Starting a Startup after your PhD

Self-awareness, determination, expertise, project management… the skills required to launch a startup are very similar to those you gain throughout the duration of a PhD. So why do so few PhD students seriously consider launching a startup as a serious career pursuit post-PhD? In this week’s PhD Life post, Chengcheng Kang considers the value of entrepreneurship in the PhD journey…

I have been working as an innovation fellow in the Enterprise Group at the University of Warwick for two terms now and I have talked to many undergraduate and masters students about their startup ideas. However, I’ve only had one PhD student show up – ever! I have been wondering why less PhD students are interested in entrepreneurship. With the most cutting edge knowledge, surely we should have the best foresight in our corresponding fields. Do we just have less time to develop ideas? Are we waiting until after graduation? Do we think startups are too great a risk? I have been reading a lot around this topic, and have come to the conclusion that launching a startup is a reasonable and manageable path for PhDs to consider.


I believe startups are a mind-training opportunity that can shape our thinking from academia into practice. This can help with project management, communication skills and presenting ideas, useful skills for any future job. During the last seminar with the Warwick Innovation and Entrepreneurship Programme, a lecturer told us that during a pitch, the investor or panel member judges the pitcher in less than 7 seconds. So learning how to impress others and explain your project in a comprehensive and detailed way is extremely important. This requires skills such as self-awareness, teamwork, developing ideas, addressing an audience and executing a presentation: all things we also require within the PhD.


Besides the skill transferability, why else should a PhD consider starting a startup? Jack Leeming’s blog discusses how startups are often led by seasoned professors who build the project based on their research interests and findings. He argues that “it’s now more viable than ever to start a science based company straight out of a PhD”. With many grants outside the university that support the commercialization of research, there are plenty of resources and opportunities to get started. Inside the university, there may be some form of internal funding. As suggest, if you value independence, creativity and autonomy, you are already suitable to becoming an entrepreneur. A startup might be the right path for you: with the right motivation and resources you could make your idea work. Whilst you are still a student, I would recommend finding out about entrepreneurship training at your university – training can contribute to not only good entrepreneurship as a potential career path, but will also develop the skills you use in your PhD and help you become more confident in these.


Do you see value in pursuing a startup after your PhD? What services does your university offer for startup support and entrepreneurship? Tweet us at @ResearchEx, email us at, or leave a comment below.


Chengcheng Kang is a PhD candidate from Beijing, China in Group of Information System Management at the Warwick Business School. You may contact her on Twitter at @cckkcc29


Image: light-pear-current-lamp-idea-2565575 / jplenioCC0 1.0

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