Can You Marry Research with Entrepreneurship?

Updated on January 27th, 2023

July 17th 2020

This text was fully written by humans.


  • “You just set up a company and you do research in the evenings” — it is much harder than it seems, as both business and research require intellectual effort.

  • In this article, we introduce 8 ways of marrying research with business, so that you can leverage your academic skills to make extra income.  

  • We finish the article by explaining how Ontology of value works.

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Is There a Best Business Development Strategy To Marry Research With Entrepreneurship?

One of the popular questions asked by PhD graduates, is whether or not it is possible to marry research with entrepreneurship. It’s a perfectly valid question given that academics and entrepreneurs have many things in common.

For instance, they have the freedom to plan their working day. They focus on innovation. They need to stand out from the crowd to develop a career. Or even have a job in the first place and work on professional development.

However, there is no simple answer to this question. This article lists some common caveats and proposes business development ideas to address these issues.

Common Business Development Strategy Issues With Juggling Research and Entrepreneurship.

To start with, many researchers get the idea of developing a company in daily life, and doing research as a side hustle. It seems so easy. You just set up a company and you do research in the evenings.

Especially if you only do computational research – and you don’t even need a wet lab or equipment to do your job – what’s your problem? Especially given that you can always contact people through Twitter, Zoom, or email?

Well, one thing can definitely go wrong with your business development strategy. Namely, the day only lasts for 24 hours, while both entrepreneurship and research are intellectually draining.

As a budding entrepreneur, you need to do everything around the company. Among other responsibilities, you need to:

  • Develop the actual product or service,
  • Conduct free initiatives next to it for promotion,
  • Become your own PR agency and sales representative,
  • Communicate through social media,
  • Communicate with the clients and leads,
  • Manage the company website,
  • Find new revenue streams,
  • Take care of the operations,
  • Handle the taxes,
  • Look for new collaboration opportunities.

Plus, you won’t include any vacations or free weekends in you business development strategy.

This, by itself, can lead to an utter physical exhaustion. Having a company is like having an infant that you need to babysit, or otherwise, it will die. Even if you delegate a part of your work, you will need to train and supervise those whom you’ve delegated your work to. 

Plus, you’ll need to pay them and make sure that you have enough extra income on top of what you pay yourself. This creates an additional difficulty and source of stress.

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How to Push Your Mind To Do Research and Entrepreneurship At a Time?

To do research, you need to be able to put your mind in a particular, focused/relaxed state. And then, you will need to burn a lot of energy on solving complex, specialistic problems. Without the daily routine, this is just hard. It feels like using a muscle that is not stretched enough. Of course, you can do it, but it will hurt or itch in some way.

So, once you start a company, you might soon notice that your research manuscripts keep on piling up on your desk. There is never enough time left to wrap them up and send them out to journals! You just always hope that you’ll find time tomorrow.

Of course, there are some exceptional people out there. These robocops can intellectually engage their brains 24/7 and have the mental flexibility to jump from one topic to another all day long. But the vast majority of people don’t have this skill. Or, they lose this skill right after they hit 30 or 35.

Do you wish to combine entrepreneurship with doing something else in general? Usually, entrepreneurship goes much better with a part-time, “steady, safe office job” rather than research.

As a part of the business development strategy, many entrepreneurs hold part-time jobs to secure their income before their company becomes profitable. They usually use these jobs not only to pay their bills but also, to rest for a while from the crazy ride that entrepreneurship provides in their lives.

These Days When You Feel Like a Loser.

Mind also that it can be a frustrating situation if you are the only non-funded person on the project. This sounds like it’s not that big of a deal but just give it a thought.

If you write a research paper as an independent researcher, you need to burn time that you would otherwise use to develop your company. Thus, researching the side doesn’t increase your income in any way, or can even substantially harm it.

Now imagine that all the people whom you collaborate with on this project, are on academic contracts. This means that by working on the project and publishing your work, you are indirectly working for them for free.

Your work just helps them in getting their next academic contracts. This can be frustrating in the long run. After all, you don’t want to work for free for someone else’s salary.

To sum up, marrying entrepreneurship with research is not the easiest thing under the sun. But, there are some ways, in which you can — at least to some extent — succeed at this. Please find a few life hacks below.

