Scipreneurs/reasons to start a company
- Creating impact: this is a reason I've heard in almost every interaction with a sci-founder: Academic science lacks translation of useful results into society.
This is a laudable reason to start a company, but I always ask: that does not mean you have to take care of creating impact. You could have just enabled others to transform your research into a product.
- Making money: although I haven't found a single founder publicly saying they wanted to make money, it is un-avoidable to think we can become rich.
There are examples of sci-based companies that made their founders rich. They are, however, a clear example of survivorship bias. Most founders, in their first startup, will at most compensate the income lost by not joining a larger company.
- Having fun: If there is a good reason to do anything in life, this may be it. Starting a company can be extremely fun, especially if you are surrounded by a fun team.
Starting a company can be fun (at least, it should!) but the reality is that most founders don't enjoy it that much (unless they are talking in retrospective). It is a tough path, with lots of uncertainty, risks, and overnight changes.
- Loving technology: I know how it feels working months on end trying to increase the performance of your system. You love it, and you want others to love it as well.
You may love your own technology, but are you sure anyone else loves it? It may be a very strong crash against a wall when you realize no one else really cares about what you are building. Perhaps you get lucky, but it will be a bumpy road.
- Career advancement: Starting a company may be a way of speeding up your career, especially if you are an academic who wants to stay in academia.
It is true that professors who brand themselves as "co-founders" have a lot to gain and nothing to lose. It may help them attract grants and talent. For the people who join the companies, however, it is not super clear whether it's the smartest career move. Chances are that joining an existing company will propel your career forward much faster.
- Working in a team: Many PhDs and Postdocs suffer from a great degree of isolation in their projects. Startups offer a quick way out, having a tight-nit group of people working on the same problem.
I thought a PhD was a lonely process... Until I started my own company. You may be lucky and you have a good co-founder with whom you share the daily struggles, perhaps even two co-founders. But 3 people don't really make a team. It takes a while before you can say you have a team. Once you have it, though, the feeling of working for a common goal is fantastic.
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