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The Road Less Traveled: 5 Successful Entrepreneurs Who Never Graduated from College

Look, there’s nothing wrong with getting a college degree. In fact, if you want to make yourself a bit more marketable and increase your chances of earning a respectable salary, then college is probably the way to go (those with a bachelor’s degree earn on average approximately $32,000 more than high school graduates annually). However, that’s not to say that college is the only path to success. Throughout the business world, there are dozens of entrepreneurs, CEOs, and industry innovators who decided to take the road less traveled, and for them, it’s made all of the difference. Here are five of our favorite successful entrepreneurs who made it big, without ever getting a degree.

1. Bill Gates

Let’s just get the most obvious one out of the way first. Bill Gates attended Harvard, enrolling in 1973. He enjoyed college, and planned on moving forward with his degree, but all it took was one magazine to let him know that his destiny lay along a different path. When his friend Paul Allen showed him the January 1975 issue of Popular Mechanics featuring the Altair 8800 on its cover, the two of them came to a few crucial decisions: 1. Major changes were coming as a result of the miniaturization of computer technology. And 2. If they didn’t take advantage of the situation and lead the charge of new software writers, then someone else would. So, Gates and Allen jumped on their chance, and boy did it ever pay off—for both of them, actually. They went on to co-found Microsoft, for which Gates acted as chief executive and chairman for many years. He is consistently ranked as one of the most wealthy (if no the most wealthy) people in the world, with a net worth of approximately $76 billion as of November, 2014.

2. Paul Allen

And what of Microsoft’s other founder? Well, Paul Allen hasn’t done too poorly for himself, either. After dropping out of Washington State University to work as a programmer in Boston. He and Bill co-founded Microsoft, will Allen coming up with the name for the fledgling company. He continued to play a key role at Microsoft until he was diagnosed with lymphoma in 1982 (which was successfully treated), at which point he began looking into new prospects. He officially resigned from the Microsoft Board of Directors in 2000. These days, he is still active as an investor, and as chairman of Vulcan Inc. His net worth, as of March 2014, is approximately $15.9 billion.

3. Mark Zuckerberg

Few people embody the worldwide connectivity of the communication age quite like Mark Zuckerberg. Co-founder of Facebook, and its current CEO and chairman, Zuckerberg managed to achieve in only a decade what few ever accomplish in their entire lives. While attending Harvard, Zuckerberg worked with other students to design entertaining social programs, such as Facesmash. He went on to create Facebook, which went live on February 4, 2004. The project ended up requiring more of his time than he had to give, so he dropped out of Harvard without ever completing his sophomore year. His net worth has been growing steadily over the past decade (aside from a brief dip in 2012 as a result of the disastrous May IPO, which was marred by technical errors and delays), and as of March 2014, sits at approximately $28.5 billion. Facebook was also listed as one of the top companies to work for in 2014.

4. Todd Pederson

A born business man, Todd Pedersen has been interested in the bottom line ever since he was a child, but his rise to glory can really be traced back to his selling approach. When he was a college student, he applied for a job selling pest control, but was passed over for the position. In response, Pedersen went to work for a rival company. He then hired ten of his friends to work as his employees, and managed to generate $80,000 in profit in one summer. He made note of what worked in the current selling approach, and what could be improved upon. He took what he learned selling pest control with him as he started his own business, which eventually became Vivint. Of course, in order to focus his time and energy on his creation, he decided that it would be best to forgo his formal education—he dropped out of Brigham Young University at age 22. Vivint has become a leading pioneer in smart home automation and security and has also branched into the consumer solar energy market. It’s no wonder Forbes recently listed Vivint number 46 on their list of America’s Most Promising Companies. The company was recently purchased by Blackstone Group for $2 billion.

5. Anne Beiler

Many of these entrepreneurs come from unique backgrounds, but Anne Bieler may take the cake. She was raised in an Amish community in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Growing up, she was the family baker/bread maker, and it was there that she developed a talent that would help set the stage for her future success. In her early thirties, she began to market fresh-rolled pretzels from a stand in Downingtown, Pennsylvania, eventually naming her burgeoning business “Auntie Anne’s Pretzels.” Within a year it had expanded to eight other locations. Now, Auntie Anne’s franchises can be found in food courts around the world. The company generated $356 million in revenue in 2010. Through it all, Beiler never went to college. In fact, her plan had always been to be a stay-at-home wife and mother, but when the family needed money, she took a chance and found success.

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