There are a surprising number of parallels between academia and entrepreneurship. Both, of course, require creativity and innovation, but there’s more to it. They both depend on relationship building, strong leadership, and trust between project stakeholders – or educator and student, as the case may be. The pursuit of knowledge can mean changing a field with new ideas and inventions or creating a whole new field. The same is true of entrepreneurship, it’s more than just business – entrepreneurs change the world with their ideas.
Both areas are focused on modernity. How do we take what we currently have or what we currently know, and reconsider it, reconfigure it and recreate it in a way that gets things done? How can we take an existing problem and solve it for current and future generations? Innovation is at the heart of academia and entrepreneurship, and these three strategies drawn from academia can benefit entrepreneurs.
Drive a common goal
Education leader Robert Bishop founded University of South Florida Institute of Applied Engineering (USF) after years of work in various departments in the field of education. Bishop, who is also the dean of USF’s College of Engineering, said shared inspiration is central to the program’s success. He redesigned the engineering curriculum to provide students with hands-on and impactful learning opportunities. Within the program, students work on projects that impact the Department of Defense, and they have the ability to learn while designing essential elements that the Department uses. In this way, the program is successful because it has a more important purpose than the pursuit of education – education itself has an impact on a wider range of people.
When you form a team as an entrepreneur, give your employees a bigger mission than just making money for the business. Help employees understand where their work impacts the larger goal and how they play a unique role in the process. This keeps teams motivated and united as they work to innovate in the industry in which your business operates.
Don’t micromanage your employees
It’s important to delegate and empower your team members. Bishop says he prepares his students for success by creating guidelines and expectations, then letting students explore, learn, and build their projects on their own, while observing from afar. Taking a step back gives students a healthy sense of autonomy, which builds their confidence and allows creativity to flourish.
Often times, an entrepreneur’s perfectionism or fixation with his business prevents him from handing over even a small part of the business function to someone else. This is a huge brake on growth, and it will tire the employees who feel neglected as well as the entrepreneur who takes on everything unnecessarily.
It is important that entrepreneurs make sure that they are not micromanaging their teams. For businesses and educational institutions to be successful and innovative, they need a wide range of contributions, insights and perspectives to create new ideas. Bishop says that by giving his students the freedom to challenge or disagree with him on topics, he cultivates open discussion, debate and argument that will lead to the best and most creative solutions.
Allowing your employees to operate with more freedom – and even more responsibility – will encourage them to think of new solutions, come up with ideas for themselves, and achieve the level of expectation you have for them.
Build trust over time
Employees cannot successfully share your goals or function independently unless they are in a relationship of trust with management and leaders. The reverse is also true, the management and the leaders cannot succeed in these same missions without trusting their collaborators. It takes time, but cultivating trust is the most essential part of building a team.
Bishop says it took a long time to cultivate confidence in his educational institution because of the group’s past perceptions. He focused his efforts on nurturing relationships with stakeholders, and he did so by facilitating open discussions. Honest and direct face-to-face communication can do wonders for trust. This strategy is applied internally and externally; you can cultivate trust with employees the same way you cultivate trust with customers: communication is key.
Both academia and entrepreneurship are concerned with innovation, but they need dedicated and structured teams to support this global mission. It is important for companies and educational institutions to cultivate confidence, autonomy and a set of shared values in order for their employees and participants to be successful.