I’m excited about this #postac post by Margy Horton, the genius behind the business, ScholarShape. Entrepreneurship is a topic very close to my heart; I even have a chapter on it in my forthcoming book. I want to see more academics pursue entrepreneurial opportunities and get over their fear of going into business for themselves.
by Margy Horton
Every Q & A needs one audacious question, so I was grateful recently when, after I’d given a starry-eyed talk to some humanities PhDs about entrepreneurship as a partial solution to the academic jobs crisis, one audience member put her hand up and said (I’m paraphrasing), “No offense, but I see what you and The Professor Is In and some other academic entrepreneurs are doing, and I think, how many businesses like that can there be–businesses that academics create to support other academics? Didn’t you guys already pick all the low-hanging fruit?”
In other words, hadn’t we taken all the easy business ideas?
Some background: Two years ago, I launched a business, ScholarShape, that offers editorial support, coaching, and consultation to academics across the disciplines. I’m not an entrepreneur in a seismic-shift kind of way, but I am entrepreneurial in the sense that I like solving problems by inventing new solutions rather than by looking for prefabricated ones. While my business model might seem obvious now, when I was first launching, most of my academic colleagues and friends were like, “What? Academics aren’t going to pay you for those services.”
But back to that skeptical audience member. Her point is an important one: For an academic starting a business, the most comfortable clientele is other academics. That market is not limitless, though, and if all the PhD. entrepreneurs simply stake their tents on the grounds of academia, we have not solved the jobs crisis at all. Rather than opening the floodgates, we will have merely carved out another inlet, where endless academic entrepreneurs toil in vain to sell their services back and forth to one another.
What if the academic entrepreneurship trend isn’t creating a clogged inlet, but instead building the first settlement on an uninhabited planet like Mars? As I see it, a few academics have now survived the perilous journey through the vacuum of outer space, set up a makeshift station on their adopted planet, and written home to Earth that the space colony thing is pretty doable. Now the next wave of settlers will come, and they may not all fit in the original station, but we’ll work together to build an annex to accommodate them. Next year, when the third wave of settlers comes, we’ll expand our little station into a village. Eventually another village will spring up, and another, until the whole planet is populated with academic entrepreneurs launching all manner of brand consultancies, community development initiatives, marketing firms, policy consultation practices, and writing consultation businesses. Some will even write historical novels, or sexy historical novels. (Yes, writing and selling novels counts as entrepreneurship!) And the more businesses these academic entrepreneurs create, the more new jobs and opportunities there will be for the settlers who come later.
And none of them have to become Republicans unless they want to.
The entire point of entrepreneurship is that it opens up infinite possibilities. The entrepreneurial mindset is promising precisely because we don’t know what direction it will take us next. Of course entrepreneurship isn’t the whole solution to joblessness, in academia or anywhere else. Of course not everyone is cut out for the lifestyle, which can be unpredictable and grueling. And of course I fully recognize that in plenty of academic circles, entrepreneurship is still conflated with philistinism and greed. But I’ve seen for myself that when frustrated academics try on an entrepreneurial way of thinking–by which I mean, looking around for ways to solve problems through the provision of goods and services for pay–the result can be profoundly freeing. Suddenly, no one but you has to give you permission to do meaningful work for a living.
So I’m glad to see that people are starting to see academic businesses as “low hanging fruit.” This means that entrepreneurship is beginning to seem like a viable option, like a thing that people do. Two years ago, launching an academic support businesses marked a person as a freakish aberration, or worse, a moral failure. Today, it’s zeitgeisty–an intriguing if dubious possibility. By next year, the Mars settlement will be thriving. And when it gets crowded, the boldest among us will pack up and give Jupiter a try.