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Student Entrepreneur: Five reasons why PhDs are made for business

Simon Barker
12/3/2010 03:47 PM EST

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pixies
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re: Student Entrepreneur: Five reasons why PhDs are made for business
pixies   12/3/2010 8:04:30 PM
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What about fund raising, which is the most important to your firm's survival? Most PhDs, myself included, are terrible fund raisers especially in the business world, self-promoting is not exactly compatible with scientific spirit I guess. :)

SimonAtEHSense
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re: Student Entrepreneur: Five reasons why PhDs are made for business
SimonAtEHSense   12/3/2010 10:54:10 PM
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Hi Pixies, Fund raising is an interesting one, I really enjoy presenting ideas and persuading people to my point of view so I quite enjoy pitching I rarely have to do it though because of the nature of out business. Transition this to the science world and I see it like this. Although there can only be one reason behind a particular scientific result the interpretation by humans can be wildly different, you only have to look at how people view climate change data for that. Arguing these cases and defending your work can arm you very well for presenting your business and defending your choices. In the same way as science thoigh you need to be open to new ideas as well. It is something you get better at the more you do. One last thing, fund raising is not the most important thing to a firm's survival - sales is :) Thanks for the input Simon

Evgeni
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re: Student Entrepreneur: Five reasons why PhDs are made for business
Evgeni   12/3/2010 9:34:22 PM
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I've to disagree with all the points raised in this article. Here is why. (1) the tasks are vastly different, and the required skillset to complete those tasks is different as well. As a new company CEO you need to negotiate a lease, health insurance for employees, find and convince new people to join the team,etc. (2) Well, the main difference in that risk is that in many cases you fund the company out of your own pocket. The cost and the consequences of failure is different as well. (3) By going "jack of all trades, master of none" route is a bad idea. The quality suffers. The development time is longer. The cost of a book-keeping mistake is unnecessary audit and possible penalties. (4) After doing all the things in #3, there is no time nor energy left for creativity (5) CEO is all about efficient execution, that is doing the work using others. Working solo on a PhD is quite different.

SimonAtEHSense
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re: Student Entrepreneur: Five reasons why PhDs are made for business
SimonAtEHSense   12/3/2010 11:14:42 PM
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Hi Evgeni, Thanks for you input, it's always nice to hear a different point of view. Let me comment a little on the points you raised. 1. These are all things you can learn how to do, and fall in to the "nuances of the topics" that I spoke of. The need to realise how to accomplish a task is still the same, break it down and execute. 2. It is true the consequence of a company failing is money lost. The PhD system in the UK means that my funding stops after 3 years and if I don't submit my thesis within a year of that I have to pay high fees and will likely be failed. If your research doesn't produce results you can literally waste 4 years, get in to big debt in that last year and not gain a qualification for that time. I see that as a big risk. 3. I agree that a jack of all trades is bad. However, that is why I talk of borrowing aspects from other areas, in my PhD I will still be an expert in high temperature energy harvesting and electrical systems but I have a suite of tools I use to be that expert. Doing you own books is very common, they are still passed to a chartered accountant before submission anyway so they are professionally vetted at the end. 4. I disagree with you here, you do number 3 so you can be better at 4. To be creative you borrow, adapt, re engineer and ultimately come up with a solution to a problem. As to there being no energy left, well that that's down to the individual. I love what I do and find I have "no energy" for very few aspects of it (working through tax is one I struggle to get excited on) 5. Very true, how you execute changes with the company. In a small team the is more doing and less delegating but either way I believe that aspects of project management cross over well and you adapt to the new situation. You've raised some interesting points. Cheers Simon

Patk0317
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re: Student Entrepreneur: Five reasons why PhDs are made for business
Patk0317   12/4/2010 2:41:12 PM
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Taking an engineering degree and then a PhD teaches one how to think solve problems and therefore qualifies you for all types of tasks unrelated to your specialty. Without doing a formal survey, the CEOs of many if not most hi tech companies have some kind of engineering or science degree and quite a few of the are PhDs - and there companies ideas are just an extension of their PhD work. Do you eventually need other people like a CFO, HR etc.? Yes, but not at the very beginning.

t.alex
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re: Student Entrepreneur: Five reasons why PhDs are made for business
t.alex   12/4/2010 7:36:21 AM
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Hi Simon, I believe the impressive company website is designed by you :-) ?

