated global revenues worth $1.6 trillion annually.

Professor Michael Lenox, Senior Researcher Andrew King and Research Associate Asif Mehedi from the U.Va. Darden School of Business, and Professor Charles Eesley from Stanford University, authored the survey conducted by Darden’s Batten Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. Lenox also serves as associate dean for innovation programs and Batten’s academic director.

“The study highlights a less explored avenue by which universities contribute to economic growth — through the entrepreneurial activity of their alumni,” said Lenox. The survey, titled ” The Economic Impact of Entrepreneurial Alumni: A Case Study of the University of Virginia,” was funded by the Batten Institute.

“The collective impact of these entrepreneurs is impressive, and comparable with that of alumni from other prestigious, research-based universities,” the authors wrote of the survey’s findings.

The survey of entrepreneurial alumni is one of the most thorough ever undertaken at a major public university. The survey is also the first of its kind ever done at U.Va.

The survey showed that compared to other states, Virginia has benefited disproportionately well from U.Va. entrepreneurs. Extrapolated numbers show their ventures have sparked the creation of about 371,000 jobs in the state. These Virginia-based companies have produced about $395 billion in calculated annual revenues and spent $279 billion per year.

“When one considers the $154 million annual expenditure by the Commonwealth on the University of Virginia, these numbers suggest a substantial return on investment from just entrepreneurial alumni of the University, even ignoring all other ways the University creates value,” the authors noted in the report.

While entrepreneurial activity by U.Va. alumni flourished in big cities such as San Francisco, Boston and New York City, they also started businesses in the Charlottesville region, where 675 ventures — of the 8,979 described in the survey — are located.  The entrepreneurs launched ventures in many other Virginia cities, including Richmond, where 415 businesses were created, Arlington with 135, Fairfax with 129, Alexandria with 122, Norfolk with 77, Virginia Beach with 73, and McLean with 60 new ventures.

A total of 135,227 U.Va. alumni were asked to participate in the survey anonymously online and by mail, which elicited 22,757 (16.8 percent) valid responses.

Among its findings, the survey revealed that:

  • Twenty-nine percent of the alumni identified themselves as entrepreneurial. A total of 38.3 percent of the self-identified entrepreneurs were female, 6.4 percent were minorities and 44.6 percent attended U.Va. as an out-of-state student.
  • The highest number of entrepreneurs were born in the 1950s, suggesting their average age was about 60 when the survey was performed.
  • The average year of founding of the ventures was 1997, with an increase in the number of businesses created in recent years.
  • Most alumni were involved in only one venture, with about 13 percent involved in multiple businesses; a total of 383 alumni said they were involved in five or more ventures.
  • A total of 19 percent of the ventures were in the professional, scientific or technical services sector. The next largest sector at 10.9 percent was in nonprofits, followed by 9.4 percent in healthcare.

The survey also analyzed which type of degrees the entrepreneurs earned and their work experience, including whether or not they come from an entrepreneurial family.

The survey was conducted in collaboration with the University of Virginia Alumni Association and the Center for Survey Research at U.Va.’s Weldon Cooper Center.

About the University of Virginia Darden School of Business

The University of Virginia Darden School of Business delivers the world’s best business education experience to prepare entrepreneurial, global and responsible leaders through its MBA, Ph.D., MSBA and Executive Education programs. Darden’s top-ranked faculty is renowned for teaching excellence and advances practical business knowledge through research. Darden was established in 1955 at the University of Virginia, a top public university founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819 in Charlottesville, Virginia.


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Sophie Zunz
Director of Media Relations
Darden School of Business
University of Virginia