1. Become a Freelancing Data Scientist Using Scientific Methodology.

Data science contains the term “science” for a reason. It’s not always algorithmic and it can also require creativity and research mind. It all depends on you and on the types of projects that you choose to pursue.

You can pitch yourself as a “high-class problem-solver who enjoys challenges” and price your work accordingly. And, you can be sure that you will be given much more challenging and personally rewarding tasks than fitting linear regression models. Thus, you will also get a chance to work on your professional development.

Of course, this solution only works if you don’t have any desire to publish your research projects under your name. In this case, you are just a subcontractor. You need to give your baby away and sell the IP.

Freelancing solo can also be an isolating and individualistic job – although in most cases, freelancers talk to their clients regularly during the duration of the project. So, if ownership of the projects is important to you and if you prefer teamwork over working solo, this solution might be frustrating in the long run.

2. Become a Side-Kick Researcher.

You can also become a freelancer or a small entrepreneur who occasionally pursues research projects on the side for their satisfaction. Usually, it’s good to choose brief, fast-paced and timed research projects (for example, Hackathon projects) as side projects. This approach will also affect your professional development.

Otherwise, you’ll get distracted from your work too much. As mentioned above, dividing your time between leading the company and doing research over a long period can be exhaustive. Sprint group Hackathon projects also have the benefit that you can meet plenty of interesting people every time.

This approach requires a lot of energy, but many people have the stamina to do so. For example, Piotr Migdał who holds a PhD in Quantum Physics works as a freelance Data Scientist and still actively pursues research on the side.

Usually, he achieves this by developing and leading brief Hackathon projects (that sometimes even get published). Some entrepreneurs who are former researchers, have a different approach and use to take 1-2 week vacations now and then with the sole purpose to lock themselves in a cabin in the woods carrying out research sprints just for pleasure.

3. Set a Startup Based On R&D.

This is quite a popular approach in IT and biotech. New products in technology often stem from scientific research or a scientific concept.

For example, Menten AI, a successful startup funded by Y Combinator and launched by PhDs, is based on the concept of designing new proteins using quantum computing.

Your company can be based on your research, your research concept, or a patent stemming from your research. In that case, you will be close to researching each stage of the company’s growth.

4. Invest in R&D-Based Startups.

In the future, once you build some level of personal wealth, you can also engage in business development activities in another way. Namely, you can invest your private capital in new startups stemming from research.

In particular, you might look at startups in the field in which you have your research background. For fresh entrepreneurs, acquiring capital in the early stage is always the biggest problem. Thus, such seed investors are highly valued and respected.

As a private investor, you will be in touch with young and ambitious people who do the actual projects. You can supervise and advise them on both the R&D and the business side of the project, steer them in the right direction marketing-wise, help them to work on their professional development and connect them with people in your network.

A role of a private investor has much in common with the role of a Principal Investigator in academia. You sponsor more junior people, mentor them, share your contacts with them, brainstorm with them, help them every time they pack themselves into trouble, and get a piece of the pie in an exchange. And, you can mitigate risks by having multiple mentees at a time.

This solution also solves a problem mentioned before. Namely, the problem is that it’s draining to do entrepreneurship and research at a time.

Once you have your startup, you take full responsibility for it just as if it was a baby. You’ll go to any length to make your startup work, and you’ll have that additional boost of energy to research if it means helping your startup and building your career path.

5. Keep the Academic Position, And Start a Little, Home-Based Business As a Side-Hustle.

In such a small business, you can monetize on your hobby such as yoga, fitness, or creating artwork (jewelry, paintings, sculptures, et cetera.) You can then sell your work online or launch courses or retreats in your free time.

You can also train yourself as a coach, offer online coaching, and help others to work on their professional development. It can be a nice counterbalance to the everyday grind around research manuscripts.

Mentoring and coaching others has a great positive influence on mental health. Thus, it can even help you in dealing with everyday struggles. Such activity also helps to work on your professional development.

6. Develop a Consultancy Company On the Side As a Researcher.

Many researchers develop a company related to their research field, for example, a company that analyzes data for other companies.

This option is available primarily for senior researchers who already established their name in the research community. It is because you’ll most likely need to be the face of the company and delegate the actual work within the company to your employees.

