Fusing Entrepreneurship and Science

DOI: 10.36152/apub.f38001

In this article, I will argue that we should fuse entrepreneurship with science. As we near disaster and societal ruin, our best lifeline is science-based innovation. We must somehow apply solutions derived from evidence-backed research to real-world problems. Beyond saving humanity, doing so may be the first step alone the road to a technological “utopia”. Imagine a future where company dollars are no longer spent on building addictive feedback loops bl and engineering planned obsolescence bl, but rather on world-saving technological improvements. This future is possible, and I’m going to try to convince you of it.

To start, it’s necessary to differentiate between entrepreneurship that is societally beneficial and that which isn’t. For simplicity’s sake, I’ll divide entrepreneurship into two general categories: solutionism (non-beneficial) and pragmatism (beneficial). 

Pragmatist entrepreneurship

Proterra bl and Zipline are

Solutionist entrepreneurship

The term “solutionism” was explained at length by Evgeny Morozov in his book “To Save Everything, Click Here: Technology, Solutionism, and the Urge to Fix Problems that Don’t Exist”. This book outlines real problems, but Morozov’s highly opinionated presentation clouds his argument. Therefore, I’m not going to discuss Morozov’s view of the flaws in the current socio-technical interplay. All I’m pulling from him is the concept of solutionism, which has two generally accepted definitions:

  1. The belief that all problems have simple solutions (usually technical).
  2. The building of solutions for non-existent problems. (This is the definition I’ll be using.)

To find solutionism in the tech world, all you’ve got to do is search “disruptive <buzzword> tech” in your search engine of choice. You’ll probably get a less exaggerated version of something like this: “<Company Name> is building a bluetooth-enabled, blockchain-linked web of IoT devices, which provide real time data streams to an AI-based SaaS cloud solution for big data analysis on a tokenized and decentralized high performance network.” 

To be clear, solutionists have appropriated the words “innovation” and “disruption”. The term “disruptive innovation” was originally coined to refer to innovations that create new markets and disrupt existing markets. Now, these words are mostly used to refer to inventions that are inconsequential at best, and pointless at worst.

Unfortunately, of the many entrepreneurial strains, the empty and buzzword-filled variant stands out. This type of entrepreneurship finds itself in dearth of sound and viable objectives, and fills the resultant void with gibberish. Instead of building sensible products, companies in this category waste money on “innovation” and “disruption”. However, “disruptive” inventions are almost never of use to the consumer, and are seldom found in legitimate enterprise. Take note - if something is marketed as “disruptive”, it’s probably asinine.

A glance at the solutionist culture of Silicon Valley (and similar circles) is enough to make this point. Take Juicero, for example, a failed $400 wifi-enabled smart juicing machine bl, or Kinsa’s $100 data mining smart thermometer bl. Or, take yourself back to the mad cryptocurrency rush of early 2018

Even billion-dollar companies with a forward-thinking vision are not immune to fraud and anemic results. Theranos bl and WeWork bl serve as high-profile examples, but more lurk in the shadows.

The corporate world is no better. The abundance of products and apps aimed at automating and enhancing modern life is overwhelming. It’s hard to imagine, though, that anyone’s life will be appreciably improved through a purchase of Samsung’s new 82” 8k smart tv bl or Bosch’s blockchain smart fridge bl. However, this “upgrade culture” still appeals to a few deadened pockets, so, motivated by profit, this “innovation” will continue (though some of this may just be to avoid monopoly charges bl). Alas, this kind of innovation rarely nets more than inconsequential, iterative improvement. As a result, state-of-the-art innovation is hard to come by in the corporate world. Corporations affecting beneficial broad-scale change are even more scarce.

To make light of the situation, some turn to satirization - take Nicholas Baldeck and his “wifi-enabled AI smart potato”, for example. And, although I’ve highlighted a few unsavory examples, many companies are addressing real problems and creating value in doing so. In addition to the aforementioned Proterra and Zipline, thousands of other startups are busy building usable solutions. Still, we are left with the question: why is groundbreaking progress becoming rarer, and can we revive true innovation? 

My view is that the problem lies in the newly minted risk aversion of the tech world. When digitally-derived profit was hard to come by, companies were forced to find new business models, which necessitated thought and experimentation. This thinking and risk-taking, required to find viable streams of income, inspired inventiveness. Now, the shimmering frenzy of the early internet has waned, and left a lucky few floating in a river of profit. These companies rake in money, improving their products only marginally; enough to stay ahead. This position of comfort causes stagnation, which is poisonous to a healthy ecosystem.

