Meet the 'other' group of people founders need to make startups successful

Startups getting to work at Telstra’s accelerator muru-D.

Most research looks at the role of the entrepreneur in the current surge in startups.

But there is another group of people who are just as important in the success of a new business.

Research in the journal Science looks at joiners, people willing to take career risks who like the freedom of a startup.

However, unlike entrepreneurs, joiners are less interested in management and more interested in functional roles such as research and development.

“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,” says Henry Sauermann, an associate professor in the Scheller College of Business at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

“There are many people who are interested in working for startups but who don’t want to be founders.”

Sauermann and co-author Michael Roach, an assistant professor in the Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management at Cornell University, found the differences while examining the entrepreneurial interests of 4,200 PhD candidates.

Nearly half (46%) of these scientists and engineers reported an interest in joining a startup as an employee, while slightly more than one in ten (11%) expected to start their own companies.

“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 generalise to the broader entrepreneurial work force, including people who want to work in startups but don’t want to be founders themselves,” Roach says.

Most university programs are designed to foster entrepreneurship with a focus on training people to be a founder.

“But 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 says. “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.”

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