As mentioned before, doing data analysis after working hours would probably be too intellectually absorbing. Some senior professors develop such a consultancy company on the side. However, in reality, their business development strategy is to sell their services with their name and face, while their employees do the actual job.

7*. Create a Company That Provides Services to Academics.

Let’s assume that you would like to do business and still stay in academia with one foot, but you don’t feel like doing active academic research anymore. In that case, you can still create a company that provides services to academics. It can be coaching, education, soft skills training, mental health consultancy, or IT services.

Universities have dedicated budgets for hiring external experts and companies, and they work with lots of subcontractors! This is a neat solution in case what you value in academia the most is people. In this way, you will still be working with academics and on your professional development but different terms than before.

8*. Set a Startup That Creates an Infrastructure For Academia.

Let’s now assume that you’re not interested in pursuing active research anymore. However, you would still like to actively contribute to building a better academic system. You can then think of setting up a startup that creates an infrastructure for academia, for example, new practices for academic research.

For instance, Liberate Science is a startup that aims to democratize science, by building platforms that allow for sharing research in real-time.

There are hundreds of similar projects running around the globe at the moment. They are all about building online environments to better collaborate, share and/or present research, and store and/or share the datasets. And there is still plenty of room for new solutions in this space.

What Is The Edge of Researchers In Business?

Having all that said, what do you represent as a researcher that could help you in business development activities? There are a few things, of course.

The arguments that often come up in the discussion over “What’s your edge as a researcher?” are the ability to solve problems, the ability to create new solutions, innovation, paying attention to detail, diligence, et cetera. However, what is often overlooked, is the fact that business is based on trust

Namely, in business, people often “get inspired” by others, namely steal ideas and execute them without acknowledgement. 

Researchers are grown in a culture in which sharing authorship with contributors and acknowledging others are the obvious part of the research practice that gets into your blood. And, where everyone has the ambition to come up with new ideas and promote them — stealing is a massive disgrace. 

If you behave in the same way when you engage in business development activities, you will gain a lot of trusts. If you apply this academic code of conduct to business, you will observe that the more projects you work on, the more meetups and conferences you attend, the more people you meet, and the more people get attracted to you and desire to work with you. And that’s gold.

How It Is Done in Ontology of Value.®

In Ontology of Value,® the aim is to merge strategies (3) and (7). Namely, the company provides services dedicated to researchers and research institutions (#7). At the same time, we have the ambition to conduct systematic research of the job market (#3) — a merge between psychometrics and machine learning, however crazy that sounds.

As mentioned in the blog post, “The Nosedive,“ it’s challenging to research the job market as it’s not rocket science. There is no transparency, there is a little amount of hard data. What we know about the job market so far mostly comes from street knowledge. But, Ontology of Value aims to change this situation in the future!

Conclusion: What Business Development Strategy To Use to Marry Research with Entrepreneurship?

So, if you think about merging research with entrepreneurship: it’s not going to be easy. It’s going to be a lot of hard work. You need to remember that academics and entrepreneurs are two different cultures that speak different languages and value different qualities.

It can lead to many mental traps and cultural clashes. But, if you have an intuition that this is the right direction for you, then perhaps some of the strategies mentioned above will work in your business development activities. Good luck!

If you consider going in the entrepreneurial direction as a researcher, the main cultural differences between entrepreneurship and academia are covered in the book, “What Is Out There for Me? The Landscape of Post-PhD Career Tracks.“

We recommend our articles on related topics which may prove helpful when starting a business: “How (Not) to Build a Business”  and “Business Development Responsibilities: Looking for a Co-founder? Read This Before You Make Your Choice.”

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At this intensive online training, you will focus on discovering your identity as a professional, and learn effective career development strategies for landing great jobs.

We will help you choose the right career path, assist you in landing your new job, and teach you self-navigation strategies that will guarantee your success in professional development, and serve you for a lifetime!

Please find all the information about our incoming, game-changing program here:

Please cite as:

Bielczyk, N. (2020, July 17th). Can You Marry Research with Entrepreneurship? Retrieved from https://ontologyofvalue.com/business-development-strategy-can-you-marry-research-with-entrepreneurship/

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