One thing I’ve been surprised about since starting SciFounders is how many of the founders we talk to are coming from academia rather than from industry. I think many industry scientists have great ideas too, and more should take the idea of starting a company more seriously.
One big advantage of working in an industrial setting is that you are seeing first-hand the problems larger, very well-funded companies are dealing with in their R&D and commercialization pipelines. This means you are in an ideal position to come up with new ideas for them as your future customers to solve these problems, or improve on existing technological approaches.
If you had the chance to work in a really good, well-run company, you may be better trained in operating your own company than most academic scientists, because you have seen how a company can look up close. I’m a big believer that companies can be very effective social coordination tools for people to work on hard problems– honestly far better than an academic environment that focuses more on the individual and their projects– and if you’ve been at an good company, you’ve seen how this can be an advantage too, and have a better idea of how to replicate that culture.
Beyond being a unique setting to figure out potential problems of value to be working on, industry companies are also great places to meet co-founders. Scientists and non-scientists that are drawn to working at companies are probably in general more flexible and open to the idea of working in a company setting, and are also likely more comfortable with the twists and turns of what being part of a growing company can entail. By joining a company, it’s easier to grow fast, it’s easier to meet other like-minded people that you may want to team up with ultimately.
For what it’s worth as I write this right now too, I think timing-wise it could be a particularly good moment to think about building a company if you’re already working at one. The financial markets are very down right now, so that means that most of the companies industry scientists are working at are quite suppressed in their stock value– if they gave you equity, your options might be less valuable than they are thinking . And even worse, a lot of companies will need to do layoffs or may even close altogether, so job security may be less guaranteed with your current employer as well. Perhaps you’re even already currently unemployed – the silver lining of which may be that you are unencumbered to give starting a company a shot.
On the flip side, there are still a lot of early-stage investors that had just closed new funds prior to the downturn, and have plenty of capital they need to still invest as part of their jobs. That is great for if you want to start a company now, but that might not be the case anymore in a year or two if we have a true recession. Now might be the time to take the jump if you’ve been thinking about it.
If you do want to start a company, please feel free to reach out to me — I would love to help you explore. I also help run a fellowship program that gives $400,000 in funding and mentorship to start a startup. If that is something you might be interested in, please apply.
Thanks to Alex Schubert and Lucas Harrington for reading drafts of this post.
 If your employer hasn’t given you equity, you’re likely wasting your financial potential working there anyways. It’s also always good to generally aware of the financial health of the company you work at.