Nobel Laureate Dan Shechtman: ‘It is good to open a restaurant or barbershop, but economy is supported by high-tech startups’

Nobel Laureate Dan Shechtman held an open lecture at Tomsk Polytechnic University last Friday on the topic Why Should We Teach Technological Entrepreneurship in Universities. The professor who headed the TPU International Council talked about how entrepreneurial ecosystem is built and how it affects the economy of a state as a whole. Here there are the most interesting parts of the lecture.

Photo: Nobel Laureate Dan Shechtman.

‘The development of entrepreneurship is the solution of such important problem of the economy: demography and unemployment.

Many governments are implementing the strategy of encouraging larger families. In Israel, for example, the government is encouraging technological entrepreneurship because startups double their staff every six months. People get jobs in technology companies; they have good salary and can afford a decent lifestyle and support their children. In my country there are 3.2 children per woman. Annually, the government allocates 3-4% of the budget for R&D. I think, only in Sweden there are similar figures.’

‘Teachers are the most important people in the world. Our future is in their hands. From prime school teachers to professors in universities.’

‘It is good to open a restaurant or a barbershop but they do not support the economy. High-tech startups support the economy. Because you provide yourself, other people and the whole country.’


Robots do not take jobs

‘Many are afraid that robots will replace people and they will be unemployed. I say: ‘Look at the unemployment rate in undeveloped countries, it is 50 %. There are no robots. Look at the developed countries. In my country this is 4.5%. The higher automation and the more developed country, the lower the rate of unemployment. Robots do not take jobs, they provide them.’

‘Fostering technological entrepreneurship requires the development of human ingenuity. The main resources of any country like Russia are not oil, not minerals, not wood but people. Your brains are the main resources of Russia. Not oil.’


‘How to develop human ingenuity? There are several conditions. Firstly, it is good basic education for everyone, in every remote village. Secondly, good teachers are very important.

A scientist from Stanford conducted a study: one teacher, which is one deviation better than an average teacher, educates a better student, a better specialist. This specialist gets a better salary and pays income tax that is several times higher than the salary of his or her teacher. A good teacher is a good business for the country and for each person. A bad teacher educates bad specialists that causes problems for the whole society. Therefore, every country should pay special attention to the fact that only excellent people become teachers not only in university but also in high school.

Thirdly, a good engineering and science education. Fourthly, government policy and support. Fifthly, free market economy. Sixthly, no corruption. But it can be insufficient.

It is necessary to develop entrepreneurial spirit and knowledge. Getting knowledge, all start talking about entrepreneurship, then it becomes the spirit of the country. Each one wants to be an entrepreneur. ’ 


Entrepreneurship can be taught

‘Some people think that they ought to be born to become technological entrepreneurs. It can be taught like mathematics or driving a car, or swimming. Everyone has to take some classes how to become a technological entrepreneur.’

‘Cultural considerations are particularly strong in the countries of Far East. (not Russia – ed.). In several countries of the world, failure is a shame on you and your family, etc. I say: ‘Failure is ok. Start again. Look at a one-year baby. He begins to walk, falls, stand up and falls again. In a week he walks, in two weeks you cannot catch him.’

‘Entrepreneurship is not only running your own company. I need mention intrapreneurship when a person with a good idea presents it to CEO of the company. If the idea is considered as promising, it is being developed and, in most cases, the company succeeds.’

Prof. Shechtman also believes that technological entrepreneurship should be taught starting from the kindergarten. We should provide early science education; in order children can perceive scientific information. For example, in Israel there is an entrepreneurial ecosystem which is based on good universities that educate good engineers; foreign development centres; military developments that are also used for civil purposes.

The professor talked where to take initial investments for startups.

‘Never use your all money if you have not deep pockets. Do not sell your car or your apartment. Do not take money from your friends or relatives. You can get funding from angels, strategic partners, and venture funds.’

In addition, Dan Shechtman gave some examples of successes and fails of high-tech startups and answered students’ questions.