As a PhD student in Neuroimaging, my work focuses on the Neuroscience of Entrepreneurship. Debate still exists over whether entrepreneurs are born or made, so my research aims to uncover if there is something different in the brains of those who think entrepreneurially. This research is a collaboration between the Entrepreneurship Institute and the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience at King’s College London.
During my PhD, I developed the Entrepreneurial Brain Challenge to test the cognition and characteristics of entrepreneurs. I also wrote about the need for PhD students to develop entrepreneurial skills whether or not they choose to stay in academia. This post connected me with Dr Rebecca Myers. A scientist herself and Head of Education at Cambridge Judge Business School, Rebecca shares similar views about exposing scientists to the start-up world. After a stimulating conversation with Rebecca and the EnterpriseTECH cohort, I applied to the programme myself.
What I Learnt from the EnterpriseTECH programme
Coming from a science background, my exposure to entrepreneurship so far has come from my observations and academic reading. What I really needed was the personal experience and practice in the start-up world which EnterpriseTECH offered. Placed in a team of five PhD students, we were matched with inventors of an early-stage technology, and a supervisor to guide our work. Our main aim was to test the commercial feasibility of their product in a new market.
The best part about the programme was the teamwork; the contrast between inventors, students and corporate supervisor which made for a stimulating team dynamic. Everyone had ideas and approaches that we could learn from. The key thing I learnt from our supervisor was the importance of getting out there and speaking to people, even when you feel completely out of your depth. As scientists, we are often regarded as experts in our line of work. This can lead to a lack of confidence in discussing a matter outside our remit, unless we know all the literature on the topic. As a neuroscientist working on a product rooted in materials science and speaking with professionals in the US Oil and Gas industry, I learnt to work completely out of my comfort zone. I also realised that I didn’t need to know every technical and scientific aspect of the product to know if it would sell.
The most interesting part to me was seeing the real-world experience of how you explore an idea with potential customers (and competition). In research we are open and collaborative, and while this exists to an extent in the commercial world, we were quick to realise that conversations must be handled with much more caution, diplomacy, and care. I found navigating these conversations fascinating and I enjoyed seeing my team’s ability to gain the insight we needed. I saw first-hand how our conversations with key stakeholders made the inventors pivot on the approach and marketing of their idea.
My key learning however was overcoming imposter syndrome. I was served a triple whammy – with my first exposure to an enterprise course, on a science product I knew nothing about, as the only non-Cambridge student. However, once we began our research and conversations as a team, I quickly saw how beneficial diversity of thought can be. Moreover, I think operating as an ‘imposter’ can help you realise what your key attributes really are, and even more importantly the skills you can gain and learn from others. If we constantly operate in a closed bubble (the same university, discipline, or career) we miss out on so much insight from the ways others operate and work.
My future goals
After EnterpriseTECH, I feel even more motivated to continue gaining my own entrepreneurial skills. I think the main barrier to entrepreneurship for scientists can be our mindset, the lack of confidence in knowing ‘enough’ about the commercial world or how to navigate it. Any scientist can learn about business plans and financial models, that’s the easy part. The tougher and most essential part is gaining direct experience and recognising the ability in oneself to be entrepreneurial.
I recommend and encourage any PhD student or researcher to take every opportunity to develop skills outside academia. Whether interested in starting a business or just looking to be a change-maker within your organisation, enrolling in programmes aimed at building your entrepreneurial skills is a great place to start.