SimonAtEHSense
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re: Student Entrepreneur: Five reasons why PhDs are made for business
SimonAtEHSense   12/5/2010 9:04:01 PM
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Hi t.alex, Thanks for the compliment! The website it indeed my creation - although I am currently making a new version (once you launch you find loads of things you want to change!). Cheers Simon

agk
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re: Student Entrepreneur: Five reasons why PhDs are made for business
agk   12/4/2010 7:38:47 AM
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Most of the PhD's work goes to libraries and becomes a book work and none makes use of it.Every new PhD scholar wants to go into a new area of research.So many of the past works are unused.If PhD scholars can work little more on their work and bring it as a usefull solution to the society they can very well become a successfull entrepreneur.

SimonAtEHSense
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re: Student Entrepreneur: Five reasons why PhDs are made for business
SimonAtEHSense   12/5/2010 9:07:16 PM
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Hi agk, You're so right - I listened to a talk from Proff Max Robinson who is very high up in Kromek (cadmium telluride sensors for 3D imaging) and he said that it's a shame that so much research is never put back in to society in some way - obviously some of it is and we feel the benefit of that but a lot isn't commercialised. Thanks for your input Simon

Luis Sanchez
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re: Student Entrepreneur: Five reasons why PhDs are made for business
Luis Sanchez   12/4/2010 10:24:55 PM
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Quite interesting to read the article. Is inspiring. And very interesting also to read comments from the readers. I see that the different point of views enrich the discussion. But most importantly... we ought to investigate how many Entrepenuers are PhD graduates? Actually... there are some school drop outs that have been great entrepenuers right? Well, among the famous ones they were studying the PhD grade. At the end... I think being a PhD sometimes works good for some and not so good for others in regards to becoming an entrepenuer since the personality has to do a lot on the final result. To be an entrepenuer one has to have the desire and passion for that and be willing to do some sacrifices. I think many PhD are of the calculating and not so daring type. opinions...?

SimonAtEHSense
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re: Student Entrepreneur: Five reasons why PhDs are made for business
SimonAtEHSense   12/5/2010 9:11:48 PM
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Hi Luis, There is a definite personality influence in weather some one will be an entrepreneur but I thing that can be fostered in people and brought to the fore, especially if they realise the skills they have. There is the ongoing argument on if entrepreneurs are born or made and I think there is room for both, it's just getting people to see their own entrepreneurial potential. Calculating isn't a bad thing, those people need a couple of co founders who can balance that out - I think a perfect combination would be a calculating person, a sales person and a planner. Cheers Simon

old account Frank Eory
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re: Student Entrepreneur: Five reasons why PhDs are made for business
old account Frank Eory   12/5/2010 10:21:36 PM
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Simon, congratulations for achieving such success at a young age. I have to say I disagree with your thesis that PhD students are made for business or its corollary, that a PhD is a predictor of entrepeneurial success. Having said that, you appear to have most if not all of the qualities of a successful entrepeneur, not the least of which is being a jack of all trades -- and I don't mean "jack of all trades, master of none," but rather "jack of all trades, capable in most." Clearly, not every expert in high temperature energy harvesting and electrical systems is capable of making a successful small business out of making accessories for the iPod and iPad -- and doing the accounting, creating an effective website and worrying about such things as how to find lower-cost unprinted bags and using them to support branding and marketing during the holiday buying season. It is more likely that variables other than academic success in pursuing research in a narrow field of inquiry influenced your business success. If that were not the case, then why didn't your thesis advisor come up with Slotzz and it's products before you did? He, after all, is the expert, and you are "just" his student who hasn't even obtained a PhD yet? I think the answer clearly lies in those other variables, which from my point of view, include far more than academic and research capability. You are, in my book, a very intelligent and highly motivated "jack of all trades," and that is nothing to be ashamed of! I wish you and your company the best, even if you never actually use your knowledge of energy harvesting.

parity
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re: Student Entrepreneur: Five reasons why PhDs are made for business
parity   12/6/2010 9:32:06 PM
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I have seen a complete spectrum of PhDs in action. A PhD is an achievement, but it does not automatically confer an advantage in business skills. I believe it really comes down to personality - to quote a past movie... Jules: I wouldn't go so far as to call a dog filthy but they're definitely dirty. But, a dog's got personality. Personality goes a long way.

