The STEM Skills That Turn Engineers Into Entrepreneurs

Organizations are spending millions to integrate technology and computer science into classrooms. But these skills can benefit you, too.

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By Joachim Horn • Jul 7, 2018 Originally published Jul 7, 2018

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Recently, we've seen a surge of initiatives to help prioritize STEM education in schools across the United States. From Google, to Microsoft, to the White House, organizations are spending millions of dollars to integrate technology and computer science into classrooms.

Related: How Humanities Degrees Cultivate Marketable Business Skills

And, while introducing and encouraging the understanding of STEM principles is critical for young students aiming to find success in science and math skills, these principles are equally important for those looking to build businesses of their own someday.

Becoming an entrepreneur inevitably involves business, marketing and finance skills; however, many do not realize the value that STEM skills can also contribute to running a company.

The top STEM skills entrepreneurs need for success

Perhaps it's no coincidence that many entrepreneurs started their companies in a garage – from Apple to Harley-Davidson. For many, the idea of a garage is synonymous with tinkering. I grew up visiting my uncle's farm, seeing him working with tractors and equipment.

I realize now that this must have sparked my interest in systems at a young age. It was fascinating to figure out how to fix machines when they were broken and to devise the most effective ways to make crops grow. I got to understand, hands-on, the beauty of how systems really worked, rather than being satisfied by the illusion of seamlessness.

It's clear that curiosity, creativity and innovation lead to a deeper exploration of entrepreneurship. In fact, these are among the top traits that encourage the younger generation to pursue successful futures.

Attending Imperial College London for mechanical engineering opened my eyes to the vast career opportunities technology holds. A 2017 study conducted by my company, SAM Labs, found that 69 percent of teachers surveyed believed that technology can be used to support any subject, ranging from English and reading to math and science.

Related: These Skills Will Boost Your Salary by 20 Percent

STEM can be useful for everyone in every field.

From the music industry to exploring outer space, STEM concepts are consistently making a real-world impact. Some of the top STEM skills that we learn at a young age have proven their value for all entrepreneurs. Some examples:

Teamwork and collaboration. Working in STEM is all about working together. As engineering teaches, a well-oiled machine can run efficiently only when all moving parts are in sync and producing no friction. The greater the efficiency, the greater the momentum.

When Satya Nadella began as Microsoft's CEO three-and-a-half years ago, he recalled noticing teamwork being replaced by internal politics; he saw the need for a deeper understanding among team members. In this context, Nadella has made the point that working with people and working together are vastly different concepts and that a company's success depends on its teams' collaboration and mutual understanding.

Resilience. Practitioners of STEM are all essentially trying to do one thing: face a problem that's both challenging to understand and solve. Therefore, to begin an experiment, a researcher must first create a hypothesis.

Analyzing a problem from an "if … then" point of view allows this researcher to face a challenge with an open mind and to reach an educated solution. If the solution is not met, the experiment is not a failure; it is simply restarted.

Entrepreneurs are constantly faced with problems. Keeping an open mind to constant learning will allow the growth needed to adapt and continuously take on new challenges with energy. There is an endless list of successful entrepreneurs who have failed, sometimes many times, before they've been successful. This includes people like Evan Williams, co-founder of Twitter; Vera Wang, the famous fashion designer; and Arianna Huffington, founder of the Huffington Post. All were rejected, denied and fired before finding success.

Establishing relationships between disparate areas of a project. Just as happens in engineering, entrepreneurs start with a big goal they have to break down into smaller, more achievable parts.

If you are a computer scientist building a website, you have to imagine the final site, but in order to begin, you need to first break down the javascript line by line, class by class, in order to eventually reach the final goal. Just look at The Walt Disney Company, which started with a cartoon animation and grew into a worldwide entertainment empire. Entrepreneurs need the ability to connect seemingly unrelated topics to create one coherent solution.

Simple advice for a complex job

Though a background in business, rather than STEM fields, may seem a more efficient route to entrepreneurship, I'd argue that the skills it takes to succeed in STEM fields provide unparalleled value to the way that an entrepreneur works – boosting common sense and decision-making business skills. In fact, STEM skills will make you an invaluable asset to many lucrative industries and career fields in the following ways.

You'll trust yourself. The most important value engineering taught me that translates to being an entrepreneur is to trust yourself. Ultimately, no one has the perfect answer. Most decisions don't get made simply because people are scared to make them, not because they "need more data." You have to trust your abilities to take the course of action you think will lead to success. Whether you feel inexperienced or underrepresented, you've gotten to the point you're at for a reason and need to trust in your knowledge and abilities.

You'll get the facts. It is important to realize that most people don't know the answer, and those who are critiquing you don't have your data set. Further, they might not even have the strength to make the decision if they were in your shoes. If you gather all of the information possible and try your hardest, you become a mini-expert, while keeping in mind that your conclusion is subjective. If the result doesn't turn out as well as you hoped, at least you know you took action and learned something new.

You'll inspire others. All entrepreneurs can do their part in encouraging others to understand how technology and STEM skills intersect with real life. All businesses require some level of technology to work, starting with the most basic form of communication, the company website. It's important to be a role model and tell your company's story by mentioning the tools that helped you get there. This allows children to picture how to use the skills that they're learning in school, in real life. Look at Google as a great example of a site with purpose.

Related: 3 Educational Trends That Will Change How You Hire in the Future

A lack of STEM knowledge should not deter entrepreneurs from pursuing their passion. These skills are extremely achievable and can be learned by everyone. There is a common misconception that STEM skills can be used only in math and the sciences, but the truth is that they are valuable in any career path, especially entrepreneurship. Running a business takes common sense and basic life skills. Having some STEM education provides value and enhances these abilities.

Joachim Horn

CEO, Sam Labs

Joachim Horn is the founder of SAM Labs, whose modular, connected toys are now found in homes and schools worldwide. The toys are at the forefront of interactive entertainment, combining digital gaming and innovative storytelling to inspire every child to discover the fun of coding and creating. Horn is a mechanical engineering graduate of the Imperial College-London and co-founder of the Imperial College Design Collective. Prior to SAM Labs, Horn worked as a mechanical engineer at Eos Energy Storage and a supply chain engineer with Cummins Inc. 

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