Since I’m currently without a full-time academic job, last week I was doing something a little bit different, as part of the company I own with my husband. We were participating in Quantum Start Up Week, part of a programme put on by the University of Bristol and Spin Up Science.
The main point of the week was to introduce being an entrepreneur mainly to PhD students. Though it was marketed to people based in quantum science, it was pretty general and much of the information we were given was useful for any startup companies or people interested in it. Mainly, it was to give people an idea of how you might start a company after a PhD, either based on some of the work you did in your PhD, or just generally. It’s just another option outside of academia for you to take.
It was pretty different from what I normally do day-to-day. We had four pretty intense, long days of workshops, talks, and meetings. We had teams, and were meant to create a company or product that we could market and then pitch at the end to potential investors. We focused on the company we already have, but others on things they had thought about during their PhD. We spent a day on understanding the market, learning about how to register your IP and patents, heard from accountants and just some general knowledge from other entrepreneurs that have started science companies.
I found the entire week very interesting, enlightening, and helpful in our journey to grow our company. There were a lot of interesting anecdotes about famous companies (like the fact that Nike was started by a guy in his house and it ran essentially by one guy in the evenings and weekends for 10 years before he was finally able to quit his day job), great experiences from other people doing similar things, and also information from investors – what they look for in companies, the different kind of investors, and all that. In the end, we had to give a pitch to a group of people including other scientists, business owners, investors, university tech offices, etc. Each group was given a prize, and we won “Most Investable” which was pretty awesome 🙂
One thing that really struck me is how important it is for this kind of education for PhD students. We’re told so often that there are way more PhD students than academic jobs, and even without that, I think it’s important for educated people to have “real-world” jobs. That being said, I think that in a lot of fields (especially things like palaeontology), there’s a serious lack of teaching what else you can do with your education. And there’s certainly nothing about being an entrepreneur or starting a company in palaeontology (not that I’m advocating starting a fossil business, but there are other options of course).
The week was based at Unit DX, an incubator for small science-based companies in Bristol. They built it because there was nowhere in Bristol that you could get lab space, or anything remotely scientific outside of the University. Since opening 18 months ago, they now have over 20 companies. It’s a great community and it’s certainly nice to have a group of people all going through similar issues together so you can learn and feed off of other’s successes and even failures. These kind of communities are essential, and so useful for a small company.
I’m going to talk a little bit more about my experience and the importance of this kind of education in future posts, so I won’t go into it more. But yes, I think every area could benefit from an introduction to something like this.