Entrepreneurs and Random Thoughts

October 16th, 2015 by Potato

I’ve attended a few recent talks about medical device start-ups and serial entrepreneurs, and just tonight got to listen to Dr. Stephen Larson (currently of Northern Biologics) talk about his career path.

Part of his story was pretty typical of others I’ve heard or read about: he joined a company as it was spinning out from a university where the technology was developed, and passed the reins on to someone else as the company made it to the revenue-generating stage from the start-up stage, where it needed a CEO who could be more of a salesperson. Then he went on to run another start-up company. Scott Philips had done surveys of dozens and dozens of such entrepreneurs, and found that on average they started (or joined soon after the company was spun out to guide it through the start-up phase) five companies through their careers.

Another point that Stephen made was that it really helps to get some kind of business experience before trying to run a start-up.

There’s a bit of a myth (helped, no doubt, by massive and highly visible successes like Bill Gates, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, or Mark Zuckerberg) that successful start-ups are launched by people while they’re still in school or recent grads. And maybe that works for some companies in fields outside medical devices (like all the various app or *-tech fields), but aside from a few mega-successes, the successful ones do seem to have some experience under their belts — whether that’s in academia, the business world, or working in industry for a more mature company first.

Yet oddly enough, many of our government-funded support programs for entrepreneurship are highly age discriminatory. Some have age limits in the 20’s, which excludes almost everyone who pursued post-graduate work (except for a few who finish super-fast). A recent article in the globe featured a start-up, and the founder mentioned how confusing all the support programs are. It’s a bit of a job to find out what kinds of support your fledgling company might be eligible for, apply for it, manage the reporting, etc. And there is a lot of overlap between some of these programs — but I wonder if that’s by design, to create some randomness for natural selection to work on, and to provide many opportunities for entrepreneurs to try to sell themselves to supporters.

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