How to start your own business after a PhD: an insider’s perspective

Looking to move from academia to industry? Get advice from Dr. Chris Bullock, CEO and Co-Founder of QV Bioelectronics, on how to become an entrepreneur after finishing your PhD.

Navigating a PhD can be a hard and seemingly endless task, but it does eventually come to an end. Thus, one big question on many students’ minds is “what should I do after my PhD?” Some students know from the outset that they want to make it in academia and go after those highly sought-after professorships. Others are not so sure and have little exposure to the outside world when living in their academic echo chamber. One road less traveled is that of becoming an entrepreneur and starting your own business. While this is a seemingly daunting or impossible idea, it should not be ignored. Proteintech spoke to Dr. Chris Bullock, CEO and Co-Founder of QV Bioelectronics, to get his advice on how to become an entrepreneur after finishing your PhD.

Chris completed a master’s (MEng) in biomedical engineering at the University of Leeds, before moving on to a PhD in Regenerative Medicine at the University of Manchester, which he finished in 2018. His doctoral thesis focused on the use of electrical stimulation as a novel tool to direct embryonic stem cell differentiation, thus providing him with invaluable experience in biomaterials and bioelectronics.

Upon completing his PhD, Chris co-founded QV Bioelectronics with Dr. Richard Fu, a clinical research fellow and neurosurgeon. QV Bioelectronics aims to use electric field therapy to treat glioblastomas, a resistant and devastating form of brain cancer. Their goal is to create an implantable device that will deliver electric field therapy to the edges of tumors to disrupt the cancer cell cycle, thus decreasing the rate of tumor growth. While the use of the technology in patients remains a long way off, the company is growing at an impressive rate. Initial funding was acquired from UK national accelerator programs and government funding bodies, in addition to capital raised from seed funding rounds. QV Bioelectronics is now located in the impressive biotech hub of Alderley Park near Manchester and employs a team of scientists and advisers to help them take that next step from concept to treatment.


4 tips on how to launch a start-up after academia


1. Start with a good idea

Starting a business can be similar to constructing an experiment. You have your idea for a business, the hypothesis, and then you need to plan a process on how to prove or disprove your idea in as straightforward a way as possible. There are many similarities between being an entrepreneur and a scientist. Ideas can come from general life or from your time at the lab bench, thinking of a way to solve problems in a commercial environment. The simplest solution will often be the best.


2. Do your research

Talk to potential consumers and stakeholders about your business idea and project. Get open and honest feedback and listen carefully to their answers. Speak to enough people so that you increase your “n number,” and therefore you have a good impression of how the market will react to your product or service. Be aware of some of the biases that might exist as well. For example, if you speak to someone who has a stake in a competitive business, they are less likely to provide encouraging feedback on your proposal.  


3. Finding investment

Finding investment is obviously one of the biggest hurdles to starting your own company. One of the best ways to get capital for your company is to release a version of your product and start selling it as soon as you can; that way you can invest the revenue back into the company and improve over time based on feedback from consumers. If you have a product that cannot be sold immediately (e.g., a clinical treatment), or one that requires significant initial investment, then you will have to source funding differently. For example, in the UK there are accelerator programs and funding bodies that you can apply to. Do your research into local options, speak to others in this environment to obtain advice on funding, and speak to potential investors who are aligned with what you are trying to do.

When pitching your business model to investors or funding groups, start with those who are least likely to accept your proposal. That way you get valuable feedback to help improve your pitch before going again where you have a higher chance of success.


4. Take risks

PhDs and scientists are more likely to be risk-averse in nature, but they often possess the perfect skills to start a business such as resilience, being analytical, and practice in complex troubleshooting. The vast majority of start-ups fail within the first few years, but don’t let that put you off. The opportunities and experiences presented to you during this time will be invaluable to your future career, leaving you in a much better position than if you didn’t try.


If you are interested in discovering more about the technology of QV Bioelectronics, watch this video here. For more careers help and advice, visit our Early Career Researcher Hub.


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