Entrepreneurial Mindset for Scientists
When I started my first company, I brought with me my scientifically oriented way of thinking. I thought that objectivity and facts were enough to push forward. It took me a while to understand that scipreneurship requires a much more holistic approach to problem solving and opportunity identification.
Our accumulated set of experiences are almost as important as the formal skills we have developed.
Embracing different ways of perceiving the world is fundamental to understanding what it means to become an entrepreneur. Being able to understand processes at a technical but also emotional level is what I call the scipreneurial mindset. It’s the framework I developed over time to process inputs from many different sources.
Definition and Importance in Business
An entrepreneurial mindset is not just a fancy term. It’s a way of thinking that can help us decide which challenges are worth tackling head-on, making decisive choices, and owning the outcomes, whether they’re good or bad.
Sometimes this mindset is about seeing the glass as half full – finding those opportunities in the market that everyone else has overlooked, innovating, and not just taking risks, but smart risks.
If there is something that scientists have in common is that they are resilient. Experimental failures are common. Cleaning up, regrouping, and retrying is what we do almost every single day.
In business, the flow is similar. Things won’t always go your way, they will take longer, and it’s the ability to bounce back, regroup, and retry that counts.
A different mindset is crucial in business because opportunity recognition is a big deal.
You know those moments when you think, “Hey, why hasn’t anyone thought of this before?” That’s what I’m talking about. Being able to spot these gaps in the market can lead you to create something truly successful and needed.
And the ability to spot those gaps greatly depends on the accumulation of personal experiences.
PhDs and Postdocs are routinely exposed to people working in the exact same topics, with the exact same tools. But if you look at it globally, there’ll be only a handful of people in the world working this way.
That makes you already quite unique.
Add the personal history of each one, where were they born, what languages they speak, and you’ll understand your uniqueness.
As a scipreneur, sometimes, you’ll notice you have two halves of a puzzle. The ability to identify situations where this is obvious just to you, and why, is what sets you in the path to success.
I started building microscopes and tools back in 2009. I always worked with a special technique, called fluorescence microscopy. In 2019 when I co-founded Dispertech, I did a deep dive into Extracellular Vesicles, a specific niche in biology. One day it just became apparent what the field was struggling with, and how fluorescence microscopy could be of help.
It was one of these ‘eureka-moments’ when technology developments coalesce and allow creative thinking.
Innovation and adaptability are your tools for survival in the fast-paced business arena. The world changes quickly, and businesses need to pivot and evolve just as fast. What worked yesterday might not work tomorrow, so staying stuck in your ways is not an option.
For innovators, the shiny object syndrome is real. Pursuing always something new because it looks so much better than what we are doing. Changing focus too quickly can become detrimental. A new mindset will allow you to parse those ideas quickly, let them rest, and resurface when they make sense.
Scientists are not used to explicitly discussing risk management. Anticipate failure and have a contingency plan.
Entrepreneurs need to embrace risk management and uncertainty. But be aware, it’s not just avoiding risks – that’s pretty much impossible in business. Instead, it’s about understanding these risks, weighing them, and using them to your advantage. Think of it like surfing; you need to ride the waves, not run from them.
Lastly, and perhaps infinitely important, a proactive approach is what sets entrepreneurs apart.
It’s about not waiting for someone to hand you opportunities on a silver platter. You’ve got to be the one knocking on doors, making the calls, and sometimes, creating opportunities out of thin air. You need to learn to ask for help, move forward even if it’s not clear where, or how the path looks like.
The mind of an entrepreneur is always in tension between what the future could look like and what the present allows. We’ll take another look at this when we discuss about effectual reasoning.
Contrast with the Typical Mindset in Academia
Understanding the mindset of an entrepreneur also requires acknowledging and overcoming the patterns developed in an academic environment.
Don’t get me wrong, academia is fantastic for deep dives into specialized research. It’s all about digging deep into a subject, unraveling its mysteries, and adding to the pool of human knowledge. But here’s the thing: this approach has its own set of rules and norms.
In academia, there’s often a hesitancy to leap into the unknown. It’s more about sticking to proven paths and methods, rather than venturing into uncharted territories. This risk aversion makes perfect sense in the academic world where people is constantly judged by peers. There is limited tolerance for out of the box thinking and progress is done incrementally.
Entrepreneurs must take a plunge, even before knowing if there’s water in the swimming pool.
Academic projects can stretch over years, even decades. There’s a luxury of time to explore, refine, and ponder over details. Both PhDs and postdocs experience just a glimpse of these processes, but very quickly embrace the way of thinking. There’s a given context, long-term objectives, and a very narrow focus.
In business, however, time is a luxury you often don’t have. It’s about making quick decisions, sometimes on the fly.
Entrepreneurs can’t afford to focus on a single topic, they need to perform a balancing act between business, product, science, and strategy.
The aspect of working style, which is tightly related to how people behave, is also different. Academics often enjoy a degree of solitude in their research, focusing and valuing individual contributions. Creating a startup is a team sport. You’re constantly collaborating, networking, bouncing ideas off others, and sometimes, compromising to get the best results. First customers are closer to partners. The initial team in a startup is a living organism where everyone contributes across domains, aligned with the founders’ vision.
Let’s not forget about a crucial difference: access to resources.
In academia, even if you come from constrained environments, you have access to tools, people, space, and funds. Startups work with what they’ve got, stretching every dollar, and getting creative with their resources.
Transitioning from academia to entrepreneurship, requires that you brace for a change in pace, shift how you approach problems, and develop a new way of working with others.
It’s not just about what you know (our you think you know), but how quickly you can adapt and apply that knowledge in a fast-moving, ever-changing business landscape.
It’s an exiting and very fulfilling ride, with lots of ups and downs along the way. Hopefully the ups are much more powerful and give you the energy required for moving forward.