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Which degree for a future entrepreneur?

  1. Jul 15, 2012 #1
    Hello people,

    I'm going to have to choose a major sometime soon, and I'm still not quite sure. Basically, I'm thinking about choosing between applied physics, business economics, and technological business management (more about that in a bit). One of my dreams - if you can call it that - is to become a technological entrepreneur in the future, and I'm wondering which major would fit this dream best (if any).

    A small description of all three majors:
    1. Applied physics is mostly physics with a few different courses. You get all the basic physics courses (classical mechanics, EM, QM, and so on and so forth), but instead of some of the more obscure physics courses you also get material science and a few other engineering courses.
    2. Business economics is basically economics, but with an emphasis on (surprise, surprise) businesses.
    3. Technological business management ('technische bedrijfskunde' in Dutch) is the engineering (yes, really) major alternative to business management. It has additional courses such as calculus, classical mechanics, material science, mechatronics - and of course most of the business courses focus on such technological issues such as manufacturing.

    Personally, I'm in a bit of a dilemma. You see, I like to think I'm reasonably smart, and of course if we retreat to dreamland-yay-let's-play-Tony-Stark for a moment, you can see how applied physics would appeal most to me. I'm also simply very interested in technology and all that, so applied physics makes sense in order to be seen as an 'expert' in the field. On the other hand, while I like designing and building things for fun, I can't really see me doing this kind of thing as a job. I'm much more inclined to think of myself as someone who (again going to dreamland for a moment) builds a technological empire (or more realistically: manages part of a company). I also don't like many of the extremely in-depth courses in physics or engineering if I can't see a way to directly do something with it in some sort of business. I do like reading about such things, but I'm not particularly interested in learning about advanced quantum mechanics.

    Does anyone have any advice?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 15, 2012 #2
    Well, do you like math?

  4. Jul 15, 2012 #3
    It depends.

    I like math-puzzles, and I'm fine with math-calculating-stuff, but I don't much like math-proving-stuff (which I understand is the kind of math you tend to get at university level).

    EDIT: I just found out that the official English name we use for 'technische bedrijfskunde' is Industrial Engineering and Management.
  5. Jul 15, 2012 #4
    A part of industrial engineering is operations research, which is the mathematics of efficient logistics. Often it requires a fairly extensive knowledge and ability to do mathematics at the level that most engineers and economics majors have upon graduation. But if you don't plan to pursue that route, it shouldn't matter whether your company is tech-based or not.

    Last edited: Jul 15, 2012
  6. Jul 15, 2012 #5
    I'm fine with all sorts of math, just not the 'prove theorem X' kind of it. I wouldn't mind having to do a bit of this in college, but I don't see myself doing this a lot in my future job if I can avoid it.

    I did not say any such thing. (Unless, of course, it turns out that you have to prove a multitude of mathematical theorems when working on technology, which I doubt.)
  7. Jul 15, 2012 #6
    I believe "proving theorems" is something that is done primarily by mathematicians and economists, and perhaps theoretical physicists and theoretical computer scientists.

    You don't have to worry about "prove theorem X". What you have to worry about is more along the lines of "use theorem X to calculate the most profitable price we should charge for our products".

  8. Jul 15, 2012 #7
    Fair enough. The point is, though, that I'm fairly certain that I want to do one of those three majors. My question is simply: for someone who wants to be an entrepreneur in a technological field, which major would you think would be best?
  9. Jul 15, 2012 #8
    I think you should eliminate option 1, unless you specifically have an interest in physics.
    Option 3 seems the most practical for your needs, so it essentially comes down to how theroetical vs. practical you want your classes to be.

    I would re-ask this question in the career guidance section though, since in Europe I know that questions like this are more career-oriented and demand an understanding of career prospects since I assume you won't be able to change your major once you've chosen it?

  10. Jul 15, 2012 #9
    I do have an interest in physics, but it's more of an interest a la "should I start designing new technology, I want to at least know what I'm talking about", but I don't necessarily need to have a deep understanding of the underlying theory of physics (although I like to read interesting books about that). Do you think the former could be acquired when not doing a (applied) physics degree?

    *nods* It seems the most obvious choice to me, too. I'm also considering a double major, but I suppose it would be best to pick option 3 as the 'main' major in any case.
  11. Jul 15, 2012 #10
    You can learn many concepts in physics without a degree. The only use of a degree is that it offers formal accreditation and it enables you to meet and form connections with people in the field (i.e. physicists). But that's not your goal: You would prefer to meet people in the business/management industry, so your major should lean towards there.

