Research - 26.01.2023 - 12:00 

More than twenty-five percent of HSG alumni are successful entrepreneurs in 42 countries

More than a quarter of the graduates of the University of St.Gallen are active as entrepreneurs as their main or secondary occupation. Two-thirds of them have founded a start-up themselves, as the newly published HSG Alumni Entrepreneur Study shows.

Becoming an entrepreneur – that's another career option available to students at the University of St.Gallen and, according to a new study, is taking up a large percentage of them. By comparison, an average of just over 8 percent of the Swiss residents are self-employed.

Sawing seeds of entrepreneurial thinking

How successful is the promotion of entrepreneurship, which is central to HSG, actually? And how is the promotion of entrepreneurial thinking and action concretely reflected in the founding of new companies? These are the questions addressed by the HSG Alumni Entrepreneurship Study, which was conducted by Ivo Graffius and is now published for the first time. It emphasizes the opportunities that HSG offers for entrepreneurship and, also aims to inspire new students to start their own companies. "The entrepreneurship study captures how education at the University of St.Gallen is reflected in the founding of new start-ups and companies," says Graffius, who dedicated himself to the topic as part of his dissertation with Professor Thomas Bieger.

Over two-thirds have founded their own company

Twenty-six percent of the alumnae and alumni surveyed are engaged in entrepreneurial activities as their primary or secondary occupation, 60 percent are employed, while 14 percent are economically non-active. This includes graduates who have already retired. Extrapolated to the total number of living alumnae and alumni, there are more than 8200 entrepreneurs. 

Study author Ivo Graffius divided the HSG alumni landscape into a typology of entrepreneurs, consisting of categories like self-employed, early start-ups, family businesses and social entrepreneurs.

More than 68 percent of HSG alumni founded their companies themselves, while just over 19 percent acquired them. Start-ups in a team setting are frequently observed, with almost 50 percent having co-founders. On average, alumni entrepreneurs own two-thirds of the equity in their companies, and approximately two-thirds were able to use own funds for financing. On average, an alumni company employs 50 people, and the annual turnover of all HSG alumni companies combined is estimated to be 196 billion Swiss francs.

HSG studies lead to start-ups with headquarters in 42 countries

69 percent of alumni companies are headquartered in Switzerland, while 20 percent also have locations abroad. And on average, HSG alumni entrepreneurs are 53 years old, more than 11 years older than HSG alumni employees. They start their entrepreneurial careers on average about 9 years after graduation, and as many as one-third of the entrepreneurs possess more than one company.

Four benefit dimensions for an entrepreneurial career

The HSG degree program offers four benefit dimensions for an entrepreneurial career, as Ivo Graffius has extracted from in-depth interviews with exceptionally successful entrepreneurs: 

  • Motivational capital (via alumni and alumnae who become entrepreneurial role models with their appearances in teaching, at events or in case study exercises)
  • Human capital (teaching of relevant content, research-projects leading to spin-offs)
  • Social capital (personal network between students and alumni for mentoring, feedback and co-founding)
  • Reputation capital (reputation as an HSG graduate facilitates access to financing, customers, or business partners)

HSG consistently produces successful entrepreneurs, e.g. Caspar Coppetti, co-founder of sports shoe manufacturer On who in 2021, celebrated IPO at New York Stock Exchange. Two founders of Partners Group (represented in the Swiss Market Index since 2020), Urs Wietlisbach and Marcel Erni, are also HSG alumni. Laura Behrens Wu and Simon Kreuz, who are behind the software company Shippo, also studied at HSG before becoming entrepreneurs. Their company, founded in California in 2013, is now estimated to be worth one billion US dollars.

About the study

The project was funded by the Lienhard Foundation and was conducted in conjunction with HSG Alumni, the alumni organization of the University of St.Gallen. The basis of the findings is – in addition to an entrepreneur typology based on conceptual-theoretical reflections – a full survey of over 30,000 alumnae and alumni as well as in-depth interviews with particularly successful alumni entrepreneurs. Here, Ivo Graffius used the "grounded theory method". This research method consists of a repetitive process of data collection and analysis in which categories are successively formed and ultimately condensed into a theory.

For more information, see the video with the author and the study.   

Image caption (l.o.t.r.u): Caspar Copetti (On shoes), Julian Teicke (WeFox), Laura Behrens Wu & Simon Kreuz (Shippo), Urs Wietlisbach (Partners Group)

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