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Why Getting A PhD In Science Prepares You Well To Be A Start-Up Founder

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Many young people aspire to be start-up founders and many universities have added ‘entrepreneurship’ as a major, both in their graduate and undergraduate programs. Today we live in a beautiful age, an age that allows people to create their ideas into enterprises than ever before. We live in an age of start-ups. Many of the companies we think of conglomerates today are companies that first started out as tiny enterprises from garages and shared apartments and grew to be what they are today with a whole lot of ambition. As an example, Jeff Bezos started Amazon from his garage, and now it is a company most Americans use on daily basis, whether by buying groceries or watching movies online. It has grown to be a billion dollar enterprise. It is interesting to note that Jeff Bezos was interested in science from an early age and went on to pursue an education steeped in science. In college, he majored in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. In fact, a scientific foundation is a common thread among many of the CEOs of many enterprises. I have already written an article about the fact that almost 30% of fortune 50 CEOs have an educational background in science. But what is it about science that will make a great start-up founder?

Well first of all innovation is at the core of all scientific disciplines, in fact, science is innovation. Students who study science learn how to solve problems by doing, in a real tangible way. They do not just ponder about the problem, they must actually come up with an answer. They learn to look at the data was given to them, and how to find the answer with the information given. Essentially, they are extremely well trained to find solutions to problems based on the evidence or facts that are presented to them at that very moment. They learn to find relationships between different information and synthesize those relationships to come up with an answer. To take it a step further, Ph.D. students solve problems that have never been solved before. As a matter of fact, it is a prerequisite for a Ph.D. student to work on a problem that has never been solved before and offer a solution to the problem in order to get a Ph.D.  There is not a Ph.D. student works on something that is well known or well defined that can be looked up in a textbook.  The same is true for a start-up founder. When start-ups emerge they are usually looking to solve a problem that has not been solved before or they are proposing a new solution to the problem that has not been solved before. They must come up with a real and tangible solution that they can implement – they cannot just think about a how to solve a problem, they must solve it. The environment they find themselves in is undefined, unpredictable and there is no one know who knows the answer. Thus, start-up founders and Ph.D. use the same mindset to solve those problems. Sure, they may be solved in different environments and the variable are slightly different but the mindset behind the process is essentially the same: look at data given, find relationships and try to find the solution by iterating many times.

Apart from that, both Ph.D. students and start-up founders must have a strong work ethic and perseverance to achieve success. Solving things no one has solved before is hard. Not giving up when 100 ways have failed is also very hard. Thus, to get a Ph.D. and to found a successful start-up one must be very tough, focused and goal oriented. As a matter of fact, science Ph.D. are very goal oriented: there is no way you are getting a Ph.D. without the data to prove your research. The same is true for start-up founders there is no way to move forward or get funding without data to back up your goals.

In essence science education, especially in the later stages where independent research is required, is the best preparation for entrepreneurship because it teaches you how to think about problems and how to solve them. You learn how to think creatively about solving problems with the data given, and you learn to persevere, to keep moving forward without giving up after one failed try.

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