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14 reasons PhDs make exceptional entrepreneurs

PhD entrepreneurs

Increasingly burnt out, disenchanted PhDs are leaving academia behind to start their own businesses. And why wouldn’t they? Entrepreneurship provides lifestyle, intellectual, location, and financial independence, and as PhDs, we have the skills and ability to thrive in entrepreneurship. Here are 14 reasons PhDs are exceptional entrepreneurs.

1. Learn from failure

Did you have any failures as a PhD student? Haha, I laugh because it’s a ridiculous question that I already know the answer to. Every PhD student experiences failure. Experiences that you learnt from.

I did my PhD before cloud file management systems were the norm, and when I misplaced my USB that contained the only copy of all my research data and thesis draft. I turned my whole house upside down, I cried and finally, after thoughts of quitting, I finally found it in the inside pocket of my handbag. Crisis averted! Did I back up my USB device at the end of every workday for the rest of my candidature? You better believe it.

A PhD sets you up to have a growth mindset. You learn from failure and use it to make better decisions in the future.

2. Expert knowledge

While it often doesn’t feel like it within the walls of academia, you know more than almost everyone on your topic. In entrepreneurial circles, I often hear coaches say; “it’s okay if you don’t have a PhD, you can learn”. But you have a PhD so you can focus your time and energy on learning how to run a successful company while your competitors are busy learning that plus becoming an expert in the topic.

It takes most online entrepreneurs years to build us their expert status. Your PhD provides instant social proof that you are knowledgeable. This allows you to gain clients quicker than someone who is starting their business with no PhD.

3. Solve complex problems

Innovation is the bedrock of business. Your ability to solve complex problems and come up with innovative solutions, no matter how small will set you apart in the business world.

4. Know how to find answers

Your ability to research allows you to find the answers to any roadblock that comes your way as an entrepreneur. So many entrepreneurs struggle because they don’t know how to define the problem and then seek out the answers. You, on the other hand, were trained for this.

5. Scientific mind

There are a lot of gurus and marketing magic bullets sold to new entrepreneurs. Your scientific training gives you a bullshit radar that will save you time and money.

6. Create information/knowledge

The online world is crowded, but many entrepreneurs are just regurgitating information. You know how to create new information and knowledge that will swiftly set you apart from your competitors.

7. Data-driven decisions

Successful businesses use data to make crucial decisions. Your ability to truly understand data means you are primed to build a data-driven business.  “Data-driven organizations are not only 23 times more likely to acquire customers, but they’re also six times as likely to retain customers and 19 times more likely to be profitable!” Keboola 2019

8. Desire for impact

Every client I have supported to build their dream business has been driven by a desire to make a more significant impact. A considerable part of most PhDs calling is to make an impact, and your desire to make an impact will drive your business success.

9. Collaborative

I account a considerable part of the success of my first online business to the collaborations that I set up. As a PhD, you have learnt how to navigate complex relationships and leverage them to your advantage. Transferring those skills to the business world will allow you to ‘borrow’ other’s authority as you build your own. Thereby fast-tracking the establishment of your ‘know, like, trust’ that is paramount in online service businesses.

10. Self-starter

At the time, it was frustrating beyond belief, but that absent supervisor/PI and lack of direction from your program meant you learnt how to be a self-starter and rely only on yourself.

Many people struggle with setting their own hours as a business owner after years in an industry job, but you have always set your own hours. You know how to work when creativity strikes and how to push through when it doesn’t.

11. Resourceful

During the start-up stage of business, resources are lean. You know all about making the most of a small pool of resources. Your ability to stretch funds, provide the rationale for every dollar spent and make do with what you have will mean you can quickly grow through the lean stage of your business and start thriving.

12. Resilient

When the knocks of entrepreneurship hit, you will get back up and try again.

You are used to setbacks and know that if you keep going, you will succeed. The most successful entrepreneurs have achieved success because they never gave up, just like you did to get your PhD.

13. Love of learning

Entrepreneurship is the most immense personal development journey you’ll ever go on. Your love of learning will help you grow and expand beyond your wildest imagination. Entrepreneurship gives you the freedom to learn, teach, research, and grow in ways academia can never do. Your love of learning will help you soar as an entrepreneur.

14. You have grit

Steve Jobs said, “I’m convinced that about half of what separates successful entrepreneurs from the non-successful ones is pure perseverance.” You could replace entrepreneurs in this quote with PhDs. Of course, it takes some smarts to earn a PhD, but without persisting in the face of setbacks, you wouldn’t be where you are today. That grit will serve you well as an entrepreneur.


Ready to start your entrepreneurial journey but want some support? My Business Accelerator coaching is specifically designed to support PhDs in turning their knowledge and expertise into impact and income.

Want me to talk to a group of PhDs about starting their own business? Check out my speaking and workshops here.


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14 reasons PhDs make exceptional entrepreneurs

Increasingly burnt out, disenchanted PhDs are leaving academia behind to start their own businesses. And why wouldn’t they? Entrepreneurship provides lifestyle, intellectual, location, and financial