Solutionism is the antithesis of progress. It can’t last. Solutionism is running on fumes to maintain its unsustainable trajectory. We should note that this paradigm does not exist in an isolated bubble - its impacts are felt worldwide. Resources that could be used to save the world are wasted on inefficient profit seeking. If we don’t radically move forward, our economic machine will grind to a halt, our most troubling problems will become insurmountable, and hope for a brighter future will die. To thrive, we must fuel the engine of progress with ingenuity, brilliance, and new input.

Finding brilliance

In a search for brilliant, ingenious, and inventive people, scientists are probably the best population to select from. 

Beyond scientists, science as a discipline has a lot to offer in terms of entrepreneurial potential. 

Finding brilliance

There are two pieces to this. One part of what could be done would be to leave the current scientific ecosystem as is, and use it as a talent and idea pool to pull from

We should focus heavily on building an entrepreneurial method of science. By that I mean a paradigm where emphasis is placed on the development of solutions for the common good and science is treated as a central economic pillar of society, as opposed to the current subjugation of science as an obscure side-show to the cultural game.

Once we get to this point, we can start creating models of true side of entrepreneurship that are not just based on scientists becoming entrepreneurs, but rather on treating science as an entrepreneurial discipline. And this is where we get again into shareholders of scientific projects and the light 

Why not treat science as an entrepreneurial enterprise? A rough model of this isn’t hard to conceptualize. Shareholders invest in individual studies or projects which may consist of multiple studies. Then, from there on, we can build a funding model, not unlike the traditional startup funding model, which is that venture capital companies essentially invest money into scientific projects in the anticipation that they will pay off in some regard, let’s say by receiving a share of the license fees that may come from selling patents derived from results of the study. 

There are opportunities to develop models of business and innovation that apply to science. The only problem that this process may ruffle some feathers. Science, to date, has been closely bound with government enterprise. Disentangling the two may be tricky. Many of the top scientists are bound to the government teat. That said, there’s a bright future ahead because there are many young scientists who are entrepreneurially and individually minded and know the worth of their work. These unbound scientists can operate individually and independently of other profit motives. They are open to accepting this. They’re open to accepting this because it’s a way to get away from the edge of today’s monopolistic culture of science. It’s sort of a revolution of the young.

I think the author buried the lede here. My biggest takeaway from the article is that you’d have to be an absolute sucker to work in academia given how poorly you’ll be treated. Each person that puts up with this only makes the problem worse, giving at least tacit approval to the status quo. If folks were to start opting out of academia in larger numbers for jobs in private industry, schools would be forced to improve working conditions.Unlike lower-skilled workers, the kind of person who even has the opportunity to get a PhD is also likely to have other good opportunities should they choose to take them. Academics should improve their lot and that of others by voting with their feet

My biggest takeaway from the article is that you’d have to be an absolute sucker to work in academia given how poorly you’ll be treated.Every now and then I get an overwhelming sense of guilt when I talk to/think about my friends who are engaged in academia or pursuing advanced degrees (I’m 28, for reference).The crazy workloads they have, the insane restrictions on how they can do their jobs, and the cut-throat nature of the industry means that they’re working so much harder than I am, and are either doing their part to advance the grand sum of human knowledge, or are training to literally save peoples lives…and I’m sitting here, a college drop out, getting paid way more than they’re making, in an industry where I will never have any fears about job security, playing with networking equipment and writing about it

But most people are not looking for this kind of salvation, but are rather looking for an alternative that truly works meaning an alternative If that is inclusive, and that brings people together, but most importantly, that nets results that actually benefit society at large, and where the profits are not reserved for the people who are at the top. And the question of how we make this a reality, how we make entrepreneurship. That is, let’s say decentralized and good for the common person is a question about what kinds of entrepreneurship are important. 

Here I’m going to present how I believe we can make science what you could call anti fragile. I know I’m using that word wrong process by, by essentially making it less of a zero sum game, giving the opportunity for wealth creation, or value creation on behalf of individual scientists, or scientific enterprises, right, so that instead of going for the meager scraps that still exist, in terms of scientific funding, that science becomes an enterprise that’s building upon itself funds itself. And therefore it’s like we’re giving science fertilizer, instead of the current process, which is essentially giving science a few small scraps of good soil to grow in. And then we’re surprised when the things that grow out of it are, are less than superb, you know, and that’s just absolutely absurd. 

