PhD to… start up?


Do you have a doctorate?

You are qualified to run a successful StartUp!

I went to a public presentation recently which showed how advanced degree holders and PhDs were driving Startups in London. This inspired me. For once, a StartUp success story won’t have a dropped-out-of-university founder.

While I applaud those that have managed the feat, this was good change, and it got me thinking.

I wondered whether or not PhD holders would make the best entrepreneurs or not. To do this, I had to reflect on the numerous skills that are often up for grabs in the process of getting a PhD. There are many of these skills we do not realize we are developing, until our back is against the job-market wall, and the time comes to make them count for something in the world of business.

After much pondering, I came to this conclusion – a PhD holder is a perfect recipe for a successful StartUp. Here are 10 reasons why:

1) Limited finances

We are budget-masters! We live on little compared to our comrades in industry, and still manage to meet expected outcomes – however ambitious they might be. To attend conferences in London, I have had to crash on a friend’s sofa one or two times and save the hotel expense.

2) Working late hours – dedication

Dedication is the life force of the PhD; without it, the programme cannot be completed.

3) Making pitches and public presentations

Oh yes, we pitch. Our pitching skills began with the PhD proposal that kick-started the process. As for public presentations, it is how we get by – how we make our CVs look sleek. Not to mention the conversations, “I was in California last week for a conference. The feedback was awesome.”

4) Deadlines are our middle names

If entrepreneurs think they’ve got it bad when it comes to pending deadlines, it can’t be as bad as what a PhD researcher has lived through. We’ve got this covered.

5) Having a vision?

The thesis was the ultimate vision we saw to completion. If we could start and finish a thesis after so many years, we can take a new project on.

6) Networking

For me, this was an unspoken pre-requisite for getting the best out of conferences. It’s the same networking, just a different group of people – which is also a good thing.

7) Discipline

The PhD left us no choice. You had to be disciplined and fairly organized to complete the process. And when you tried to have a bit of fun, the PhD Casper (ghost) sat on your shoulder and kept reminding you to get back to work until you shut down the Netflix. That is discipline.

8) Fundraising skills

After applying for grant after grant, no matter how little, you kinda’ get a hang of it. We raise funds within stringent ethical and what-have-you conditions, how much more when we can just get on Indiegogo and do our thing without so many strings. I think we tick this box.

9) Ability to adapt to changes

The research project never goes according to plan. PhD holders are excellent chameleons. We think on our feet, and make it work somehow. Money can’t buy the ability to do this, and I think it’s priceless in business.

10) Unwavering belief in your mission

To pass a viva, you had to be unwavering in defending the project you’ve invested your life in. One had to be equally unwavering throughout the process, and repeat the mantra that “this PhD is worth the effort.” It was not the easiest thing to do, but we did it.

I reckon that in setting up a successful StartUp, for a doctorate holder, working in teams might be a bit of a hassle.

I say this with a pinch of salt because, again, this also depends on ones personality. The PhD is almost an isolating journey, but some have managed to maintain relationships with others while at it. Whatever the case may be, working effectively in teams is a skill that can be learned.

With the academic job market looking as bleak as it does today, it’s high time we took the bull by the horn and use skills gained to set up a banquet table. Away with nibbling on left-over sandwiches (I had my fill of those).

I am not saying that building a StartUp would be easier than staying in academia. It might be just as challenging or even more. We might need additional training in certain areas, get some certification, or join some associations. But do I think we have the mettle to pull it off? Oh yes we do.

I have only completed my PhD this year. I am in the market for a job. I am willing to explore every option available to me. Academia or non-academia, time is ticking, but time will also tell.

Author Bio: Tee Ola is the  founder and managing editor of the stylish academic blog