So You Want to be an Entrepreneur…

You have decided that you what to be an entrepreneur.  Wait…what is an entrepreneur?  Webster’s defines an entrepreneur as one who organizes, manages, and assumes the risks of a business or enterprise.  Sound familiar?  As graduate students and post-docs we develop a hypothesis, organize experiments, and then manage those experiments, all the while assuming risk for the outcome (please let this work!)  So, you are already on your way to becoming an entrepreneur.  Not enough?  I didn’t think so- here are some suggestions for helping you learn more about entrepreneurship and how to start.


Join a Club

Who are the best people to talk to about your desire to be an entrepreneur?  People with similar goals and aspirations.  At many universities there are student-run organizations already in place surrounding the student’s interest in entrepreneurial activities.  If your program doesn’t have any, check out the business school.

There may also be community clubs that meet regularly.  These clubs will often expose you to people who have started their own companies and they may also hold workshops on developing ideas and financing your business or other entrepreneurial interests.  You can’t seem to find a club that meets your needs?  Start one.  This could be a trial run for starting your own business.  Ask other classmates if they would be interested, put up flyers, hold meetings, etc.


Visit Businesses

Interested in what the day-to-day of an entrepreneur is like, visit their business.  Most entrepreneurs are people persons (i.e. they usually have to have social skills to convince people to give them money), so call them up and ask them if you could visit them at their place of business.  Although don’t be surprised if they don’t allow you to see everything, many small business are still awaiting patents or protection for their confidential information and privacy is critical to there survival.

Many mid-sized to large cities will have business incubators.  These are physical locations that provide the basic needs for a small business that may not be able to afford them on their own.  Often the space is rented for a small amount of money per square foot –per year.  Business incubators may also hold workshops or seminars on entrepreneurial related topics and afterwards have social hour.  These social hours are the place in which connections are made, which brings me to the last point.



Do you know the old saying, “it’s not what you know, but who you know”?  Well, it’s oftentimes true.  For example, I went to a talk last week in which the PI discovered a radical new way to treat his disease of interest by striking up a conversation with a random person on an airplane.  It happens- there are thousands of stories just like that.

So, that being said, network.  Talk to people about your ideas (remember to say only what you are comfortable saying of things that are not confidential).  How will anyone know you discovered a way to rid Beiber fever if you don’t talk about it?  Besides, you will need to develop a team to help you with delivering your product to the world, and the more people you know with a certain skill set the better options you have when it comes time to call on them.

And lastly, when you become a successful entrepreneur (success having a whole other definition of it’s own) don’t forget the little people.  Share your knowledge with other soon-to-be entrepreneurs and complete the cycle.


Katie Adastra is a Ph.D. student and a recent recipient of the Kauffman Fellowship for Entrepreneurship at Washington University in St. Louis.



Don’t think there’s room for entrepreneurs in academics? Read our latest story about ‘Academic Entrepreneurs’ (aka, Professors).



3 comments so far. Join The Discussion

  1. adamx

    wrote on November 19, 2010 at 2:24 pm

    If you are an undergraduate or graduate student and your school has a business school, there's a good chance they'll let you audit classes for free.

  2. [email protected]

    wrote on November 19, 2010 at 3:27 pm

    RT @jessicayingling add Volunteer to the list! Volunteer w/orgs/charities that support your industry, showcases your translatable skills in action: fundraise, newsletters, PR… (from Twitter)

  3. @jessicayingling

    wrote on November 19, 2010 at 6:56 pm

    Thanks Alan!

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