Entrepreneurship is not an endeavour reserved for the talented, it’s a set of skills anyone can learn.
Contributor Annalise Smith
Entrepreneurship is often viewed as an endeavor reserved only for the very select few who were born with a rare combination of talents. Not so, said Simon Mosey, Professor of Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Nottingham University Business School, speaking at the Entrepreneurship for Scientists and Engineers Workshop at the Naturejobs Career Expo in London on September 19. “Entrepreneurship is a set of skills that anyone can learn,” he declared.
Mosey similarly punctured what he said were two other myths about entrepreneurship: that entrepreneurs can see into the future and that entrepreneurs do it all themselves. These myths suggest that stars such as Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg have skills that others lack. Mosey called these notions “nonsense.” Success in entrepreneurship is “not an individual pursuit” he explained. Behind Job’s and Zuckerberg’s success “is a large team of clever individuals working together in a group to realize the common vision.”
Mosey outlined a series of steps for pursuing an entrepreneurial opportunity.
Stage I: Problem Definition
It all starts with a problem, but identifying a problem that needs solving. Mosey outlined how to approach this in three steps: 1) Describe the problem and recognize the opportunities. 2) Explore the dynamics of the problem and 3) Understand the root causes of the problem. This will provide a solid foundation to then move on to using science or technology to do something about it.
As an example Mosey addressed the problem of low recycling rates in the UK. Exploring the dynamics and root causes resulted in a unique approach to tackling the issue by figuring out how to produce less waste rather than more recycling efforts. This now recasts the problem in such a way that makes it easier to see ways in which “science can do quite a lot about it” Mosey explained.
Stage II: Idea Discovery
The true test is to come up with ideas to solve the problem that has been identified. He stressed the need for quantity of ideas over quality, especially at first. Even “bad” ideas, he said, can “lead somewhere that’s new, exciting and different.” Mosey cited Linus Pauling’s famous statement that the best way to have good ideas is to have lots of ideas, and to throw away the bad ones. Taking time to consider and reflect upon these ideas is a critical next step. Following the example of low recycling rates in the UK, Mosey presented some modest solutions such as reduced packaging as well as more radical ones, such as sending waste into space. The main point, Mosey stressed, was “not to be afraid of coming up with bad ideas.” He did, however, say that it was important to make even the “wilder” ideas more scientific. Using scientific knowledge to find solutions to problems “could lead to numerous possibilities, one of which could result in a career opportunity,” he said.
Stage III: Solution Determination
The next step is to sort and sift and organize ideas into categories. The primary objective is to narrow all the ideas down to one, choose the best solution and begin the process of implementation — which Mosey described as the “hard work of building a system that works.” At this stage, one should also consider the business mechanisms by which the new ideas can generate income. Is it smarter to create a start-up company or to sell the idea to someone who will now have his or her name associated with it? Along these lines, the selected solution to the recycling problem in the UK was to create a more economical alternative to waste oil disposal by designing a filter to convert the waste oil into biodiesel.
Finding solutions to a problem is not the only entrepreneurial path, though. In fact, Mosey said, for life scientists the process often goes the other way around: taking technologies you may have floating around in your lab and using them to address social or medical problems. Mosey provided an example from a business plan competition, which used an existing technology called IdentiScentTM; described as “ a quick and dirty DNA type test”; like an electronic nose that creates unique signatures for every organic compound or individual. Ideas for commercializing the IdentiScentTM technology included solving medical problems such as organ matching or social problems such as bomb detection in public places.
Early career scientists face many challenges as they seek to capitalize on their many years of study. “The best way to keep your options open,” Mosley said, “is to develop your entrepreneurial skills.