Silicon Valley’s youngest entrepreneurs are making millions. What did they study at uni?

youngest entrepreneurs
Dropbox CEO Drew Houston and Dropbox co-founder Arash Ferdowsi, two of the youngest entrepreneurs today, celebrate the launch of Dropbox's initial public offering at Nasdaq MarketSite, March 23, 2018 in New York City. Source: Drew Angerer/Getty Images/AFP

The hard truth is nine out of 10 startups fail. The single biggest reason? No one wants their products.

So when today’s youngest entrepreneurs do well, they’re doing something right. Many things right.

And if they’re doing well and doing things right in an “elitist and exclusive” place like Silicon Valley, these youngest entrepreneurs are doing more than starting a business.

They’re creating change, according to Vinod Khosla. 

As the co-founder of Sun Microsystems and former partner at venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Khosla is well aware of what it takes to succeed in the region. 

“People under 35 are the people who make change happen,” and “people over 45 basically die in terms of new ideas,” he once declared

youngest entrepreneurs

Alexandr Wang (far right), one of the youngest entrepreurs today, attend the 2023 Milken Institute Global Conference at The Beverly Hilton on May 1, 2023 in Beverly Hills, California. Source: Jerod Harris/Getty Images/AFP

Look at Alexandr Wang, and you might say that Khosla’s words ring true. 

His company, Scale AI, helps companies like Uber, Toyota, and Airbnb optimise their artificial intelligence systems. At 25, Wang has a net worth of over a billion dollars. 

These success stories of today’s youngest entrepreneurs portray a world where everyone, including college students, can come up with the next Facbeook, Apply and Microsoft.

But a study has shown that the technology’s romantic idea of the young, enterprising entrepreneur may be off by about 20 years.

Has Silicon Valley lost its spark among the youngest entrepreneurs?

“Young people are just smarter,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg once said.

His narrative is not uncommon in Silicon Valley. Young people are digital natives, thought to be smarter, less distracted by family, and less restricted to current industry paradigms, according to the study

Famous instances of wildly successful 20-somethings, such as Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Zuckerberg, only reinforce this bias.

“People like unusual stories, and the fact that a very young person could be very successful is not the norm, as we show in our analysis, and therefore, perhaps, attracts outsized attention,” said Benjamin Jones, Northwestern University professor and researcher on the study.

The study, however, shows that 50-year-old entrepreneurs were about twice as likely to have a runaway business success as their 30-year-old counterparts.

They would have years to build their business, leadership, and problem-solving skills. 

Plus, they likely have accumulated the social and financial capital needed to get a startup off the ground. 

Companies like Apple and Microsoft also didn’t achieve their most rapid market capitalisation growth until much later, even though they were founded by exceptional young entrepreneurs, according to Jones. 

Still, that doesn’t stop some of the youngest entrepreneurs from breaking into Silicon Valley. And for this group of self-starters, it’s not just their talents that got them far. 

Unlike their boomer counterparts, what they learned in school, college and university are still fresh on their mind — with influence that we can’t discount if we want to dissect the secrets to their success.

youngest entrepreneurs

Unlike their boomer counterparts, what today’s youngest entrepreneurs learned in school, college and university are still fresh on their minds. Source: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images North America/Getty Images/AFP

9 youngest entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley: Where they went to uni

1. Ernestine Fu

At 20, Ernestine Fu became the youngest venture capitalist in the Bay Area. 

She was a Stanford sophomore who worked as a venture capitalist while carrying a full course load.

At the same time, she worked on other projects outside of school. 

Some of them include:

  • Serving as executive director of Stanford’s Student Services Division, coordinating public service projects for Stanford students on campus and in the Bay Area
  • Sitting on a board at State Farm Insurance that gave US$5 million every year to fund projects like environmental education.
  • Co-authoring a book with former Indiana University President and former Stanford Law School dean Thomas Ehrlich, about their experiences in public service.

Today, she is a venture partner at Alsop Louie Partners, where she has guided founders as they navigate the journey to product-market fit and scale their businesses and teams.

2. Daniel Gross

Daniel Gross became the youngest Y Combinator (an American technology startup accelerator) founder and skipped college altogether.

He challenged Google with a search engine he built called Greplin (which was renamed Cue). It raised US$5 million from Sequoia Capital.

Cue was acquired by Apple in 2013. For four years, Gross ran AI and search projects for the company. 

He is an early-stage investor in startups that got big, such as Uber, Instacart, Coinbase, GitHub, Opendoor and many more, as well.

In 2017, he was made a partner at Y-Combinator and started its AI programme. He also co-founded Pioneer, a quantitative startup accelerator.

youngest entrepreneurs

Kiip CEO/Founder Brian Wong (pictured in the centre) speaking onstage at the “[Every Second Counts: How ‘Moments’ are Reshaping Marketing” panel during Advertising Week 2015 AWXII in New York City. Source: Mike Pont/Getty Images North America/Getty Images/AFP

3. Brian Wong

Brian Wong skipped four grades between elementary and high school and graduated college at 18. 

“No one else cares about your life as much as you do, and if you end up putting in the time and energy the results will be there. It’s a numbers game. You want a job? You ask 10,000 people, and if one person gives you a job, then you made a one in 10,000 chance happen,” he told Groove.

He was named one of the youngest people to ever receive funding from a venture capital firm.

