Career stories: doctoral entrepreneurs
"Creating something that enables other people to grow and develop has been really enjoyable. Having the autonomy to decide what I want to do every day has been excellent too."
Alex decided to set up his business, an independent software vendor, after initially trialling it during his final year as a doctoral researcher.
CEO of social media strategy company
Andy completed his doctorate in materials science and eventually decided to do an MBA to enable him to get the full picture of how a business works and marry this with the engineering that he already knew. Since then he has set up a number of different businesses.
Andy has been involved in a few business start ups and feels it is not something you ever lose the appetite for! "You stand and fall by the decisions you make, it’s great not having to do everything by committee..."
As CEO of Kromek Arnab feels the technical side of his doctorate is of less importance than other skills he learnt during that period: the discipline to finish things; the need to create your own plan; to drive your own plan; and to be focused but creative.
Atul completed PhD in accountancy and finance. Now he runs a social enterprise called Diverse Ethics, which focuses on cultural diversity. He feels that when you are brought up in a very structured textbook-oriented method of learning, the doctorate frees you because you are able to develop an independent voice and different method of thinking.
Barrie is the Research Director at Monica Healthcare, a university spin-out applying wireless technology to healthcare. He feels that his doctoral studies in electronic engineering were very useful to him in fostering independence and an aptitude to seek out answers to questions on his own – and developed his capacity for critical analysis.
Barrie describes himself as being a "portfolio careerist", with autonomy and independence as his main values. He learnt a great deal from his university experiences, which helped him to develop his entrepreneurial career – not least of which was learning to write books, as they are always a great marketing tool and networking device. Barrie did his PhD in Psychology.
Bill realised that he’d been living a freelance life even while he was working – people didn’t call the Polytechnic, they called him at home. He wasn’t trying to set up a business, but the transition from employment to self-employment was practically seamless.
Caron runs Kingswood, a change and performance improvement consultancy. She would advise others to "focus on the skills that your research has given you, and not just the knowledge. There are many parallels between consulting and the process of being a doctoral researcher..."
Now a training consultant, Dave feels his doctorate in public international law gave him a huge amount of confidence. The process of finishing something so challenging, navigating supervisors, and managing himself and his time taught him a lot about how he now manages his work.
Emma runs Spotty Dog Productions and The Little Soap Company. She says she loves the fact that, while others are terrified of the insecurity of losing their jobs, she feels more secure than most – even though she's working for herself.
Jenny is a science education consultant. She feels it is useful to know that there are other women doing similar things to her – particularly in the area of science. Just having other people there, and knowing that they are going through the same thing, has been a tremendous source of strength.
Since completing a PhD in Sociology, Jo runs a coaching and academic research development consultancy. She believes that you should be able to earn a living doing something you love – and that most academics love research.
Joanne runs Favio, a company that manufactures an innovative backless bra. At doctoral study level she liked "that you are in control of your own destiny and your own learning. You can choose your path, and you get out what you put in..."
John runs Crossgen, which makes tools for gene expression. He says that, "Explaining a new idea to someone in the commercial sector can be difficult. Often they say ‘no’ because they don’t understand it. This can be helped with effective communication..."
Kate runs Interface 3, a consultancy specialising in the development of multi-touch interfaces. She went on a week-long course for doctoral students entitled the ‘Enterprisers Programme’, which covered aspects such as marketing, sales skills, etc. She recommends that future entrepreneurs look around their universities to identify commercial opportunities and funding.
Kenneth runs his own business conducting elections on behalf of labour unions. He manages between 18 and 24 elections a year, and would put his success down to a combination of having the time to figure out what to do next, luck, and being able to identify a gap in the market...
Madhuri loves the independence that having her own business has brought her, and the fact that she can determine how to grow and resource the business. In terms of applying the skills picked up during her doctorate, she uses her scientific skills all the time – especially those associated with experimental design and scientific strategy.
Mark runs MCH Consulting, a consultancy for the not-for-profit sector. He enjoys the challenge of being responsible for all aspects of the company, and constantly having to watch his own back. He believes the experience earned through his doctorate helps in this regard...
Mary runs her own social enterprise and says that, when setting up your own business, having the idea is not enough: "It is not what you want to sell that is important, it is what people want to buy. I’ve learnt this over life – it’s not about you, it’s about the customer..."
Max runs his own company, providing hi-tech consultancy to the ceramics industry. His doctorate provided him with skills and experience in writing technically demanding concepts clearly and succinctly. He feels this part of doctoral study is important, "because it is about selling your ideas and convincing people that there is a gap for your research..."
As a freelance training consultant, Nathan says, "Being freelance, you have to make sure you keep networking – it's really important to build your reputation and get yourself known..."
Neil runs the Student Switch Off campaign. Whilst studying for his doctorate in environmental science, he was considering options for his future career. Climate change was getting a lot of coverage in the media, and he selected this to be his primary motivation for setting up his enterprise – namely a need to raise awareness of the issue.
After PhD in Biotechnology, Nick is now working at Nottingham Biocity. He previously set up Scientific Solutions, a wastewater treatment consultancy, where he enjoyed and valued being responsible for his own success – and his own career.
Brian Tanner is Dean of Technology Transfer at Durham University, and the founder of a number of spin-out companies. He has enjoyed the challenge of starting technology businesses as – in creating gainful employment for scores of other people – he has done something which has had a large impact around the world...
David runs the Bumblebee Conservation Trust. He says the doctorate enabled him to develop skills in writing and presenting information. These latter skills have been particularly useful in the Trust, as it is about communicating with people – giving talks and presentations, and being able to adapt scientific language to talk to non-scientists...
Steve runs his own business, Critical Pharmaceuticals. He says developing contacts has been extremely important in developing the business. Pitching successfully to a wide range of people is vital. A doctorate teaches you to think on your feet, and laterally...
Rebecca describes herself as "a writer-editor-consultant, although 75% of her time is spent working for one organisation as a consultant in local public high schools. One of the challenges about consulting is that you always have to be on the look out for more work – so there is always the risk of instability..."