How does being an entrepreneur fit in with an academic career? Increasingly, scientists do not need to sacrifice academic freedom for the opportunity to bring their discoveries to market. These days, there is a room for those with creativity, courage, and capability to engage in academic entrepreneurship. You can take their work beyond a publication by patenting and commercializing resulting technologies. 

How do you convert your academic research into a successful business?

Fortunately, as an investigator you are already equipped with many of the necessary skills to take their research idea to the market. The attributes of traditional scientists, including inner drive, rigor, and technical skills will be incredibly valuable to you. And importantly, you are self-motivated and know how to work with limited funding. In addition to the skills of a transitional scientist, you must also possess the attributes of traditional entrepreneurs, such as the ability to recognize business opportunities and create value for the customer, and the willingness to take risks. Academic entrepreneurs must be able to aim high while delivering on their promises and discerning which research endeavors are most likely to contribute to the bottom line. You can find some resources at the bottom of the page to help you with this.

Finding entrepreneurial inspiration

The number of patents, licenses, and spin-off companies created by academics is increasing. According to a study published in 2009 by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Sloan School of Management, alumni from MIT had created 25,800 active companies with worldwide annual sales of $2 trillion. Early-career scientists can find role models among the many prolific academics who have become successful entrepreneurs, including biochemist Herbert Boyer, who co-founded Genentech, and chemist George Whitesides, who co-founded Genzyme and many other companies from his academic bases at MIT and Harvard University. Every year, the MIT Technology Review “35 Innovators Under 35” (TR35) program recognizes talented scientists who pursue groundbreaking business ideas, at an early stage in their career..Research Skills that are Transferrable to Entrepreneurship• Research question (business idea): You have identified a gap in knowledge and/or a problem that needs to be solved.• Literature review (market research): You undertake extensive research to show how solving this problem or filling the gap in knowledge would benefit society.• Project proposal (business plan): You propose a solution to the problem and support it with statistics and relevant research. If it’s an entrepreneurial initiative, then you develop a comprehensive business plan to complete your project.• Lectures/Conferences (networking): You attend conferences, communicate your research with others, and network with people from the same field. You also lecture students, present your work at meetings, and write reports on your progress.• Funding: To ensure successful completion of your research project, you may have to apply for funding by writing research grants, just as you may have to pitch your business ideas to investors for start-up funding.• Time, energy, and dedication: These traits have helped you complete your PhD and now they will be valuable for your business venture.

Getting Started

1. Define your product or service: Whatever you choose, it needs to be important to you, because only then will you do everything you can to make it work.

2. Protect your ideas: Consult the Mount Sinai technology transfer office about patenting your idea if necessary.

3. Read: You are capable of finding the information you need to help you decide whether your idea is worth pursuing.o Do your market research.o Educate yourself well on all aspects of your business.o Develop skills that you are lacking: Learn about entrepreneurship, business strategy, fundraising, intellectual property, and more through free online courses.

4. Self-efficacy: Initially you may have to do everything yourself (market research, web design, advertising, production) just like you do in research

5. Test rigorously: Ensure that your products and/or services are well–thought-out and well-tested and continue testing them.

6. Learn from failure: You have learnt to stay motivated despite failure during your academic research. The same will apply to your business. Be patient and learn from your mistakes.

7. Network: Create a support system of mentors and collaborators and be willing to help others. Connect with motivated people who believe in your mission. Furthermore, hire experts to help you so that you can free up more time.

8. Advertise: Develop your brand and regularly share your work with the world using different platforms. Use the web, give talks, use social media, and write blogs. You are already familiar with “publish or perish” from academia, you need to apply this in business too.

9. Be competitive: You worked hard to publish your research quickly to stay ahead of your competition. The same applies to entrepreneurship—nobody plays fair in business. Do not delay, get your product out there before someone else does.

10. Create a successful plan: Follow your business plan and review it regularly. Always modify it as you go.

Resources you need to help you get involved in entrepreneurship

Mount Sinai Resources

  • Mount Sinai Health Hackathon This innovation competition immerses participants from diverse disciplines in multidisciplinary and transdisciplinary teams and foster experiential learning through communication, collaboration and problem solving.
  • Mount Sinai Innovators Group (MSIG) MSIG brings together aspiring entrepreneurs with veteran founders and industry experts through panel discussions, lectures, and networking events to share best practices, collaborate on projects, and inspire innovation within the Mount Sinai community and beyond.
  • Mobile App Studio The Center leads through collaboration and innovation in the development, use, training and evaluation of informatics to support medical research, improve patient outcomes and facilitate continuous quality improvement.
  • Sinai BioDesign works with clinicians and researchers in their environments to identify problems, pain points, and inefficiencies and help guide the development of practical, effective solutions in areas such as: AI platforms for personalized healthcare, surgical devices for improved patient safety and efficacy, wearable devices to monitor brain health, and medical imaging and 3D printing for surgical planning.
  • Mount Sinai Innovation Partners MSIP has resources to help budding academic entrepreneurs through ad-hoc courses and access to their transfer offices. MSIP supports the creation of up to 10 technology-based startups per year, with a total of 21 startups still currently in operation. Individual team members and advisers also have direct experiences starting, growing, funding, and selling new ventures. You can arrange a one-to-one on startup ideas, challenges, and opportunities for Mount Sinai faculty and students 
  • Diversity Innovation Hub (DIH) DIH is a Mount Sinai Venture tasked with cultivating innovative solutions to address Social Determinants of Health. Utilizing tailored programs and resourceful partnerships – the DIH aims to curb the rising tide of health disparities and increase representation of women and minorities in healthcare innovation.
  • The Hasso Plattner Institute for Digital Health at Mount Sinai strives to develop research projects and artificial intelligence technologies to improve our ability to diagnose and treat patients

Education Programs

  • Training in Biomedical Innovation and Entrepreneurship As an increasing number of graduates are seeking and going into industry or other non-academic careers while companies large and small are experiencing a growing need for trained professionals who can manage biomedical innovation and commercialization processes. To address these emerging demands, the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences is offering training opportunities in intellectual property, commercialization processes, and related business fundamentals. The program includes practical educational opportunities both inside and outside of the classroom.



External Resources

Harvard Business Review: New Research: The Skills That Make an Entrepreneur 

Science Magazine: The Third Way: Becoming an Academic Entrepreneur 

Why PhDs are potential entrepreneurs?

How to use your graduate school training to create a successful business without any investors 

Entrepreneurship Essentials I: The Academic Entrepreneur