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Transition from a Scientist to an Entrepreneur  

 

naresh_sunkara
naresh_sunkara
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March 20, 2021 1:46 pm  

My street credentials: I’ve been a graduate student, a PhD in Organic chemistry from the University of Maryland Baltimore County, a postdoc from the University of California, Berkeley, and transitioned into a fulltime entrepreneur for over a year now.

I have also founded the Berkeley Postdoc Entrepreneurship Program, to help PhD’s and postdocs learn about entrepreneurship (BPEP). I also have a good understanding of graduate student/postdoc issues, by serving in the Graduate Education Advisory Board of the American Chemical Society.

My goal: To inspire PhDs and postdoc to take up entrepreneurship!

The formal beginning of my journey as a fulltime entrepreneur was the result of trying to start a company based on my postdoc research, where I was developing drug delivery (RNAi) agents. Previously, I had a failure trying to be a part-time entrepreneur, when I got involved with a startup back in India, after my graduate school.

While some money and time was lost, one important take away from that experience was to try not to be a part time entrepreneur! I’m currently working on my startup company, which deals with developing technologies to prevent Healthcare Associated infections. In the past year, I’ve involved myself with several other startups that taught me several important lessons that I will be sharing on this blog.

Part of the focus of this blog to help PhDs and postdocs realize that they have indirectly been trained to be entrepreneurs. It is a completely different question whether you want to be an entrepreneur or not, but we scientists come with some added advantages that other wannabe entrepreneurs don’t have! For those who haven’t considered starting their own company, or working at a startup, I’m hoping that this blog could be helpful.

I would like to draw a few analogies between entrepreneurs and graduate students/postdocs. Startups need a lot of nurturing, where the founder/entrepreneur will play multiple roles, and need to be in charge of pretty much everything in the company. This is very similar to scientists’ job: they are solely responsible for designing experiments, planning and acquiring the resources to run experiments, writing grants for funds, undeterred focus in executing the experiments, analyzing the results, pivoting if something doesn’t work, and getting the results.

In cases where they have to work with undergrad trainees, they make sure they define the job they have to get done, and closely monitor their work. This is exactly what is expected/goes on at a startup!

Once you decide on the problem that you are trying to find a solution, you begin the journey by identifying various routes to get to the solution, identify pitfalls in each path, try to find the path with least obstacles, gather the resources needed (money, people, space, etc), making sure that job roles are well defined (though at a very early stage, the job descriptions can be hard) and try to reach the destination (solution/product)successfully. Last but not the least, both take tremendous amount of effort and time to succeed!

We all know that the initial research plans are completely different from what is published in the final thesis. It is similar with initial business plans too! They are almost never the same as the final plan. In both cases, whether it is a scientist or an entrepreneur, the fact that both are adaptable and flexible to changes, ability to take failures in the right stride during the journey is what makes them successful.

I strongly believe that scientists possess the building blocks necessary to become an entrepreneur, because of their academic training. Additional building blocks are definitely needed to be a successful entrepreneur. A few of us can pick the necessary skills quick, but others might not want to. That is where having a good team with complementary skills will be helpful, and in most cases, needed.

In my next blog, I will talk about the questions you need to ask yourself before taking the leap as an entrepreneur or taking that risk to work at a startup.


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