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Is there any legal way for international students on F-1 visas to incorporate and run their own startup while maintaining the F-1 visa status. How would this change after graduation (and the end of the F-1 visa)?

F1s can only work in the U.S. under certain circumstances. On-campus employment is allowed, but off-campus employment is only allowed for work which is related to the student’s field of study (through Curricular Practical Training). Even if the work you are contemplating is related to your field of study, it is unlikely that your school will approve for you to be self-employed. However, many F1 Bachelors or Masters students go on to be sponsored by employers for an H1B visa. So, one option for you could be to set up the start-up with someone and work for the start-up as an H1B. There are issues to consider if you go that way, but it might be worth exploring this option.