    In your spare term, you can read books on physics. That should be good enough. There are so many tons of books out there it's not even funny. Anyone with an interest can read them provided they are ready to go through the math. It's a formidable pursuit though, learning physics on your own, but since you are only after the basics, I won't say it's impossible! I did some of it myself! :tongue:

    A good book I would recommend for physics is Fundamentals of Physics by Resnick & Halliday. But you eventually want to be switching to books on industrial engineering and operations research. The physics will automatically train your math though, and that is an important advantage of studying physics which introductory courses in other fields often cannot provide.

  12. Jul 15, 2012 #11


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    Hey i16e and welcome to the forums.

    One of the more important things you will need to do to be an entrepreneur is to narrow things down and stick to that something even in the absence of outside distractions. Along from all of the other things entrepreneurs need to possess, this is not easy.

    The other thing is that unless you have been doing something for a while, you probably won't have any real idea of how to get that specific something.

    It sounds like you haven't narrowed things down well enough, so the first thing I would recommend is to just choose something that you can devour and dedicate your time to without even thinking about the end result, because you don't really know what you want to actually do specifically and for an entrepreneur, you can't by any means go into a venture as unprepared as this.

    Here is what I recommend you do: get a degree in something that you can absolutely devour and be dedicated to. Then try to get a job with someone who will rotate you around the different units of the company so you can get a feel for the actualy industry and the business itself. This is really critical, and take every opportunity you can to do this, go to conferences, meet people of all sorts and network constantly.

    Most important though: observe constantly. Observe what is going on with the entire industry, trends, business and suck it all up like a giant vacuum cleaner.

    After you have done this for a while (I'd say about minimum 5 years), you will know whether you want to be an entrepreneur or not.

    If you can work for startup, then this would give you certain advantages than if you worked for a multi-thousand employee company.

    Also if you do work for other people, read your contract very carefully. Don't create stuff on their time or with their resources and even if you do work at home, make sure you read the contract so it doesn't catch up with you. This happens to people more often than you think, and especially for the people with some form of a dedicated legal departments or counsel. Read the contract!

    If you build up your reputation and credentials (experience, etc), then it will be a lot easier for you to engage in a startup. Remember that you will need some funding most likely, so you will need to effectively convince these people that the investment they make has some decent chance of getting a return. Different people will have different 'ideas' of what is decent and what is risky, but they all want to see someone who can deliver and this means looking at the people, not the actual idea. Plenty of ideas out there, not as many good people to carry them through so keep that in mind.
  13. Jul 16, 2012 #12
    Good advice. One of the problems is, however, that I'm having difficulty narrowing it down from three majors to only one (or two at most). Which major do you think would be most appropriate?

    That's great! I think I might have that book around somewhere, too. I'll take a look. :)
  14. Jul 16, 2012 #13


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    My recommendation is to do something technical at university and get the other skills through experience.

    My basis for this argument is that the technical stuff is a lot harder to learn than the other stuff. Learning the other stuff is not any easier time-wise, but I'm going to go out on a limb and assume that engineering or math/physics is harder than business.

    If you want to learn about the so called soft skills, join a club like Toastmasters, go out and meet people, and learn how to be sociable. Observe what is going on around you all the time (you'd be amazed at how many people who don't do this), and pay attention on how to improve.

    The above stuff is stuff that you can do on your own and the results will come later in how you present yourself, how you approach people, how you communicate and so on and this is going to be far harder to attain than the hard analytic stuff.

    I would if I were pick a hard science or engineering and if you want to be a tech entrepreneur, probably something like computer/electrical engineering or computer science/mathematics or something along those lines.

    But make sure you get out there: meet people, join something like Toastmasters, network and get yourself out there because even if you have a great idea and end up executing that idea (which is hard in itself), you still need other people to know about you, want to deal with you, can work with you, and in some sense value all of these kinds of things.
  15. Jul 16, 2012 #14
    I remember a talk by an entrepreneur to a group of MBA's in which he started his talk by saying that "None of you are entrepreneurs. If you were, you'd be outside starting your own company rather than sitting here listening to me talk."

    One thing about business degrees is that are designed mainly to train corporate bureaucrats, and the mindset of a corporate bureaucrat is *deadly* in small startups. However, once a company reaches a certain size, it's going to start needing bureaucrats to keep things from falling apart, and at that point you need MBA's, and the point of the talk was how MBA's can help entrepreneurs rather than being one themselves.

    The other piece of advice, he gave:

    1) Don't be an entrepreneur. It's not worth it. You are going to work much, much harder and make a lot less money than if you become a corporate office worker. People that succeed at being entrepreneurs do so for personal reasons, and hence when someone points out that it's economically irrational to be one, it's not going to stop them. (i.e. your first test as an entrepreneur is whether or not you will ignore people that tell you (correctly) that it's a stupid thing to do.)

    2) If you are successful, then you will have to step aside. Entrepreneurs are great at creating companies. Once they've created a company, then things get bureaucratic, at which point you need the MBA's to run things, and a lot of people get sick of that, so they cash out and start another company.
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