How Successful Entrepreneurs Leveraged Their STEM Backgrounds
You might think most entrepreneurs come from business backgrounds, but a surprising number of entrepreneurs come from STEM disciplines. Take Craigslist founder Craig Newmark, for example. Before starting Craigslist, Newmark earned degrees in computer science from Case Western University, writing a thesis on information security. He went on to work at IBM for almost 17 years and served as a programmer at several major financial firms before launching Craigslist from his apartment in 1995 as a way to share information. Two decades later, Newmark is a billionaire, and he sits on the board of Girls Who Code to promote STEM skills among women.
Newmark’s case of crossing over from STEM into business is far from unique. STEM skills give you skills that can enable you to succeed in a wide variety of business environments. In fact, nearly three-quarters of employed civilians aged 25 to 64 with a STEM degree go into non-STEM fields, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Workers with STEM backgrounds who go into non-STEM fields are 50 percent more likely than other workers to become entrepreneurs and start their own businesses, National Science Foundation data shows. Here are three ways you can put your STEM skills to use as an entrepreneur.
Put Scientific Knowledge to Practical Use
In today’s high-tech world, a scientific background can be a path to entrepreneurial success. A case in point is Intel founder Gordon Moore, famed for Moore’s law, the prediction that computer processing power will double bi-annually until a saturation point is reached. Before going into computers, Moore started as a chemistry major, minoring in physics. Moore used his knowledge of the science behind semiconductors to get a foot in the door of the early computer chip industry. Today, he is worth $9.3 billion.
If you have this type of background in the hard sciences, you may be able to leverage your knowledge into a practical invention. For instance, Viton was invented by engineers applying knowledge of chemistry to develop a type of rubber suitable for o-rings in harsh heat and chemical environments such as car engines, airplanes and spacecraft. Knowledge of fields such as electronics, nanotechnology and biochemistry can also be put to practical use developing marketable inventions.
Make the Most of Applied Math
Netflix cofounder Reed Hastings is an example of how a math background can lead to entrepreneurial success. Before founding Netflix, Hastings earned degrees in math and computer science, and he even taught high school math for a while. He conceived Netflix when he was reflecting on the mathematics of paying for a late fee on a video rental and realized he could offer more value for the same price as his late fee by offering a video subscription service. Today, Hastings earns $24 million a year, and his company is worth $143 billion.
There are many ways entrepreneurs can put math to good use. A vital math skill any business needs is accounting. Entrepreneurs with math skills have an advantage when it comes to bookkeeping, financial planning and budgeting. Math can also be invaluable for doing data analytics. An understanding of data analysis can yield a business intelligence advantage in financial planning, marketing or sales.
Use Computer Skills to Gain a Business Edge
Many of today’s leading entrepreneurs come from a computer background. A good example is Google cofounder Larry Page. The son of a computer scientist and a programmer, Page earned degrees in computer engineering and computer science on his path to entrepreneurship. While seeking a topic for his dissertation, he went with a colleague’s suggestion to graph the link structure of the internet. This led to the idea of an algorithm to analyze page rank, which Page realized could be used to build a superior search engine. Google is the dominant search engine on the market today. And Page is ranked among the world’s top billionaires, with an estimated net worth of $53.5 billion.
As Page’s case illustrates, computer skills can give you an SEO advantage in business. Computer skills can help you in other areas of marketing as well, such as understanding how to automate marketing processes to use social media more effectively. You can also use computer knowledge to automate internal business processes, use cutting-edge customer service tools such as chatbots or harness artificial intelligence to propel your business.
From using science to invent marketable products, to applying math for business intelligence, to leveraging computer skills for SEO, a STEM background can provide you with a valuable entrepreneurial skill set. No matter what your STEM skills are, chances are you can put them to use as an entrepreneur.
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