may need to work for months with little or no salary. The experience they gained working in a science lab and living as a poor grad student gives them a significant advantage over any business major who wants to start a company. Fiske added: ‘Nobody goes into a science career with the idea of getting rich. You go into science because you are passionate about a subject and because you love learning, discovery, and the idea of creating something new. Those same passions are at the heart of entrepreneurship.’3


do not match the heroic risk- taker with a one-in-a-million idea image. Instead, they are careful, taking the time to analyse the ‘big leap’ they are considering and make sure the risks are manageable. They are patient enough to wait for the right opportunity that they believe will work for them. Contrary to what some people may think, the strengths of a scientist actually make them well-suited for starting their own company.

Other scientist strengths In addition to the attributes described in Gladwell’s article, my research has shown me there are other strengths of a scientist that make them well-suited to become an entrepreneur. Here are a few:

Problem solver Scientists are great problem solvers, and that helps them if they decide to enter the startup world. If you start your own company, you will be doing something that nobody has done before, and this is bound to present you with many new problems. Sure, many people have started companies, but none of them have started the same company you are starting, in the location where you are starting yours, to solve the specific problem you are addressing in the manner that you plan to address it. You

6 Electro Optics June 2021

“You are constantly learning to solve problems you haven’t encountered before”

will need to solve some new problems on your own. Peter Fiske, PhD geological

and environmental sciences, founder of Rapt industries, said: ‘I feel that becoming an entrepreneur was very synergistic with my research experience. One of the greatest things about a science PhD education is you are constantly learning to solve problems you haven’t even encountered before. That’s incredibly resilient training and very useful for an entrepreneur.’3

Independent learner Starting a company involves entering into a whole new environment with many things to learn. Scientists know how to learn things on their own. Every scientist who receives a PhD degree is presented with a project they likely know very little about when they begin their post-graduate studies. To be awarded their degree, they were required to complete the project independently, typically learning what they need to know largely on their own. Knowing how to quickly find and learn what you need is a very useful skill when starting a company.

Marinna Madrid, PhD

physics, co-founder of Cellino Biotech, said: ‘As a scientist who becomes an entrepreneur, there is so much you need to learn about. Being independent, self-motivated, and able to learn things on your own is really helpful.’4

Resourceful Starting a technical company typically requires achieving critical early-stage milestones, such as successful prototype development and testing with very little money. To most scientists, this is nothing new. Research grant funding is hard to secure, and scientists often need to learn to be very resourceful with their money to accomplish their research goals. Having graduate students who work for very little money facilitates this pursuit, but that points out a different aspect of resourcefulness that most scientists learn. Spending years as a poor

graduate student teaches most scientists to be efficient and resourceful in their private lives as well. This is great training for an entrepreneur, as in the early stages of a company, a founding team must get everything they can out of their initial funding before they can secure significant investor funding. This means that not only do they have to accomplish a lot for their company with little funding, but they also

Scientists make great entrepreneurs If you are a scientist who has ever thought about launching your own company, I encourage you to think seriously about this goal. The dramatic increase in focus on entrepreneurship in nearly all technical sectors in the last decade means it’s easier than ever to start your own company. Your strengths as a scientist position you to do well, and there are many scientist entrepreneur examples to learn from. EO

David Giltner has spent more than 20 years commercialising photonics technologies, and started TurningScience to provide training and support for scientists to enter the private sector. The author of Turning Science into Things People Need, he is a speaker and mentor on technology commercialisation, product development and career design. He has a BS and PhD in physics and holds seven patents in laser spectroscopy and optical communications.

References 1.

Global Entrepreneurship Monitor 2019/2020 Global Report, Global Entrepreneurship Research Asso- ciation, London Business School pg 73-78 (www.gemconsortium. org/report)


Malcom Gladwell, ‘The Sure Thing: How Entrepreneurs Re- ally Succeed’ The New Yorker, 10 January 2010 ( the-sure-thing)


DM Giltner, Turning Science into Things People Need, Wise Media Group, Denver, CO, 41-48 (2010).


Interview with Marinna Madrid, Co-founder of Cellino Technolo- gies (May 2020).

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