Why Scientists Should Embrace Entrepreneurship: Unleashing Deep Tech’s Potential


The leap from the lab to the boardroom is one filled with potential: for innovation, for economic growth, and for societal advancement. Scientists venturing into entrepreneurship is not just a choice but a necessary step in bridging the gap between research breakthroughs and real-world applications. This post will explore why scientists should consider entrepreneurship and the intricacies of building a deep tech company.

The Lure of Entrepreneurship for Scientists

Scientists are at the forefront of discovery, and by stepping into entrepreneurship, they can directly steer their innovations towards market needs, amplifying their impact. The translation of complex scientific research into viable products requires an entrepreneurial mindset, and who better to take on this challenge than the creators themselves?

Estonia is recognized as a trailblazer in startup entrepreneurship, yet its scientists have been somewhat reticent to make the leap into business. The potential for Estonian scientists in entrepreneurship is vast, particularly when considering the country’s pioneering status in digital innovation and e-governance. A researcher from the University of Tartu points out that while there is significant literature on university-business cooperation, there is a gap at the individual level. Successful collaboration, as observed in Estonia, hinges on symmetric relationships — where both scientists and entrepreneurs share equal motivation and capacity for absorbing new information. This synergy can propel novel value creation for society, bridging the so-called ‘European paradox,’ where despite high-standard academic research, less reaches businesses compared to other regions. As Estonia strides forward, there is an untapped reservoir of innovation waiting to be unleashed by scientists stepping into entrepreneurship, supported by measures encouraging knowledge transfer, and fostering environments where researchers and businesses can interact and understand each other’s motivations and capabilities​​.


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Hurdles in Deep Tech Entrepreneurship

Building a deep tech company is no small feat. From navigating the waters of intellectual property rights in academia to balancing the dual roles of researcher and entrepreneur, the path is fraught with challenges. Operational complexities, conflict of interest policies in universities, and the need for significant capital can deter many. Yet, understanding these barriers is the first step to overcoming them.

The relationship between a scientist’s academic duties and entrepreneurial aspirations can be complex. Universities often have stringent policies regarding commercial activities. Scientists must seek clarity on these policies and find synergies that benefit both the institution and their startup, while maintaining transparency to avoid conflicts of interest.

Risk Mitigation Strategies

Risk is inherent in entrepreneurship, more so in the deep tech arena. To mitigate risks, scientists must adopt a strategic approach, from securing patents to understanding market dynamics. It involves building a multidisciplinary team, engaging with industry experts, and crafting a solid business strategy that complements the scientific endeavor.

Advice from Venture Capitalists

Venture capitalists typically seek out scalable business models and robust management teams. They advise deep tech entrepreneurs to demonstrate a clear path to market and show potential for high returns on investment. Scientists must learn to speak the language of investors and articulate the value proposition of their innovations in commercial terms.

Transitioning from Grants to Investor Funding

Moving from grant-based funding to investor capital is a significant shift. It requires a change in mindset from scientific research to commercial viability. Scientists must learn to align their project milestones with business goals and investor expectations, ensuring sustainability beyond the initial funding stages.

Conclusion: An Invitation to Deepen Your Knowledge

For scientists considering the entrepreneurial path, the journey is as challenging as it is rewarding. By understanding the pitfalls and preparing adequately, scientists can make significant contributions to the world of business and technology. To delve deeper into these topics and join a community of like-minded professionals, we encourage you to visit the DeepEST Forum 2024 on 24 January 2024! This hybrid event will offer further insights into building a deep tech enterprise, managing relationships with academia, and navigating the investment landscape. Don’t miss this opportunity to transform your scientific prowess into entrepreneurial success.