As a research professor, I played a role in both developing cutting-edge technologies and inspiring the next generation of tech professionals. I loved the adventure of diving into projects with my colleagues — never fully knowing where we would end up — and watching budding minds develop.
But the academic world does have its limitations. I was dissatisfied with the fact that my research wasn’t being applied in the real world, so I started my own business in the hopes of broadening the reach of my projects.
My background as a research professor has been invaluable to my success as an entrepreneur in more ways than I could have ever imagined. Here are five major reasons why research professors make great startup founders:
We Have a Smaller Learning Curve
Research professors who launch startups have a wealth of knowledge and experience that many startup founders lack. The research techniques I developed as a scholar have transferred exceptionally well to the business world and have helped my organization grow in a sustainable way. Possessing these skills from the get-go kept my startup ahead of the curve and accelerated its growth.
Researchers-turned-founders already know how to prove concepts — we’ve been doing it for years. We also know how to approach problem-solving with a creative and flexible mind. When we realize halfway through our project that all our data is inaccurate and that we need to start from scratch (which happens more often than you’d think), we’re able to take things in stride, think on our feet, and press on to find a solution.
We Have a Solid Tech Background
Professors have to stay on top of the latest trends and know about the newest state-of-the-art technologies well enough to teach students about them. We’re committed to an in-depth understanding that many businesses simply don’t have time for. In some cases, we’re even the ones coming up with the new technologies as part of our research.
There are often huge gaps between the latest technological advancements and what’s actually being used. Professors know how to combine technologies and use them to build new products in a very short period of time. This passion for technological innovation allows for a fast entry to the market.
We Have Fundraising Experience
Most people outside the world of academia don’t realize how much effort research professors put into fundraising. Writing a grant proposal is essentially like writing a business plan. The process is strikingly similar to pitching to investors while trying to secure funding. Both endeavors require extensive research to determine metrics and projections.
Successful entrepreneurs have to be able to communicate their ideas to people who can supply the funds to make their projects happen. As a former research professor, I already had a strong background in this.
We Have Access to Talent
As a professor, I got to know a large number of up-and-comers while they were still students. I didn’t just meet them, though; I had extensive interactions with them in many different contexts, both professionally and personally.
Oftentimes, the best students become the best professional team members. Young people who genuinely care about pursuing a career in the tech industry will demonstrate their work ethic and character as students. Professors have strong connections to these dedicated, brilliant people and can quickly scoop them up once they’re available to hire.
We Aren’t Afraid to Fail
No researcher has ever learned anything of value by being afraid of failure. We know that the pursuit of greater knowledge requires a fearless attitude. The unknown territory of innovation makes this work exciting, and it leads us to produce solid results that stand up to scrutiny.
Overcoming setbacks to find solutions requires immense persistence. Those who give up easily rarely find success or develop breakthrough ideas. Overnight success is rare; most projects require hard work and determination. Excellent entrepreneurs continue hunting for solutions until the job is done.
The word “professor” sometimes conjures images of a goofy old guy with graying hair and elbow pads on his tweed jacket — not exactly the prototype of a startup founder. But the transition from academics to entrepreneurship has been more seamless than I could have imagined. Research professors provide a skill set, mindset, and perspective that can quickly send a business down the path to success.
Roberto Ugo is co-founder and CTO of Movvo, an innovative platform that measures the flow of people in physical spaces and helps retailers enhance customers’ shopping experiences. Ugo specialized in business data networks and e-commerce at Boston University and the University of the West of Scotland and has an international background in engineering and computer sciences. Movvo won the first MIT Portugal Venture Competition and has offices in Portugal, Boston, and Silicon Valley.