//The Dark Side of Entrepreneurship: An Interview with Dr. Cesar Bandera

The Dark Side of Entrepreneurship: An Interview with Dr. Cesar Bandera

Mental Illness Awareness Week is observed annually on the first full week of October. As the week reminds everyone, it is important for people to be aware of their mental health and how it relates to their disciplines.

Last month, Associate Professor of Entrepreneurship Dr. Cesar Bandera spoke about “Resilience and the Entrepreneur” at TEDxNJIT. His talk focused on the emotional and psychological resilience of the entrepreneur.

“There’s a dark side to entrepreneurship. There are economic risks for sure, but there are emotional and psychological risks. And this aspect of the dark side of entrepreneurship is self-inflicted,” said Bandera. 

“You might not have control of the markets, it may be the markets and other factors that you can’t control that negatively impact your startup or your entrepreneurial aspirations. It is inherently high-risk. But many of the pains that an entrepreneur goes through are self-inflicted. And there are some practicing entrepreneurs that could be doing much better if they didn’t self-inflict these wounds.”

Bandera is referring to the heavy social and emotional cost of being a solo entrepreneur. According to a 2015 study from UC Berkeley, entrepreneurs were significantly more likely to report a lifetime history of depression than their non-entrepreneur peers.

“In the United States, if you ask someone to describe successful entrepreneurship, the response is typically a solo entrepreneur like Steve Jobs or Mike Zuckerberg,” continued Bandera. “In Europe, successful entrepreneurship is a successful group of people that hires and pays wages, that has health benefits. It’s a very different, more social, concept. There are fewer self-inflicted wounds from the dark side of entrepreneurship in Europe than in the United States.”

In other words, while the American dream praises the ‘self-made man,’ entrepreneurship is often a team effort. One of the reasons why European entrepreneurial teams have “fewer self-inflicted wounds” can be attributed to the greater emphasis on collectivism rather than individualism.

Initially from an electrical and computer engineering background, Bandera was thrust into an entrepreneurial role when the Department of Defense took interest in funding his research on foveal vision, which is machine vision inspired by the neuromorphology of vertebrate vision. Essentially, all artificial vision systems have one thing in common: the pixels are the same size. They may be big, they may be small, but within an image they’re all the same size. 

Vertebrate vision does not have this limitation. Bandera’s research involved studying how to give artificial systems certain properties that appear in vertebrate vision but not in machine vision.

“I thought this was exciting—I get to do what I loved to do for a long time, and not starving in the process! It turned out I was not entirely right,” said Bandera of his experience with conducting research for the Department of Defense. “Now I have to manage a team of people, and those people are doing that research that I wished I was [sic] doing. My job had turned from being the researcher to being the person that has to get funding for a team of researchers, and then find[ing] markets for these prototypes. That is what drove me into entrepreneurship—not necessarily because I wanted to, but because I found the responsibility thrown on my lap.”

Despite the high levels of risk and uncertainty, Bandera’s enthusiasm for entrepreneurship is undiminished. 

“I enjoy entrepreneurship tremendously. I’ve had some successful exits, where the companies that I’ve formed were acquired by others. When that happens, I always look forward to doing it again. And when you’re doing it again, the first year or two, you’re wearing all the hats. But very quickly you form a team, and now you’re doing the administrative aspect of entrepreneurship and you grow the company. So entrepreneurship is a lot of fun.”

Finally, as a piece of advice to aspiring entrepreneurs, Bandera stressed the importance of not taking results too personally. “If things don’t work out, it might not be your fault. And that’s part of the emotional baggage that entrepreneurs tend to put on themselves. It’s important for the entrepreneur to not put himself or herself in a position where the survival of the company depends on multitasking, because most likely that’s not going to end well.” 

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Sreya Das

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