Saturday, 8 February 2014

Want to be a successful entrepreneur? try a doctorate

The recent sale of London tech start-up DeepMind to Google for a reported £400m is the latest in a series of deals highlighting the ever-increasing entrepreneurial spirit of Britain's scientists - and does much to dispel the myth that the UK is good at science but poor at innovation and enterprise.
It was particularly noteworthy that the founder Demis Hassabis, a computer science graduate, having achieved some initial commercial success, decided to carry out postgraduate research in neuroscience at UCL en route to founding DeepMind. This serves as a reminder that postgraduate research can be an effective route, not simply to an academic or research-based career, but also as a successful entrepreneur.

The skills that are essential for research provides an extraordinarily good training to be an entrepreneur: analysis of complex problems, the ability to remain focused under pressure, a commitment to hard work and - most importantly - a willingness to fail and keep trying. 

Dr Hassabis reflects on the increasing importance of research and innovation at disciplinary boundaries - in DeepMind's case, between computer science and neuroscience. It is likely that such cross-displinary innovation will largely emerge from those who have invested their time and energy in postgraduate research. The UK's doctoral student community is brimming with many budding entrepreneurs - but we need to equip them with the capital, expertise, mentorship and facilities necessary for successful business development - if we are to turn that promise into value for Britain's economy. 

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