How We’re doing it right now. It’s like, Well, I think what I just gave is a good analogy, right? We’re, we’re making people fight over small crumbs and scraps. And people have a tendency to fight more strongly for something when it’s when it’s less. In other words, if you give someone you know, a few crumbs of bread to fight over, they’re going to actually fight more viciously over those few crumbs of bread than if there’s abundance. And you know, and one person could get a slice of bread while the other can get the whole loaf. Right, because, you know, once once you have a slice of bread, you don’t need to fight for the whole loaf. So we should we need to reframe how science works in that way, and that’s a massive social undertaking. 

But a big piece of that undertaking. is protecting science from anyone after being able to domineer it or control it. And, sadly, we’ve been headed down this route for a long time, partially because science has been imbued with a sort of naivete that is dangerous to its survival. Because it’s easy for scientists who are not necessarily exposed to the horrors of the corporate cutthroat world to think that everything will magically become, you know, rainbows and butterflies, if only a few steps are taken. And then there’s a paradigm shift in science. You know, you’ve heard this a lot before and the Open Science movement has been underway for a long time. 

And I’m not dismissing the benefits of let’s say open science for the scientists who are working towards it, right. I totally understand the benefits of open science and in principle, I’m for it, but it stands in a cultural context. that’s greater than just the context of how should I say that? Then just the context of science itself, right? Science stands in a cultural context. And it’s important to take that into account. 

And if we do that we have to look at what factors in society and culture at large can threaten the freedom inherent to science. And you know, there’s quite a few I could rattle off one of the big ones is, you know, corporate interference corporate dominance, like look at patents, for example, patents or patents are a good example of how science has been taken advantage of in a broader context, which individual scientists are often unaware and so we just have to look at For many other examples of this, of what’s a corporate exploitation of science, and maybe that will be the prodding iron, that will get scientists to honestly examine perhaps shedding themselves of their naivete, and adopting a bit more of a cold skin record shell, which will then actually allow them to make further progress. 

It’s a trade-off right now, but it’s one that must be made. If it isn’t taken, it’s possible that science majors will turn into a sort of captive species. Almost like you could picture aliens bringing a few humans into an enclosure and cutting them off and just using them for for entertainment. I think the same thing could happen to science in the cage of corporate influence. 

Imagine science as an enterprise where the participants are locked inside of a big snow globe with a domed glass ceiling. And the people in this globe work and struggle within the context they’re in to produce some output that’s considered insightful and useful by the scientific community. Then imagine that output is immediately taken by the owners of the snowglobe and used to increase their wealth.

We have to find a way to make scientists engaged in encouraging the scrupulous use of their outputs, and examine what scientific output means to the greater whole. By the greater whole, I mean the world beyond the isolated scientific discipline in which the advancement is made. Openness and transparency doctrines are great, but they don’t alone ensure the usefulness or pragmatism of a particular scientific advancement.

When scientists are researching to net something in the real market, there’s a market incentive to conduct purposeful and honest research. Such research must be applicable. When there is pressure to conduct applicable research, honesty and transparency are values that must emerge. To develop solutions that work, you actually have to do real science. This is a way to weed out the fake science that comes from the bloated bureaucracy in academia. 

The real motivation behind Assembl is to empower scientists who have had their voices silenced or who are not listened to, because they don’t have the the technical infrastructure to disseminate their ideas. We want to open the channels for that. We want to open the pipelines of scientific collaboration so that we can interconnect scientists who otherwise may not be doing research on the same issues. I think that cross field collaboration is also something that can can be fostered with the proper environment and the proper tools, but doesn’t happen so much right now. 

An example of this is as follows: Say you wanted to study the average Western diet. There are fascinating projects like the American Gut Project that do this work. Oftentimes science takes the position of being a sort of impartial observer, right? It has little regard for the holistic systems that it operates within because it forced to be a compartmentalized exercise in order to operate. A chemist is focused on chemicals and chemical interactions and perhaps the environment which fosters chemical interactions. But no chemist is doing research into the corporates behind sugar production. No chemist is looking into the water pollution in the ocean that is causing poisonous bacteria - blue algae - to form. These many different fields are right now very sectored. Cross section collaboration is important, but can’t happen.