A Summary of Educational Backgrounds in STEM Innovation

A Summary of Educational Backgrounds in STEM Innovation

Sam Peckett, 03 August 2023

Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, better known as STEM, is a field that has huge potential for solving many of humanity’s biggest problems. In collaboration with Newton Venture Programme, we’ve taken an in-depth look at the educational background of founders and investors at STEM companies based in the UK that have incorporated since 2019. These companies have either spun out of a university or received a large innovation grant.

Below is a summary of the full report. To get all the details, take a look at the full report.

Key Findings

We analysed 443 companies that have incorporated since 2019 and have founder education data available.

Companies by educational attainment of founders

While PhD qualifications are prevalent among founders of innovative STEM companies, they are not a requirement for launching such companies. 40.9% of companies have founders with a highest level of education below PhD level.

Founders educated to a PhD-level are often concentrated in particularly knowledge-intensive and regulated areas such as life sciences. In contrast, software sectors seem to have a better representation of companies where the highest founder education level is undergraduate.

Highest founder educational attainment by company

STEM company sectors by founder education

We analysed the top 10 most populous sectors, with the top three being analytics, insight and tools, software as a service (Saas), and pharmaceuticals. SaaS had a particularly wide range of educational backgrounds for founders, with just 35.4% having a PhD, while 84.1% of pharmaceutical company founders did. Check out the full report for the rest of the sectors and a detailed breakdown of founder education.

Founder-investor educational pairings

Of the companies with data on the educational background of both investors and founders, the most common pairing of the eleven combinations is both founders and investors having PhDs. This may reflect that the companies are made up of academic spinouts and innovation grant recipients. However, this also suggests there may be an educational barrier in receipt of capital.

Company founder-investor education pairings

Companies with a PhD founder: Investor educational attainment

Of the companies with at least one founder with a PhD, 47.8% also have an investor with a PhD. This suggests that having a PhD is not a prerequisite to a successful partnership but is an opportunity for those with PhDs to become investors. Their skills and training can help bridge the knowledge and network gap that exists in the STEM investment ecosystem.


The report analysed high-growth STEM companies based on the educational attainment of their founders. Companies must have incorporated since the start of 2019 and be either an academic spinout or an academic grant recipient in a STEM sector. This information was collected using Beauhurst’s searchable database of the UK’s high-growth companies, which can be used to find, research and monitor the most ambitious businesses in the UK. Book a free demonstration to find out how Beauhurst can help your business.

The founder and investor education data was obtained from a range of sources including company websites, professional profiles, web and press articles, and director qualifications filed at Companies House.

Key takeaways

While having a PhD is not a prerequisite for launching a successful STEM startup or for investing in one, it can be advantageous in certain sectors. Further investigation is needed to understand the potential educational barriers involved in the receipt and allocation of capital. Reducing these barriers can help ensure that capital can flow to more STEM companies, helping them to innovate and scale. 

You can take a look at our full report for more in-depth analysis.

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