Binding the PHDs with Startups

PHD Thesis

Most of the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) PhD students who want to pursue career in academics end up in corporate or non-academic work, according to Eva Amsen. This is mainly due to repulsiveness of the work place in academia and as well as the benefits offered at non-academic settings. The academic job market has gotten tighter for last decade or so due to many reasons. Alternative education platforms have come up and they seem to work much better, TreeHouse for an example. Currently, TreeHouse delivers its courses to more students with zero debt at the end than all US CS departments combined. That’s just within 3 years! Then there’s the issue of getting the accreditation from a university with a huge student loan debt at the end and it is the biggest debt that the US has faced now. That is a debt that won’t go away even if you file bankruptcy. People are looking for skills-based approaches in their professional development than the standard academic route. Tech giants like Google has openly said that they really don’t care about hiring the top college graduates.

Wealth creators

In my perception, startups are more wealth creators than any other out there. Wealth is not money. Wealth is how you want to live, what you want to own, wherever you want to travel, etc. Several hundred years ago, people had wealth without money. They exchanged tangibles and as well as non-tangibles. Money is really just a medium that helps move wealth from one place to another. Irrespective of how much money a startup makes, it creates more wealth than some of the large corporations. Let me explain. A startup that makes a million dollars a year may influence and create more wealth than a corporation that makes a hundred million a year. For an example, a startup like Task Rabbit that enables people to hire someone to run their errands may create more wealth by allowing people to have freedom and may be making someone make a few extra bucks by doing a side job. The more startups out  there, the more wealth that is created.

Does a PhD mean success in startups?

Absolutely not. It is scientifically proven that startup success has no correlation to age, gender, race or the academic background. One good exit in a previous startup also does not mean that there will be another one either, although the experience will certainly help. It is also seen that the successful startup entrepreneurs had no better ideas than the unsuccessful or no-so-successful ones. There are a lot of dynamics that come into play like the location, funding, skills and certainly luck as well. You can build the best product with the smartest people and have a bad market-fit. The fact that you will have a PhD adds a level of credibility and recognition. For a startup founder, funding, making contacts, help of the peers, support of the family, etc are very important factors. The fact that you have PhD, it makes it easier in many ways to take a startup route. You have access to low interest rates, academics, access to people and the list goes on.

Why PhDs should take a startup route(Or the other way around)?

PhDs should take a startup route and startupers should also take the PhD route. From what I have read and people I have spoked with, a PhD is more like running a startup. Searching for a supervisor is like looking for the first customer. Getting a manuscript approved is like finding an investor. They all share the same level of uncertainty and stress. Both PhDs and Startupers have deep knowledge in whatever the domain they work on. The only real difference is that a startuper would not have the work documented the same way a supervisor or the university would want to have for a PhD. Wether a startup makes it or fails at the end, it would still add value and contribute knowledge into the ecosystem. For a startuper, a university may give a great platform to speak and network. In some situations, the startup route needs pure disruption in a very unpredictable manner and in certain situations it may require some level of discipline and that can very well be added by your supervisor.

What is in it for the University and for the Startuper?

Universities certainly would want their students’ researches to be converted into successful startups. It adds value and looks good on their portfolio. As for the startuper, it gives him credibility to have a PhD. In reality, startupers put so much effort and research into building a product and better or for worse why not have a PhD for it?

What if there was a community and a market place that matched the right supervisor with the right startuper to bind the two dynamics? A service that would guide a PhDer to create a startup based on the research they are into?

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