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Grow Your Business Your Team

Entrepreneurial New Grads Embrace Startup Culture

Entrepreneurial New Grads Embrace Startup Culture
Credit: Nivens/Shutterstock

While they might not want to take on the risk of starting a new business, there are a growing number of students who still want to work for one, new research finds.

There are many students nearing graduation who are interested in working for startups but who don't want to be founders, according to a new study recently published in the journal Science.

Those with a desire to work for, but not start, a new business are classified by the study's authors as "joiners."  Researchers say joiners are less interested in management and more interested in functional roles, which makes them more like those who go to work for established companies.

"Sometimes you can have a single founder who handles the full range of activities for a startup, but especially in technology you need additional people to research and develop the products," Henry Sauermann, one of the study's authors and an associate professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology, said in a statement.

For the study, the entrepreneurial interests of 4,200 Ph.D. candidates who were within two years of obtaining degrees in STEM fields were examined. Researchers found that nearly half of these scientists and engineers reported an interest in joining a startup as an employee, while just 11 percent said they expected to start their own companies. [Startup or Corporate? Choosing the Right Company to Work For ]

As part of the research, the Ph.D. candidates were surveyed about personal characteristics such as acceptance of risk, desire for autonomy, interest in commercializing new technology and willingness to take on managerial tasks. They were also asked about interests in entrepreneurship, in roles as both startup founders and the joiners who support them.

"A key insight from our research is that many of the characteristics that we often think of as unique to founders, such as a tolerance for risk and the desire to bring new ideas to life, also generalize to the broader entrepreneurial workforce, including people who want to work in startups but don't want to be founders themselves," said Michael Roach, one of the study's authors and an assistant professor at Cornell University.

The high interest in entrepreneurship among those studied was surprising to the study's authors. Sauermann, said he expected that the soon-to-be-graduates might prefer a safer career path in established companies.

'This may mean we don't have as much of a problem getting people interested in startups as is widely believed," Sauermann said. "It may be more a question of how the transition from the Ph.D. training to the startup world happens."

More emphasis may be needed on preparing students for these entrepreneurial employee career paths. College programs designed to encourage entrepreneurship often focus on training people to be a founder, according to Roach.

"Founders make up a small share of the entrepreneurial workforce, and we do very little to train the larger share of people who will work in startups as employees rather than founders," Roach said. "For example, many programs focus on how to write business plans and secure funding, while less attention is paid to how to work effectively in a small startup team."

Overall, the research should be encouraging for those promoting entrepreneurial career paths, Sauermann said.

"Not everybody has to start their own company," he said. "You can also make a difference for the world by joining a founder."

Chad Brooks

Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based freelance writer who has nearly 15 years experience in the media business. A graduate of Indiana University, he spent nearly a decade as a staff reporter for the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago, covering a wide array of topics including, local and state government, crime, the legal system and education. Following his years at the newspaper Chad worked in public relations, helping promote small businesses throughout the U.S. Follow him on Twitter.