Academia breeds academia, right ? Well, not always… Some PhD students feel the need/urge to push their discovery further, but how? By launching a startup! Do they have the necessary skills and knowledge? No, but that shouldn’t stop them and here’s why.
PhD students usually lack business knowledge, but they are usually quick learners and unsuspectedly tooled to become entrepreneurs. Being on the edge of the unknown, on the brink of discovery, is a great training for becoming an entrepreneur!
Also, PhD students and entrepreneurs share a lot of things, but with a different flavor:
|Innovation||Abstract: further advance scientific knowledge||Applied: Create and commercialize innovative products and services|
|Communication||Presentations, posters, papers, reviews, grants||Presentations (pitch), marketing tools (web, flyers, blogs), white papers, grants|
|Management||Limited management on financial, human resources, etc…||Full management of all the resources|
|Main Job||Convincing PI, peers and funding agencies of cutting edge research results||Convincing customers and investors of cutting edge product/service and business plan|
|Schedule||Flexible but usually more than the « 40h/week »||Flexible but always more than the « 40h/week »|
|Motivation||Highly motivated (especially before a seminar/conference presentation)||Highly motivated|
|Learning||Rich learning opportunities||Rich learning opportunities|
Furthermore, PhD students and entrepreneurs are faced daily with ups and downs of their respective endeavours. Both live in strong communities where collaboration is essential.
Here are some challenges and benefits you may experience while launching your startup!
Freshly out of Academia, what experience or expertise do you really have? Even if you are a local genius and/or you have a great publication record, you will be challenged on your technology and on how to make it a great business success (not a great scientific advancement).
A long period in academia (undergrad, master, PhD) is never kind on your wallet, making it harder to invest substantial money in your own company. Although you could spend the next 3-5 years working for a life science company, gaining experience and pilling up cash to start your own business, there are many ways to fund your new endeavour: lovemoney, entrepreneurship contest, government loans and funds, angels and VC capital. Ultimately, however, your best source of funding are your first customers!
Academia is not necessarily the best place to gain managing skills, it could be but most of the time it’s not (for many obvious and not so obvious reasons). It could be difficult, possibly destructive, to apply academia-based management to a startup. We highly recommend that you take managing courses (pick the best and more relevant MBA courses) and surround yourself with seasoned entrepreneurs and mentors to guide you.
Excellent knowledge on your potential customers
As a PhD student, you may have been your best customer. Actually, you might have developed this business because you weren’t satisfied with the current offer. However, it may be that you are the only one with this need; make sure this is not the case and that your product/service provides a real value proposition for a good market segment (niche or generalized).
Full of ideas and ready to break the rules
Plenty of ideas, some tested, some not backed by your PI (but you think it’ll work) and not yet (hopefully) poisoned by corporate thinking and culture. Just the right balance of experience/skills and naivety/dreams.
As a PhD student you should have built a great network of peers, professors, friends and fellow students; they represent the perfect testing grounds for your new products and services, acquire your first customers and evangelists…
Although going from PhD students to bioentrepreneur is a great challenge, it is also very exhilarating and profoundly rewarding. Scientists do not always make great entrepreneurs, depending on their personality and tolerance to risk and incertitude. However, they are often great members of the founding team of a startup because of their analytic skills, their creativity and their obsession for continuous improvement. Immune Biosolutions (www.ibiosolutions.com) was founded in 2012 by three graduates from Université de Sherbrooke with the support of ACET (Accélérateur de création d’entreprises technologiques, http://accelerateur.ca/en/our-mission) and its mentors, coaches and investors.