HDR Career Conversations

Supporting research student career development and employability at UOW

6 Characteristics of the Scientist-Entrepreneur


Guest post by Dr Cameron Ferris  

Entrepreneurship is a hot topic in any discussion of careers, the world of work and graduate opportunity at all levels.  Below Cameron outlines the need for a hybrid researcher/ entrepreneur and the characteristics necessary, many of which can be gained through your UOW PhD experience.

I sometimes hear it said that a research degree involves discovering ‘more and more’ about ‘less and less’. In some respects that is true – we become deeply embedded in a specific area of research – but on the whole, I couldn’t disagree more. A research degree is a journey that instils a broad and highly valuable skill set. Since completing my PhD at the University of Wollongong I have drawn significantly on my experience and learnings in building a career in innovation and capital investment.

I’ve particularly enjoyed working with many scientists who are carving a path to take new technologies to market. This is a great time to develop science-backed ventures in Australia, with plenty of public and private sector support for the translation of research into commercial impact, but it requires the right people to make it a reality. Perhaps you are one of those people and, if you have the entrepreneurial itch, I hope this article will be of some encouragement to you.

6 Characteristics of The Scientist-Entrepreneur

The message has been clear — we need to get medical research out of the lab and into the real world. It is vital for the health of the nation, both in the literal sense and to generate new economic drivers for our future prosperity.

In a previous post exploring barriers to research commercialisation, I highlighted the dependence on the right people — a sentiment echoed clearly at the Research Innovation conference last week. The fact is this: we have never been in shortage of great research, we perhaps no longer lack risk capital, there is plenty of government and private sector focus on making it happen… but we are still lacking enough people who can get it done. We are in desperate need of the scientist-entrepreneur.

Well who are these people? Perhaps not the entrepreneur in a stereotypical sense — there is a reason why Silicon Valley produces billionaires before they turn 30, but no Nobel Laureate has amassed ten-figure wealth. I have come across scientists trying to artificially adopt the entrepreneurial archetype as they proudly tout a self-proclaimed CEO title. It doesn’t go down well. Don’t get me wrong, some individuals have hallmarks of both the classic scientist and entrepreneur… but they are rare.

What we need are true scientist-entrepreneurs who are able to navigate the complex pathway from the lab to the market with integrity, passion and determination, often in partnership with others. I have been privileged to work with some of these individuals and witness them in action. While no formula could define a scientist-entrepreneur, I have observed 6 common characteristics that I believe set them apart:

  1. They know the science

This goes without saying, but has to be said — fundamental scientific research remains the bedrock on which medical innovation is built, and the best in the game know their science. They are leaders in their field, understanding the immense value, and barrier to entry, afforded by a body of deep scientific knowledge.

  1. They begin with the end in mind

It is very easy to get caught up in scientific research and forget what it is all for. Those that actively stay connected to the end game — to the unmet needs of patients or customers — are more likely to have meaningful impact. This is a key premise of programs like NSF I-Corps in the US or CSIRO ON in Australia. The scientist-entrepreneur gets to know the end-user intimately, and uses this knowledge to craft a vision that others can embrace.

  1. They develop commercial acumen

“Scientists are well suited to learning the skills they need to navigate the entrepreneurial pathway because they are intelligent and logical, and they understand how to do research” (C&EN) — many, however, never do. Successful scientist-entrepreneurs develop at least a high-level understanding of intellectual property protection, regulation, marketing and commercial strategy (including drivers for investment). Encouragingly, many research institutions are increasingly focused on instilling these skills in their students and academics.

  1. They embrace risk

Risk is synonymous with entrepreneurial endeavour, but is often antithetical to the DNA of a scientist. The scientist-entrepreneur embraces a healthy relationship with risk. They don’t need to have all the answers before taking action. They don’t let perfection be the enemy of success. There is risk in shifting focus away from academic pursuits (though thankfully funding bodies are beginning to recognise commercial experience), but what is the alternative? “There are risks and costs to action. But they are far less than the long range risks of comfortable inaction” (John F Kennedy).  

  1. They value failure

If innovation is to prevail then one must differentiate between setback and capitulation; being defeated is a temporary position, giving up is permanent.

The scientist-entrepreneur understands that innovation is neither systematic nor is it predictable. Leading innovation requires incredible patience and incredible impatience; it requires optimism and absolute brutal realism. It means viewing inevitable failures as the ultimate educator.

  1. They leverage others

The scientist-entrepreneur recognises their limitations and leverages the expertise of others, with the people skills to lead cross-functionally. Steve Blank (father of the Lean Startup movement) puts it simply“The ‘must’ is to realize that just because you are the smartest person in the building does not make you capable to run a company”.

These are the kind of people we invest in at The iQ Group – because with our expertise supporting and championing a scientist-entrepreneur with these qualities, we are confident that together we can build great companies that will make a significant impact on human health. They are the kind of people that the nation desperately needs if we are to capitalise on our wealth of medical research.

So are you a scientist-entrepreneur? Get in touch to share your story, or to add characteristics I may have left off the list!

This article was originally published on The iQ Group Global website. Read more at: http://theiqgroupglobal.com/blog/

Dr Cameron Ferris

Dr Cameron Ferris is an innovation professional passionate about the translation of scientific research into commercial and patient outcomes. In his current role of Commercialisation Manager with The iQ Group Global, Cameron drives investment and partnering with early stage biotechnology assets, to ultimately create the medicines of the future and improve lives through innovation.  Before iQ Global Cameron held roles in research commercialisation with the ARC Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science and as Research & Development Manager with Ernst & Young (EY), where he managed marquee client engagements with innovative companies across the health & life sciences, financial services and technology sectors.  He currently sits on the Advisory Board of Inventia Life Science, a Sydney-based start-up developing a novel 3D bioprinting platform.

Have you got what it takes to be a ‘scientist-entrepreneur’ or researcher- entrepreneur  from another discipline?  Contact iAccelerate the UOW start-up incubator  and see how you can engage with their programs and events.

Do you have all the characteristics above? 

How can you develop them?  Include your ideas below


Leave a Reply

Required fields are marked *.

Skip to toolbar