The graduate school startup accelerator

My PhD stomping grounds where I should have been trying to build startups.

My PhD stomping grounds where I should have been trying to build startups.

(Note: my academia-related posts are strongly colored by my experience studying computer engineering. Other fields will/may differ.)

Being an academic-turned-entrepreneur puts me in the interesting position of continually second-guessing my prior academic career. In an effort to cover both sides of the story, I’ve already written a post on how my PhD has carried over surprisingly well into entrepreneurship, as well as a post on the two biggest differences between academia and entrepreneurship.

Aside from the similarities and differences, one question has constantly been on my mind.

Why couldn’t I have done a grad school for startups?

Look, I spent 5+ years as a funded graduate student. In those years, I met a lot of really good people, and was able to study almost anything that I wanted (granted that occasionally, I had to publish some research findings).

It was an intense period of time where I was learning rapidly and investing in my future.

I came out of those 5+ years with a PhD degree, a few good papers, and a gut instinct for interesting academic research that made me a candidate for faculty positions, industry research positions, and lots of other good tech jobs.

Pretty good right?

And let me re-iterate, I was completely funded for 5+ years! It wasn’t a lot of money, but enough to live a pretty good life.

Fast forward to the present.

What am I doing now?

I am 18 months into my new career as an entrepreneur. I am doing what I can to meet interesting people. I am learning whatever is necessary to create stuff, ship it, learn what works (as well as what doesn’t), and then iterate.

It is an intense period of time where I am learning rapidly and investing in my future.

It feels a whole lot like graduate school, with one big difference.

I am NOT funded. Instead, I am bleeding money.

But it is worth it. I know it is worth it because I am learning ridiculously fast. I can only imagine where I’ll be in a few years; that is, if I find a way to sustain monetarily.

So back to the question.

Why couldn’t I have done a grad school for startups?

It feels to me like a grad school which functioned like a startup accelerator would do a lot of good for the world.

I don’t mean an M.B.A. It is only 2 years, and the goal isn’t to build a startup during school. Plus, you have to pay for it.

I don’t mean a normal accelerator like Y Combinator, Techstars, 500 Startups, Angelpad, etc. These are three month programs to accelerate you to Demo Day, and then it is over. Yes, you are plugged into an amazing network, but it isn’t 5+ funded years to figure out how to do startups.

There has be something else. I’m pretty sure of it. I don’t know if it would be better off inside or outside of the university setting. But, it would be an interesting new direction for people to go (I may have to try one day when I have the resources).

I often imagine myself, and all of my academic buddies, with 5+ years of funded time to build startups. We were a good bunch, and I’m fairly confident we would have done some good shit. At the very least, we’d all gain valuable experience. But really — if we all had 5+ years to build and ship stuff? I bet at least one valuable business would have popped out the other end.

P.S. This is post number #18 in a 100 day blogging challenge. See you tomorrow!

Follow me on Twitter @alexshye.

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8 thoughts on “The graduate school startup accelerator

  1. Hi Alex: That’s an interesting thought. I was in grad school for 5+ years and the first thing I realized right away was the disconnect from what went on there ( it was statistics so like
    yourself, it’s one experience ) and what went on in the real world. I think that needs to change
    in academic institutions in general. Whether building a startup type schools is the answer, I don’t know but the disconnect was quite evident. It’s not a good thing because it makes the 3+ year experience less useful for those grad students who don’t go into academics.

    • Yup, you were quick 🙂

      It took me longer than you did to realize the disconnect. But it definitely is there and is very real. It’ll be interesting to see what happens in the education space. Universities have all the resources, yet seem slow to move on these things. Outside of the universities, the online education startups are moving along, as well as the startup accelerators (which are almost like the new business school).

      I wonder what will happen over time: whether universities will get things moving, be disrupted by the businesses outside of academia, or if they will all co-exist.

  2. University and the academic/startup idea space | Alex Shye

  3. I agree that universities need to adapt quickly to keep up with the changing landscape of workforce, where there’s an increase of people starting their own businesses.

    I’ve seen some local startup accelerator offers crash courses on technical and business skills necessary for entrepreneurs. Even though these courses are just for a short time, if we do this in combination with having a mentor and a support group, we can dive into entrepreneurship right away.

  4. Why I write | Alex Shye

  5. Enjoyed your article. In undergraduate currently, planning on going to grad school afterwards, already working on doing a start up. Most businesses are founded while people have other things going on. It is up to you to make your education relevant. Reason I’m thinking of graduate school is that I could get funded which would give me time to take risks in terms of start ups. Lot cheaper than business loans…I also hope it would help me meet other talented people and gain advanced skills. Guess we will see.

    • Hey Will!

      You make a great point about making your own education relevant, and I absolutely agree. As you mention, grad school could be an awesome place for gaining some skills, meet talented people, and minimize your risk. Good luck, and thanks for dropping by!

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