New Study Shows College Graduates Tend to Start Businesses Near Their Alma Maters

In a first-of-its-kind study, researchers from four major universities, including Syracuse University’s Martin J. Whitman School of Management, find that those who graduate from metropolitan universities tend to start businesses where they go to school. The same study finds those that attend more rural universities are likely to move to start businesses, unless they were born where they attended school.

“University graduates are far more important in generating startups than university employees,” explained Johan Wiklund, Al Berg Chair in Entrepreneurship at the Whitman School, one of the study authors. “They are also at their most mobile life stage. Therefore, where they locate their businesses has long term implications for the localization of entrepreneurship and economic development.”

Researchers reviewed and analyzed data from 215,388 graduate entrepreneurs from Swedish universities between 2002 and 2006. The data reinforce the importance of public policy and higher education leadership collaboration, particularly in rural regions, to offer incentives to keep alumni from leaving the area on graduation.

“This is particularly noteworthy for a place like Syracuse, New York,” said Professor Wiklund. “While over the past few decades there have been various programs and strategies to keep graduates here, there hasn’t been concrete data to illustrate the importance of such programs until now.”

Professor Wiklund said there have been many Syracuse and Whitman School alumni who have successfully started businesses in Central New York, despite not being from the area, including Gilded Social, Funk ‘n Waffles, Artisan Alloy and others. But, he said, more strategies are needed to keep Syracuse University graduates, and their intellectual property, local.

Entrepreneurship is a vital to the economic viability of a community, he said.