krisi
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re: Student Entrepreneur: Five reasons why PhDs are made for business
krisi   12/7/2010 12:18:02 AM
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Sorry Simon, I strongly disagree...most people who have PhD (including myself) are quite weak in marketing and sales (I tried it for a year)...they are incapable of finding real business funding (not a few dollars from cousin Jimmy)...in short what makes them good in research (analytical skills etc) makes them usually weak in business...they have too much technical depth! ;-)...Kris

t.alex
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re: Student Entrepreneur: Five reasons why PhDs are made for business
t.alex   12/7/2010 11:56:48 AM
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Quite true from what I observe as well. As they spend too much resources in technical/research aspects, they tend to ignore other issues such as marketability or whether users may like it.

Peter Clarke
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re: Student Entrepreneur: Five reasons why PhDs are made for business
Peter Clarke   12/7/2010 9:41:35 AM
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Simon, I don't think you are wrong...but I think you are looking at things from the youngster's end of the telescope. You have homed in on the risk and autonomy elements of PhD study and compared them with the same characteristics in business. However, just about anything someone could do after a first degree/MSc/MA would involve risk and autonomy (unless they are so wealthy and pampered that they don't have to do anything, in which case there is no risk). Taking on risk and responsibility is part of growing older. So for those of us looking back on a mis-spent youth the link between PhD studies and entrepreneurship via risk and autonomy seems much less significant than perhaps it does to you. And then there is the counter argument that many PhD students are so specialized and technically detailed that they struggle with more human-modulated matters in business; with the need to understand commercial value and to sell. For many people the BSc-to-MBA route looks like the more frequently trod path to business success. But as discussed above it takes all sorts to make a world.

Bob Lacovara
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re: Student Entrepreneur: Five reasons why PhDs are made for business
Bob Lacovara   12/8/2010 4:23:18 PM
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I have to say that I don't see a causal relationship between advanced degrees and creating a successful business. Perhaps it's because I have created and tanked two companies. Granted, a Ph.D. is a problem solver, and building a business is a steady stream of problems, but you don't need a Ph.D. to solve most of them. I think it's a matter of attitude. Recently I watched a man who had started one small business and also done some real estate development set his sights on a movie theater. He did his homework; counted the competition, lined up his ducks and rolled up his sleeves. $8 million later (mostly loans, I presume) the 8 screen all-digital theater is beautiful. But he needs a vacation, that's for sure. However, I suspect he can better afford one than I can! Business is relentless hard work; if you play your cards right with a Ph.D., you can settle down into academia and bully students forever. Who's more useful to society? That one, my friends, is a no-brainer. For the record, I hold a Ph.D.

KB3001
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re: Student Entrepreneur: Five reasons why PhDs are made for business
KB3001   12/9/2010 9:22:21 AM
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I do not think there is a strong relationship between PhD studies and starting a business, in pratice at least. A PhD teaches you to analyse problems in a structured and logical way, how to synthesise solutions and evalue them, it makes a world expert in particular area. It's the perfect training towards a career in research and academia. Business on the other hand needs other kills including fund-raising, self-promotion, marketing etc. I am not saying people with PhDs are not capable of starting a business, I just do not see a strong correlation between the two. @Simon, I rather think you would have been an entrepreneur with or without a PhD :-)

chunwing
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re: Student Entrepreneur: Five reasons why PhDs are made for business
chunwing   12/9/2010 5:05:30 PM
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Hi Simon, I beg to differ. I agree with you that the 5 skills you listed will make you a better employee in any field, but I don't think they are the distinctive qualities that make you a successful entrepreneur. To me, the edge a PhD students have in starting their own business is their knowledge and ideas in their specific field of research.

twomeyw2
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re: Student Entrepreneur: Five reasons why PhDs are made for business
twomeyw2   2/11/2011 9:31:11 PM
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It seems like many successful entrepreneurs take the path of dropping out of school entirely (before they even receive a B.S) to start their company. Some of these fellows, such as Richard Branson, may even argue against higher education. So from this perspective, it seems like going for a PHD is following the anti-entrepreneur path.

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