Can scientists make great entrepreneurs?

It all starts with an idea and seeing something wrong in the world, but is having an idea and wanting to fix it enough to call yourself an entrepreneur?

Entrepreneurs need to be able to think big, to back up that ‘light bulb’ moment with action. It’s that underlying impatience and drive, combined with a ‘won’t take no for an answer’ attitude, that leads to being able to create something out of nothing. It’s that nagging thought at the back of your mind that becomes too much to ignore and so you feel driven to explore it, fix it, start testing the boundaries and possibilities, and eventually reaching validation and implementation.

Bill Bartee, ON program facilitator © CSIRO, Karl Schwerdtfeger

These are all classic traits of the entrepreneur. But they are sound a lot like a scientist!

In truth, scientists and entrepreneurs share a lot of the same passions and skills for creating ideas that solve problems. Great scientists share traits that align well with the great entrepreneurial spirit: the ability to think differently, their curious nature and desire to problem-solve. And like any great scientist, a great entrepreneur will run through a similar process of development for innovation, as a scientist would for scientific discovery.

In simplified terms, this process can be identified as ‘build (hypothesis/guess), measure (test), and learn (validate/invalidate). This method begins by building upon theory and hypothesizing, and from there a continuous and rigorous framework for experiments to test idea validity is executed. Once the ‘measure’ aspect is completed and data is analysed, conclusions can be made and the solution can be implemented.

This data-driven process is a fast-track approach to learning the success or failure of an idea and in the world of science much like the world of entrepreneurs, there will always be both positive and negative outcomes. It’s the search for discovery and the instinct to test hypothesis through experimentation that makes scientists excellent candidates for innovation.

So rather than asking ‘can scientists make great entrepreneurs?’ perhaps the questions should be ‘when do scientists become entrepreneurs?’

Building a company out of a set of validated hypotheses and product solutions, however, is just the start. To ensure the product has the greatest impact, a highly successful business must be built that can deliver the solution efficiently to market. This is a monumental challenge that can be supremely challenging and rewarding. In my next article, we’ll discuss how effective businesses are built and what it takes to build a great management team.

Bill Bartee, ON Program Facilitator


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