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The 5 character traits required for science entrepreneurship

The prevailing message across the start-up media and blog world seems to be that everyone should be an entrepreneur — why slave away for someone else when you could be following your dreams? The insanely hard reality of building something significant seems to have been largely lost.
I’m not talking about the failure rate, that’s definitely not a reason not to try, and there’s plenty of evidence that shows you’re more likely to end up in a better job afterwards (most of our Founders receive offers from companies they would have dreamt about working for).
I’m talking about the fact that most people just aren’t cut out for it.
We receive hundreds of applicants, the vast majority look something like the following;
“I’ve published over 50 papers in top tier journals, won X major award for breakthrough science, built part of rocket at Nasa, was recently added to the X under X list and led the development of two funded start-ups.”
Sounds amazing right? But the ability to succeed in deep-tech venture requires so much more than world leading technical ability.
Here are the 5 of the key character traits that are an absolute minimum:
1. Enormous resilience: You’re about to set off on the most insane emotional rollercoaster. I’ve worked with startups for approaching 10 years but had no idea how intense the emotions can be when the responsibility is on your head. Even though you know that failing is ‘ok’ it doesn’t make any difference. At the beginning every day brings things that could kill your company and things that could be your big win, random strings of knockout events, bang, bang, bang, or ooh, ouch, yay! You need to be able to brush it off and double efforts, no matter what.
2. Unrivaled empathy: Creating a company is about seeing things through other people’s eyes, whether your customers, your investors or your co-founders. If you can understand people, their desires and how this works within your vision then you can lead them to success.
3. Creativity: Life will be a lot easier if you have a big exciting vision that people want to get behind, and the creativity to bring together diverse concepts across diverse fields to create novel solutions. Far too many European ventures are incremental or tech-push. The combination of incredible analytical ability and focus alongside creativity is extremely rare.
4. Flexible Obsession: Building something that has enormous impact takes a very long time (10+ years) whilst requiring enormous sacrifices both in terms of money, opportunity cost and relationships. This needs to be the thing that you wake up thinking about and can’t sleep for ideas buzzing through your mind. At the same time you need to be able to take on high quality, justified feedback that fundamentally changes the viability of what you’re trying to do, it’s about incredibly strong belief in the mission, but flexibility on how to get there. At DSV we don’t believe in finding something that’s a reasonably good for your skill-set, or building to sell in a few years time, we want to find things that you can be obsessed about to the point that you could happily envision pouring everything you have into it over the next 10 years. That’s how you know it’s ‘the one’.
5. Hustle with integrity: The one where most scientists fall down. You don’t need to be a smarmy salesman, you do need to be a bit cheeky and get out of your comfort zone. Everything worthwhile sits just outside, but it’s painful, it’s awkward to ask a customer to take a risk, it’s horrible negotiating with experienced investors and self indulging PR is absolutely agonising. One step at a time every awkward little thing pushes the company in the right direction and will be a little less horrible next time, and before you know it you’re getting somewhere! Finally, you must maintain honesty and integrity throughout, most arrogant destructive types don’t do well even if they are brilliant, the world is way smaller than you think and doing the right thing now will pay back in the future.
Sound like fun? Join us at DSV to build ventures that matter.