How Your PhD Skills Can Help You with Founding a Startup

How Your PhD Skills Can Help You with Founding a Startup

Despite the general belief that all startup founders are starry-eyed prodigies who are creating magic and earning millions from their parents’ garage, the reality of the matter is a bit different.

Yes, Steve Jobs and Bill Gates might have been the role models for dropping out of school and pursuing your dreams, but apparently times have changed. Research has shown that 95.1% of responding entrepreneurs themselves have earned bachelor’s degrees, and 47% hold more advanced degrees. Additionally, 52% of surveyed people said they ranked among the top 10 percent at their respected universities.

Receiving a PhD means that you possess most of the skills needed to be a successful entrepreneur. First of all, an entrepreneur builds a business based on an idea in much the same way a researcher writes the entire thesis starting with only a hypothesis. It takes perseverance and resourcefulness, along with creativity and the ability to cope with failure. Some other traits that researchers and entrepreneurs share are skillful persuasion and the ability to both deliver and negotiate their message to a large audience.

In fact, reports of graduate students engaging in startup development throughout their MSc and PhD degrees are surfacing more and more in the general media, paving the way for non-tech-oriented entrepreneurs to make a difference around the world.

So where can you start?

Today in most university cities you can find workshops, courses, conferences and competitions, all aimed at providing PhD students with the knowledge and skills to transfer the ideas presented in their papers into a viable and sustainable business venture. Still we need to keep in mind that no lecture or workshop can prepare a student for the obligations and duties that come with being an entrepreneur and running a startup. However, the very specific set of skills that PhD students have is something that can help them tremendously if they chose to venture into the uncertain waters of the startup industry. The important thing to remember is that it’s not only tech graduates and engineers who are capable of making the transition, it is something which is possible in all fields of study.

So the first step is the same for both PhD students and first-time entrepreneurs, and that is extensive market research. You might be aware that you have a great idea for a service or product, but it is important to check whether you will have a customer base. This is similar to what a PhD student does when choosing the research topic. They perform an analysis of everything that has already been done in their field of expertise, and then discover sections that can be further researched with potentially valuable and applicable results. Being a PhD graduate, research is second nature to you, so this particular step does not present an obstacle on your path to entrepreneurship. You have already found and developed a fresh idea in your thesis, so you are more than ready to tackle the market demands and if the market research gives positive results you can move on to step two – making a business plan.

Drafting a business plan is very similar to planning and outlining your research paper. You have all the different pieces, like funding, logistics, staffing etc. and all of them need to be arranged in such a way that together they make a comprehensive whole. With a clear and thought-through business plan, you are ready to enter entrepreneurship and see your ideas come to life.

Now comes step three – the realization of your plan. First of all, there is funding and logistics. Like most startup founders you are faced with a choice between entering an incubator or accelerator or trying to raise the needed funds and find the workspace on your own. Here your experience from the university comes quite handy because only you know what works best for you personally – were you a team player, did you enjoy joint research projects and thrived in such environments, or maybe you preferred working alone, focusing solely on your ideas and research.

Another important factor when deciding to use a great PhD research for a Startup development is time. Doing research and writing a thesis takes a lot of time, energy, and dedication, so it is very important to keep in mind that you will need to dedicate that same amount to your startup, if not more. The discipline and focus that you showed as a PhD student will come in handy when you start getting your business venture off the ground.

There are some other traits that PhD graduates possess that make them perfect candidates for startup founders. First is networking. Every successful entrepreneur will tell you that is one of the key factors for running a successful business. Here conference attendance comes in quite handy, with all the meets and greets, you already have a solid network comprised of your fellow researchers, professors, and students, why not put it into good use and then just apply those networking skills on the possible future investors.

Another great trait that most PhD students possess is the ability to make pitches and give presentations, also important skills of the trade for any entrepreneur. As a PhD graduate you have already made a pitch that was highly successful – your thesis proposal. As for giving presentations, just look back on all the conferences and lectures during your university years, each one preparing you for this moment.

It All Comes Down to Knowing Your Market

Building a successful startup is certainly not a walk in a park, even for the most capable entrepreneurs. Being a PhD graduate can give you an edge, not only because of the experience that you have gained by doing research and writing such a comprehensive scientific paper, but also in the sense that no one knows your initial project idea as well as you do. The drive that you will have to develop the notion researched in your PhD into a sustainable business might be exactly what you need to succeed.

For most graduates, staying at the university or in the academic circles is the ultimate goal, but for those brave enough to try, there is a possibility to develop a career in the startup industry. So why not use the qualities you already possess – the same qualities that helped you reach the highest goal in education and direct them towards developing and leading a successful business.

Don’t wait for someone else to offer you a job – make your own career path, it is a brave new digital world that we are living in.


Sarah Green

Sarah Green explores the latest web trends and covers stories related to technology, startups and digital life in general. Writing professionally since 2012, she has developed a sixth sense for trending topics in these fields.

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