Having a STEM background can be an invaluable asset in the business world. Take the example of Jeffrey Immelt, who served as the chairman and CEO of GE from 2001 to 2017, also chairing the President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness during the latter part of that period.

Prior to joining GE, Immelt earned his B.A. in applied mathematics before going on to earn an M.B.A. Immelt says he used his math background on the job much more often than his MBA, drawing from the problem-solving skills he learned in math.

Immelt’s experience illustrates how practical applied STEM skills can be in the business world. STEM graduates earn more than graduates in another field, with starting salaries averaging $59,000 a year and up, National Association of Colleges and Employers data shows. Entrepreneurs coming from a STEM background also have an advantage over their rivals. Here are three ways you can translate STEM training into entrepreneurial success.

Put math skills to practical use

One of Immelt’s early business colleagues was fellow math whiz Steve Ballmer, who went on to become Microsoft’s first CEO, replacing Bill Gates. Ballmer was initially behind in his math work in high school, but his teacher inspired him to begin taking extra classes and participating in summer programs, enabling him to score a perfect score on the math section of the SAT.

Graduating from Harvard with a degree in applied math and economics, Ballmer outscored his dorm mate Gates on a national math competition. He impressed Gates enough that when Gates was building Microsoft, he hired him to be the company’s first business manager.

Ballmer applied his understanding of math and economics to develop a data-driven approach to business decisions which helped build Microsoft into a corporate giant and amassed him a net worth of $38.7 billion, making him the 21st richest man in the world in 2018. Colleagues say Ballmer often knows more about the numbers behind the business performance of their companies than they do.

As Ballmer’s case illustrates, math can give you a major edge when it comes to making business decisions. Understanding math can help you apply data analytics to make better marketing, operational and financial planning decisions. Math can also help you perform essential bookkeeping tasks such as accounting and budgeting. The problem-solving mindset math teaches can also assist you with solving business problems, as Immelt has found.

Apply science for innovation

A science background can give you an entrepreneurial advantage by empowering you to develop innovations that put you ahead of the market. There is perhaps no better example of this than Thomas Edison, whose science interests inspired him to invent revolutionary inventions such as the phonograph and the light bulb en route to acquiring a record 1,093 patents.

A more recent example is the University of Texas at Austin professor Robert O. Williams III, who won the university’s inventor of the year award in 2017 for the impact of his inventions on commercialized technology. Williams has applied his knowledge of biology to develop 35 pharmaceutical patents and cofound several companies.

The pharmaceutical industry is one area where entrepreneurs with a STEM background have excellent opportunities to introduce innovations. Another field where innovative entrepreneurs can make a difference is manufacturing.

For instance, an innovator with a background in materials chemistry may understand why Viton would be more suitable for an aircraft engine o-ring than another type of rubber. Other thriving fields where a science background can inspire innovation include nanotechnology, biomedicine, and robotics.

Use computer skills to automate your business

In a digital-driven economy, computer skills can be another gateway to successful entrepreneurship. A good example is Sergey Brin, the president of Google parent company Alphabet, worth an estimated $53.1 billion.

While earning his computer science degree at Stanford, Brin helped develop what became Google’s search algorithm. He went on to oversee Google’s expansion into high-tech areas such as virtual reality glasses, autonomous vehicles, and alternative energy technology.

Brin used his technical background to help Google gain an edge in search engine optimization, a discipline which can give entrepreneurs with tech skills a marketing advantage.

Entrepreneurs with computer science skills can also use their background to improve their company’s efficiency by automating key tasks such as accounting, project management, and sales. Understanding computer science can also help you leverage digital technologies such as artificial intelligence, business analytics and virtual reality.

Science, technology, engineering and math skills have been used by many successful entrepreneurs and business leaders to reach the top of their fields. Entrepreneurs with STEM skills enjoy an advantage when it comes to applications such as data analytics, product innovation and business automation that can give companies a decisive edge in today’s digital-driven economy.


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