The assembly of organized colonies is the earliest manifestation in the derivation or induction of pluripotency in vitro. However, the necessity and origin of this assemblance is unknown. Here, we identify human pluripotent founder cells (hPFCs) that initiate, as well as preserve and establish, pluripotent stem cell (PSC) cultures. PFCs are marked by N-cadherin expression (NCAD+) and reside exclusively at the colony boundary of primate PSCs. As demonstrated by functional analysis, hPFCs harbor the clonogenic capacity of PSC cultures and emerge prior to commitment events or phenotypes associated with pluripotent reprogramming. Comparative single-cell analysis with pre- and post-implantation primate embryos revealed hPFCs share hallmark properties with primitive endoderm (PrE) and can be regulated by non-canonical Wnt signaling. Uniquely informed by primate embryo organization in vivo, our study defines a subset of founder cells critical to the establishment pluripotent state.