Wong made headlines when he co-founded Kiip, a company that offers a mobile app rewards platform. Computer game players would receive real-world rewards from brands and companies for in-game achievements.

He first hatched the idea when he was on an aeroplane and saw many playing games on their phones. 

“It got me thinking: why is mobile gaming so popular all of a sudden? And what exactly is causing this adoption?” he shared in an interview with Groove

“And then I noticed a really big jarring problem: advertising was being shoved at these experiences in a very unnatural way. And so the next question is, what is the solution? What are the things we’re going to do to solve that?”

4. Akshay Kothari and Ankit Gupta

Akshay Kothari and Ankit Gupta co-founded tablet news aggregator Pulse. 

It started as a graduate school project at Stanford University. They grew it to US$5 million with 13 employees and managed to secure US$9 million in funding from NEA, Greycroft Partners, and Lerer Ventures.

“Launchpad, the Stanford design course, was actually designed in the sense that participants would need to launch an actual product ‘into the wild’ in order to pass,” Kothari told This is Design Thinking.

“It was especially enjoyable because we had already learned about design thinking in previous courses and had also taken a number of technical courses, which were complimentary.”

Pulse has been inducted into Apple’s App Store Hall of Fame and selected as one of TIME’s top 50 iPhone apps of 2011.

More than 150 publishers have partnered with Pulse, including The Atlantic, CNET, CNN, ESPN, Gawker, and The Huffington Post.

youngest entrepreneurs

Backplane’s first community on the platform centred around Lady Gaga. Fans could share art, stories, and discussions at It’s started by Joey Primiani, one of the youngest entrepreneurs in the US. Source: Valerie Macon/AFP

5. Joey Primiani

Joey Primiani started his first web development company at eight years old and has helped to create three companies.

His second startup, Backplane, was where he made his mark. It focused on creating online communities for like-minded people.

The first community on the platform centred around Lady Gaga and allowed fans to share art, stories, and discussions at

According to his LinkedIn profile, Primiani is a computer science graduate from the University of Central Florida.

He also has a Certificate in User Experience from the University of California, Berkeley and attended a Design Thinking Bootcamp at Stanford University. 

6. Jessica Mah 

Jessica Mah is the founder and CEO of inDinero. 

Mah built her first six-figure business while she was in middle school and has since grown her portfolio of companies to over US$500 million in value while taking minimal outside capital.

She started inDinero in 2010 to help entrepreneurs with all their accounting and tax needs after going through the same challenges with her businesses. 

Since its formation, the business has grown from zero to multi-million dollar revenues with over 100 full-time employees. They have been featured in the Forbes and Inc 30 Under 30 Lists. 

Before inDinero, Mah left high school at age 15 to attend Simon’s Rock Early College, then studied computer science at the University of California, Berkeley. 

youngest entrepreneurs

Arash Ferdowsi and Drew Houston are seen during the Dropbox Work In Progress Conference at Pier 48 on September 25, 2019 in San Francisco, California. Source: Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images for Dropbox/AFP

7. Arash Ferdowsi

Arash Ferdowsi launched Dropbox, a file-sharing and storage service with more than 500 million users, in 2007 while he was still a student at MIT with fellow graduate Drew Houston. 

Back then, Houston was desperate to secure funding to get his idea for a cloud storage business up and running. 

Y Combinator — one of Silicon Valley’s most prestigious backers of new startups — was prepared to gamble on Houston and Dropbox on one condition: they demanded that he get a business partner. 

Quickly, Houston persuaded Arash Ferdowsi to quit uni and join him after a chat lasting just two hours.  

Ferdowsi was a friend of a friend, but he and Houston had never met beforehand. 

youngest entrepreneurs

Wang ‘s startup uses its pioneering data-tagging system to enhance other AI systems. Wang is one of the youngest entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley. Source: Olivier Morin/AFP

8. Alexandr Wang

Wang — the latest Silicon Valley wonder boy — is only 25 years old and has a net worth of more than a billion dollars.

He is the co-founder and CEO of Scale Al, a startup he launched in 2016 when he was just 19 years old. 

The young entrepreneur has convinced some of the world’s largest companies to entrust the future of their AI systems to the pioneering data-tagging system he invented during summer vacations. 

“I told my parents it was just going to be a thing I did for the summer. Obviously, I never went back to school,” Wang shared in an interview with Forbes. 

Some of Wang’s impressive corporate clientele include well-known companies such as Uber, Airbnb, Toyota, PayPal, and General Motors. 

The US Army also uses Scale AI’s software to quantify the damage caused by the Russian bombing in Ukraine, among other things. The company has signed military contracts worth US$350 million. 

9. Austin Russell

Russell runs the automotive sensor firm Luminar Technologies, a startup in Silicon Valley that makes LIDAR sensors for self-driving cars.

He developed the idea for Luminar when he was 17 and studying physics at Stanford University. 

The student would later drop out of college in 2012 after receiving a US$100,000 Thiel Fellowship, a programme funded by billionaire Peter Thiel to nurture entrepreneurs

“I think when it comes down to it, there wasn’t any kind of miracle step, so to say, involved in that but rather these were already somewhat ongoing projects, even at the time when I went into Stanford, when I got the Thiel Fellowship, everything was already somewhat in motion,” Rusell shared in an interview with The Verge.

“But it all starts with that innate passion and desire to be able to want to build, to create, to innovate and invent.”