Peter Xu

Jeannette K. Watson Fellow, Jeannette K. Watson Fellowship

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PhD's and entrepreneurship, one or the other?

Lots of successful entrepreneurs dropped out of even their undergraduate education to pursue a business opportunity and turned it into a major success. If you want to become a successful entrepreneur, is the price of that forgoing further education in order to prioritize the execution of your business idea? Is it possible to have both? Better yet, is it advisable to do both?

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    Mar 13 2012: Hello Peter,

    If you look at entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley, most have advanced degrees. There seems to be the mindset that there is competition between higher education and entrepreneurship today. People point to successes like Gates and Jobs who never finished college. The reality is that most startups (the VAST) majority end up failing at some point - and there is nothing like a college education to fall back on while you regroup and come up with your next startup idea. The reality is also that the majority of entrepreneurs (in certain fields like tech) have advanced educations.

    I think that dropping out of school can make sense once it is apparent that you have a successful idea on your hand (you've secured funding, you have a profitable product that's going viral - you can always go back. But dropping out with a business dream or an idea can be risky.
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    Mar 16 2012: The real issue with being an entrepreneur, is are you a practitioner or an academic/theorist. If you can be a practitioner and complete a PhD then great but as most high level degrees focus on research rather that practice it becomes a difficult to do both. Some successful entrepreneurs begin with their practical expression and then later on study at a high level and this of course makes them potentially more effective as well as adding value the academic world.

    Im not sure that many entrepreneurs from Silicon Valley have advanced degrees as claimed by Robin. There are many people in that educational realm but they are mostly followers who implement others ideas and make real entrepreneurs look good.

    One other issue with being and entrepreneur and doing a PhD is the risk factor. High level degrees are more likely to focus you on a conservative low risk approach to life and business where as the entrepreneur loves and lives with risk daily.

    By the way there is a relatively new GEMBA ( 3 years old ) at University of Sydney that i think is the most balanced high level degree in the World when it comes to balancing high level education and being an entrepreneur.
  • Mar 16 2012: An entrepreneur is born out of detected opportunity, he could be an innovator by himself or techno savy leader who has clear understanding of the demand and supply in the market and make money out of employed innovators. Entrepreneurial effort requires time, effort and dedication. In core technology, Bio medical field doing a PhD might enable a researcher to reach out innovative opportunities. There are ample evidences in the industry.

    On the contrary if we argue that a PhD inhibits entrepreneurial skills, there is no evidence and i do disagree, it is simply matter of time, effort and individual interest to pursue a degree under a research topic.

    I do agree with Robin, very sensible advise to young 'Smart Intel" people of Gen "Y"
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    Mar 16 2012: successful entrepreneurs know how to bribe the government officials and smile for the camera. Really you cant do big business unless your willing to play by their rules. steve jobs was right people should think different best of luck.
  • Mar 16 2012: In the time of technology and globalization, education is a much needed factor but is not a qualification for being a successful entrepreneur. When you talk about PhD's not all, I have a different opinion.

    It's been seen that such an education reduces the speed of decision making, capacity to take challenges and thinking out box to make it profitable.

    A successful and achieved entrepreneur in himself is a matter of study and knowledge. Exceptions can't be denied.

    With regards
  • Mar 15 2012: HI Peter

    One can't have all but can achieve what one really needs and wants.

    Education vs Making money / Job vs Work / employer vs employee / subject vs object
    school smart vs street smart

    the choice is yours.

    Do you want to be a subject or a object in live?
    Do you want to control or be controlled?
    Do you want to be the pawn of someone else's chess game?

    So the choice is yours again.

    I have friends with their PhD and they want to start their businesses. it's hard for them to think as employers
    because they used to be employees.
    I know architects who don't have any housing projects and can't think of doing something else
    that it has nothing to do with architecture. because they don`'t want to waste their years they spent in Universities
    to get that title or degree, they just keep doing things they used to do.
    The results are the same. it is like: If you do what you have done, you will get what you have got.
    if you want something else or new, do something else or new! quite simple isn't it.

    as a student I set up many businesses and failed many times, because couldn't keep both on track.
    but I managed to be SMES (self made entrepreneur student), some students used to work for me.

    Today's businesses asks for qualified, but they never for motivation.
    This is a mistake that companies will pay a lot to correct.
    They spend a lot of money on their employees (after they hired) to get a specific course
    that will make them to be motivated to do the job. They hire Motivational speakers /coaches/etc
    but they will never look for unqualified but highly self motivated people, because their hire people to do the job
    and do it on time.

    have your read the books, Rich Dad and Poor Dad company, he is a Japanese American
    very interesting and every students have to read it.
    google it if you want, it will help you a lot.
  • Mar 13 2012: It is possible to be a successful entrepreneur either way. The real issue is when a person begins to make excuses for not following their passion or their business idea/product. If pursuing a PhD becomes your excuse for holding back, that's when it's time to reconsider your decision. If you feel that finishing a PhD degree is a primary goal, finish it, but a true entrepreneur will not find a new excuse to sway them from their venture.
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    Mar 13 2012: If you had a idea or product that could make you lots of money would you stay for the credits?
    • Mar 15 2012: Hi Solidus

      It isn't always the idea or the product that makes people successful entrepreneurs and makes lots of money.
      The idea are the product are the ingredients of your enterprise.


      If one hasn't got any of them it doesn't really matter what ideas or products one has got.

      Just think about it.

      Now, not every one values money, many people value education.
      So we make choices for ourselves.

      Universities teach us to be good boys and girls to get degrees and get a job and pay taxes,
      because that's what Government wants.

      but people with different ambition has different ideas.
      they know the difference between "job" and "work"

      I agree with both. because we are different in many ways as we are the same in many ways.