Companies Started College Students

10 World-Class Companies Started by College Students

by Nicholas Tart on May 5, 2011 · 21 comments

Three of the world’s top four websites were started by college students. And that fourth one was started by a 28-year-old and two 26-year-olds.

If you’re looking to start a company as a college student, stop looking for that big idea. Look for a big problem, then solve it. Out of these ten incredible companies, only three were originally founded as businesses.

Here are the top ten companies that were started by college students in the order of their Alexa rankings.

Google, Stanford Graduate Students

Google HistoryLarry Page and Sergey Brin in 1998 · Alexa 1

Larry and Sergey met at Stanford and started Google as a research project for their graduate studies. Named BackRub, its original purpose was to index the Stanford Digital Library. After three years it was interfering with their studies so they tried to sell it to Excite for $1 million. Excite rejected the offer and Google received $25 million in funding the next year.

Not started as a business.

Facebook, Harvard Undergrad

Facebook HistoryMark Zuckerberg in 2004 · Alexa 2

As you probably know, Mark started Facebook as a sophomore to better connect Harvard undergraduate students through the web. Seven years later it has over 600 million users and it’s still a private company.

Not started as a business.

Yahoo!, Stanford Graduate Students

Yahoo! HistoryJerry Yang and David Filo in 1995 · Alexa 4

Three years before Google, Jerry and David started Yahoo! as a directory of their favorite websites that they called, “David and Jerry’s Guide to the World Wide Web.” Yahoo! has struggled in recent years but they still remain the 4th largest site in the world according to Alexa.

Not started as a business.

WordPress, University of Houston Undergrad

WordPress History LogoMatt Mullenweg in 2003 · Alexa 20

While a freshman, Matt teamed up with Mike Little and Michel Valdrigh to create a Content Management System that would make it easy to create websites. Now WordPress is used by more than 130,000 of the top 1 million websites (including this one).

Not started as a business.

Microsoft, Harvard Undergrad

Microsoft HistoryBill Gates and Paul Allen in 1975 · Alexa 26

In middle school and high school, Bill and Paul fiddled around with programming gigs. Then Bill went to Harvard and Paul convinced him to dropout a year later so they could start “Micro-Soft.” They struggled through the first few years but hit it big when they licensed MS-DOS to IBM in 1981.

Started as a business.

Reddit, University of Virginia Undergrads

Reddit HistorySteve Huffman and Alexis Ohanian in 2005 · Alexa 138

As 22-year-olds in 2005, Steve and Alexis created Reddit as a social news site. Later that year they were funded by Y Combinator. A year later in 2006 they were acquired by Condé Nast Publications for an undisclosed amount.

Not started as a business.

Dell, University of Texas Undergrad

Dell HistoryMichael Dell in 1984 · Alexa 240

Michael created PCs Limited from his dorm room by selling custom computer systems built from stock parts. At the end of the year, he received a $300,000 investment from his family and dropped out of college. In 1985, his first full year of trading, he grossed $73 million.

Started as a business.

FedEx, Yale Undergrad

FedEx HistoryFrederick W. Smith in 1971 · Alexa 411

During his undergrad (from 1962-1966), Fred submitted a paper in his economics class outlining an overnight delivery service and the professor gave him a “C” because it wasn’t feasible. That paper laid the foundation for FedEx and he founded Federal Express in 1971 with a $4 million inheritance and another $91 million in venture capital.

Started as a business.

Time Magazine, Yale Undergrads

Time Magazine HistoryBriton Hadden and Henry Luce in 1923 · Alexa 453

In 1923, as the chairman and managing editor of the Yale Daily News while they were in school, Briton and Henry set out to create the first weekly news magazine in the United States. Today, Time Magazine is still the world’s largest circulated weekly news magazine.

Not started as a business.

Napster, Northeastern University Undergrad

Napster HistoryShawn Fanning in 1999 · Alexa 11,634

Napster was founded in 1999 by Shawn Fanning as a peer-to-peer file sharing network. Napster was temporarily shut down after two years because of copyright issues. After being rebranded to a music service, Napster was acquired by Best Buy for $121 million in 2008.

Not started as a business.

By the way, the third-ranked company that was started by a 28-year-old and two 26-year-olds is YouTube.

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