Founder/CEO Amin Shokrollahi came from years of academic research before turning entrepreneur and raising $25.000.000 to date for his high-tech company Kandou Bus. He learned why researchers make great entrepreneurs – but also what the big differentiator is, that might prove tough for some academics to ‘convert’. Here are some key points – you can hear the whole insightful story in episode #014 of the Startup Milestones podcast – available on iTunes, Android and YouTube.
When I asked Amin how difficult the transition was from being a researcher to being an entrepreneur, he said he didn’t think it is much of a transition. “Many qualities a good researcher has are the same qualities that a good business man has”. These are the ones he named:
- See opportunities
- Grab those opportunities
- Work hard at them
- And be able to sell yourself
The ability to ‘sell yourself’
“In research, we sell ourselves by going to conferences. We give presentations, trying to convince people that it’s a good thing we are doing, and eventually get published. In business it’s no different.” I never thought of it that way – okay, I also had to “sell” my papers I wrote for my PhD at conferences – and I recall, its true: at these academic conferences, the top researchers always were very present, had a great network, and simply knew “how to sell themselves” – you could really pick them out of the crowd.
The big differentiator
The reason business is much harder Amin believes is: “In academia you have different ways of getting recognition. You can get papers published. You can have students who get great jobs. You can win awards. But in business, the only measure of success is whether your company makes money or not. In research, if, if you don’t get an award, but then you got published. In business, there is no substituted – if you don’t make money, you go under.”
Go deep vs. go broad
“Going deep” is what is expected from most researchers at university. To really become the biggest expert in a very specific field. At university, Amin says, “if you are broad and not so deep, this is not looked upon as so positive”.
“In business, and especially when you start a company, you have to be broad and not so deep”. You need to have the 360-degree view of your business, Amin is convinced. This is one of the main differences and maybe also changes in the way of thinking researchers need to master when transitioning from academia to business.
All in all, Amin proves that turning research know-how into a business is very possible in Europe. One of my favorite quotes of my interview with him was when he talked about the area of research and technology he is in: “For someone who has a research background, it’s a gold mine in terms of research. For an entrepreneur, it’s a gold mine in terms of the number of companies you could create to service this industry.”