Launching a STEM-based company might seem intimidating if you don’t have an advanced degree in one of the corresponding fields. STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) industries require extensive study and practice, and you need a strong background in these areas in order to run a successful STEM company. That’s what most people believe, anyway.

It’s true that industry knowledge helps when you’re running a biotech or engineering startup, but you don’t have to have a Ph.D. in order to launch an innovative STEM brand. In fact, a deep academic background can actually slow you down when you’re turning your technical knowledge into a business venture.

A strong understanding of your product area affords you some advantages, no doubt. You can conduct self-assessments on the feasibility of your ideas and make accurate predictions about your success rates. When you grasp the inner workings of the solution you’re trying to build, you stand a better chance of bringing it to life than if you were doing so with limited experience.

But that in-depth knowledge can hurt you as well. Thinking through every conceivable problem may get in the way of your passion and delay you from launching your product.

As a leader, you must be able to convey product concepts and industry news to your team. You might have a hard time connecting with your employees if you’re so immersed in the subject that you can’t see what they don’t know.

Business and science are at opposite ends of a scale; they balance one another. You have to find the optimal point where your scientific knowledge meets your business acumen so you can bring your product to market.

Scientists sometimes become so focused and practiced in their fields that they lose confidence in their ability to make decisions outside their own expertise. Entrepreneurs can bolster scientists’ confidence because they’re not afraid of being judged or rejected; that’s par for the course when you first launch a company. Business-minded leaders are focused on the outcomes and can help scientists bring their ideas to the world.

A Ph.D. provides a useful supplement to STEM startups, but it can’t replace a keen understanding of business plans and markets. If you’re starting a biotech company, you want both the industry knowledge and the ability to develop a product that sells.

While a Ph.D. isn’t strictly necessary for starting a STEM company, there are a few nonnegotiable traits you must have if you want to succeed as a STEM entrepreneur:

1. A multidisciplinary worldview

STEM businesses don’t run purely on business or science alone. They require a delicate balance between the two, so view your company through both perspectives. Science allows you to imagine the impossible, while good business sense allows you to turn ideas into reality.

A multifaceted perspective also helps shake up your thinking when you’re stuck in a creative rut. If your staff scientists are struggling with a design or concept, you might be able to spark new ideas by asking questions they haven’t considered. An outside perspective brings fresh insights to problems and can help push the company forward.

2. Strong personal and professional networks

When you’re developing a business, you become so consumed by the product that you can’t objectively evaluate whether it’s something that people want or need. That’s when you reach out to your networks for feedback and support.

Even when you’re ready to manufacture the product or begin marketing it to the public, you need allies and mentors. These people often come from professional networking groups, alumni organizations, clubs, and the other personal and professional communities with which you associate yourself.

Contacts within your networks can refer potential hires, experts, and investors who will provide the resources to get your company off the ground. They can also validate your ideas based on scientific standards and the reality of the socioeconomic environment that you’re targeting.

You might have a groundbreaking product on your hands, but you need a market to sell to if your company is going to succeed. Network feedback tells you whether you’re on the right track.

3. Real-world business experience

Perhaps you’ve studied the STEM field in which you want to run a business. You know the science and the current state of the industry. You could design the product by yourself, but you still need business experience.

Consider working for a company in your field of interest so you can learn how such a business operates. Founding a startup means wearing many hats, especially in its early stages.

Having some understanding of manufacturing, finance, marketing, sales, and regulatory concerns will prepare you to navigate the challenges that will arise as you launch your own organization.

4. An anticipatory mindset

Long-term thinking is crucial to a STEM business’s success. You should be able to anticipate problems and outcomes and be able to mitigate issues that could derail your progress.

Such foresight leads to better products because you will correct potential pitfalls before they even occur. STEM industries demand precise, high-quality work. The more you can anticipate outcomes, the better your product will be — and the more trustworthy your reputation.

You should also be able to anticipate how people will respond to new initiatives and feedback. If you’re trying to motivate your team members to work harder or think critically, you have to know how they’re going to react to your comments. Figure out what resonates with them, and build your communication strategies around that information.

5. Passion and curiosity

Always maintain a sense of passion for what you do. That commitment will give you the confidence to persuade other people to join your team and believe in your company.

Curiosity will keep you fresh and searching for new angles on your product. Agility is incredibly important in STEM industries because you must be responsive to new technologies and trends.

A natural sense of curiosity will motivate you to seek and accept feedback so you can refine and improve your processes. Curiosity likely drew you to STEM in the first place, so use that to your advantage as you build your company.

Passion, an open-minded approach, and business sense are more important than a Ph.D. when it comes to running a STEM company. Although industry background is useful, a well-rounded founder will always fare better than one who is skilled in one area but lacking in all the others.

Stay open to learning and new ideas, and your startup will flourish — whether you have highly touted academic credentials or not.

Author's Bio: 

Kevin Xu is the CEO of MEBO International, a California- and Beijing-based intellectual property management company specializing in applied health systems. He also leads Skingenix, which specializes in skin organ regeneration and the research and development of botanical drug products.