Have you ever wondered as an academic whether entrepreneurship was for you? Whether you have the temperament for the endless hustle, the risk-taking, the fundraising and the confidence to just get out there and get on with it? What makes startups so special, anyway – and why is everyone doing it these days?

Universities have long been fertile grounds for discovery and innovation, powering scientific, social and industry developments through deep research, expert advice and commercialisation of innovations. Many of these innovations begin as startups, which if successful, can help drive societal change and support economic recovery through responsible growth.

Universities in Australia support entrepreneurship in lots of ways, not only within the curriculum but also through an impressive range of accelerators, incubators and innovation hubs. As part of its own program, UTS Startups Confessions shares insights from entrepreneurs about how they started, what they’ve built and how they got there, so others can learn from their experiences.

For those of you wondering what university-born entrepreneurs are made of, here are some observations from a few of those who have shared their UTS Startups stories in 2022.

Applying academic skills to entrepreneurship

As an academic, you already know how to apply for grants, research challenging problems, test, learn and test again. Congratulations – you have the makings of an entrepreneur!

If you are a researcher you already have the foundation of testing and understanding problems, because as a researcher you’re basically trying to solve problems… you have the framework. Building a startup is just like doing your research – you are trying to solve a problem and you’re finding a solution; the only difference is you have to commercialise it.

Naby Mariyam, Coverhero

You might need to rein in the need for 10 different approvals before releasing your idea to the world, however:

That whole idea that everything should be 100% right before going out […] I would do it, then my supervisor would check it, and then their supervisor would check it. In entrepreneur-land we don’t work like that – it’s like, throw something together and throw it out there and see what people think and take that feedback – they are the review process!

Anna Wright, BindiMaps

What’s so special about entrepreneurs, anyway?

It’s easy to think of startup founders as strange creatures who never sleep, with insatiable ambition, killer sales instincts and an innate ability to run a successful enterprise. These myths, however, can be unhelpful:

If we view entrepreneurship as this magical thing that’s ‘gatekeeped’ by people who are naturally talented at business it gives you a reason to not put effort into in the first place. 

Emily Bobis, Compass IoT

In fact, many of the founders in UTS Startup Confessions describe themselves as risk-averse, at least in the early days. Confidence comes with experience, along with learning new skills:

It’s taught me a lot about self-belief and being able to value myself. Being able to build something from scratch, being able to pitch and sell to customers was a really steep learning curve. I’m not naturally someone who likes to put themselves out there.

Angie Wan, Consent Labs

There’s obviously hard days, late nights, but it’s all worth it. I feel like i’ve learned and developed so much as a person over such a short space of time. It’s been just a crash course and it’s been fantastic!

Kyle Cortesi, Memo

If you want to go far, go together

We might think of entrepreneurs as lone beasts, a genius in a garage or science lab who dreams up an idea and is determined to make it happen. What these founders shared, on the other hand, were stories of support networks, chance meetings and recommendations that opened doors and removed barriers, as well as trusted co-founders and mentors:

It’s nice knowing that regardless of what decision I make or that my co-founder makes, we will back each other on that decision, because there’s that underlying trust.

Emily Bobis, Compass IoT

…surrounding yourself with a team who also really believe in that ‘why’ and being able to lean on a really diverse team of diverse skill sets but also diverse people, and are working towards that mission with you.

Angie Wan, Consent Labs

Listen to the full interviews from these researchers exploring entrepreneurship, and founders with a research background: 

You can watch more from UTS Startups Confessions in the UTS Startups YouTube channel.

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