PhD student Simon Barker explains why he is working on launching a company that does not operate in the domain of his study, energy harvesting.
NEWCASTLE-UPON-TYNE, England – I have been writing my "Student Entrepreneur" column since May (see Student Entrepreneur: Overture and beginners) and if you were to read all my articles back-to-back it would probably seem that my path took a huge detour at some point.
I started this series talking about my PhD on energy harvesting and a wireless sensor network business plan, and in the last posting I detailed the launch of my company Slotzz which makes customized iPad cases. As a result you may be wondering if I plan to abandon energy harvesting or electronics all together. I was asked in a recent email: “I am confused why you're not putting your creative energy into a startup for energy harvesting?”
I replied with my reasoning and I thought I’d share those thoughts with you here:
1. I’m not abandoning electronics or energy harvesting. My PhD is coming along nicely and, although my initial energy harvesting business idea needs a rethink, I still want to, one day, found a company that is squarely based on technology and in the electronics industry.
2. I have no business experience. I have some work experience but I had, until now, never started a company, run a business or even studied business formally. The Slotzz iPad case business provides an opportunity to gain some of this vital experience on a smaller, lower risk project. I expect that starting an energy harvesting company will require a lot of initial funding, venture capital involvement or strategic customer investment, and so on, so I want the experience of having invested my own money in to a simpler project before I go looking for funding for a more complex idea.
3. As my PhD is on energy harvesting, all of my energy harvesting ideas currently go into that. I think starting an energy harvesting company at the same time as doing a PhD on the topic would start to confuse both subjects, potentially leading to the failure of both. The beauty of Slotzz is that it is very separate, and different, to my PhD. This really helps me to manage them separately, and when I seem to be spending 45 hours a week on each of them this is pretty important. To be honest one is just a break from the other, which means neither of them really feels like work.
4. Slotzz is my first company; something to learn with; something to grow and develop into a niche brand. It’s also really good fun, there are no intense technology research steps or initial large scale investment; just a product that we get really good feedback on and that we want to sell to the wider world. As my father has always told me: “Find something that you love, is fun and can earn you money, and you’ll never work another day in your life.”
I think these are the main reasons behind why I’ve started a non-technology company. So far I have learned a boat load new stuff and I’m going to share some of that with you in the next article.