From psychology to business: A story of two accidental entrepreneurs

You have more potential for entrepreneurship than you think.

Not too long ago in Colombia (c. 2006), two undergrads named Carlos and Ale met for the first time during a psychology lecture on Emotion. They chatted briefly and quickly discovered that they had very different goals; Ale dreamed of becoming a neuroscientist and Carlos wanted to go touring with his metal rock band!

They both agreed on one thing though, ‘This place (uni) is hostile to our ideas. People think our ideas are weird!’ This is how they saw themselves:


Although they had different goals in mind, can you tell that they share a similarity? (Hint: Look at the ‘direction’ of the red and green fishes)

Anyways, they went on their separate paths; Carlos actually went touring around Colombia with his band, and Ale went on to start his own neuroscience lab and founded Hippocampus, a university society that promotes conversations on neuroscience between students of diverse backgrounds.

Two years later, they bumped into each other on the street, and decided to celebrate the happy coincidence over coffee. Ale spoke passionately about Hippocampus that was expanding quickly and invited Carlos to help him manage its growth. Carlos was not convinced at first, but in the end, he said yes and never left…

Today, Carlos Velasco and Alejandro Salgado are two DPhil students at the Department of Experimental Psychology. They are also the Co-Founders of NEUROSKETCH*, an applied science laboratory that uses scientific knowledge and methods to provide solutions for industries, non-profit organisations and governments via market research and science-based consulting.


Carlos (left) and Ale (right), two happy entrepreneur scientists. They are DPhil Students at the Department of Experimental Psychology, University of Oxford and Co-Founders of NEUROSKETCH.

They provide their clients with a range of business solutions, from developing more attractive products to designing more effective hiring systems. In the process, they generate employment for people who are ‘passionate about applying science to the real-world, and would like to be themselves’.

Speaking about their start up experience at PsyNAppS last Tuesday, they said ‘It was a complete accident! We were doing things that we were passionate about in our society, and realized that we just needed funding to make them happen. We went knocking on doors and when we got some money, one thing led to another, and it grew into a company. In fact, we didn’t realise that we already have the skills! Looking back, it all makes sense:

Entrepreneurship skills   Skills from Psychology degree
Knowledge management Research, Critical thinking, Referencing
Data management Statistics, Data analysis using SPSS and/or MATLAB
People management Theories:Empathy, Emotions, Theory of Mind, PerceptionPractice:Participant recruitment, volunteering, teamwork, leadership skills, public engagement activities
Evidence that your idea works Pilot studies, Data collection and analysis
Commitment Hundreds if not thousands of hours in the lab/working on your degree/projects

However, they did notice a key difference between their typical academic routine and entrepreneurship: ‘It is not a linear thinking process; sometimes it’s not even logical, so you need to be very adaptive’. At the end of the day, the key point is being adaptive; as Ale and Carlos put it: ‘It’s not about what you know, it’s about how you use it’.

It seems like having a degree in psychology could be a great start for entrepreneurship, but there are many other things that you will need to learn if you decide to start your own company. For example, you will need to get funding (e.g., from venture capitalists), write business proposals, and realise that ‘when there is a potential, there is a risk’.

One important decision is on choosing your business partner. Ale and Carlos concluded: ‘Business is not about friendship, but its cool if you get both’. They maintained that they are very different individuals with different personalities and skills, but ‘Hey! Different is good, you need different skills and ideas to cater to different clients’ and ‘you can become friends in the process’.

At the beginning of their start up, Carlos realised the importance of Accounting and Law, ‘… you need to know your numbers and how they work. I read accounting and law in the library for 3 years, while Ale went on to develop on our brand and marketing strategies’. Ale added, ‘ You need to be good at branding and marketing. Design produces lasting competitiveness; typography, presentations, website – some people think these are secondary, but they sell! At the end of the day, your company is not what you say it is, but it is what your client say it is’.

Clearly, there’s lots to do and learn, but it is one of the things Carlos and Ale enjoyed most about starting and managing their own company, ‘you grow and you become better’ and importantly, ‘you do it on your own terms’.

During their talk, Ale and Carlos were not only generous in sharing their experiences, but they even offered some tips to aspiring entrepreneurs:

  • ‘You start by taking chances’ Whatever you do, there are risks. You need to make the best of what you have’. In the case of Ale and Carlos, it started with Hippocampus, the society back at uni. They created the opportunity by actively meeting other bright minds from different fields, made plans together, and worked hard to make things happen. They believed in what they do, and they were passionate enough to take the next steps. They made sacrifices, took some risks and accidentally found themselves in the process of entrepreneurship.
  • Don’t wait until your idea is perfect!’ Speed has ROI (Return of Investment). You are good to start as long as its minimally viable’. The business world waits for no one, ‘you will improve on the idea in the process’. Plus, ‘you need to modify your ideas to the needs of your clients’.
  • ‘Be brave and know what you are doing’ Carlos and Ale face challenges everyday. For a start, many people told them to ‘go get a real job, and stop living in your own world’. But guess what? Some of them work for their company now! Occasionally, they also meet with clients who do not know what they want. How did they deal with that? ‘Listen carefully to understand them, put yourself in their shoes, come up with a solution and show it to them’. Like any companies, they have to face their competitors. But they said, ‘It doesn’t matter how big a company is, it can collapse if it doesn’t understand its clients. The key is to structure reality in the way your clients see it and then, tell them a story that they will understand’.
  • ‘Be ethical’ To some, neuromarketing is associated with ‘bad science’. Indeed, ‘some people are selling ‘science’ out there, and people in business might not know the difference. There are no peer-reviews, and by the time these people are caught (5-6 years), the damage is already done’. ‘At NEUROSKETCH, we are ethical with our pricing, salary and research. Our work is peer-reviewed and are based on real data’.

Importantly, both Ale and Carlos said, ‘Have fun!’. ‘Entrepreneurship is not for everyone, but if it is for you, don’t forget to enjoy the process while you get paid for your work’.

WAIT— They are doing their DPhils and managing NEUROSKETCH at the same time? ‘We have a very good CEO who carries out the operational side of things, and a great team whom we trust. We really invest in their professional training and care for their career development. We are like family’.

What are their next steps? ‘The goal is to spread our knowledge and to teach. We don’t know what the world holds, but we are ready to use our knowledge and adapt to it’. What about you?




*NEUROSKETCH is an applied science laboratory that was founded in 2009. It was a ‘spin-off’ from the university society, Hippocampus. It is the first of its kind in Colombia. So far, it has worked with 37 multinational companies, covering businesses in 5 different countries. At present, NEUROSKETCH is involved in both scientific and business talks in over 10 countries. It has enjoyed uninterrupted profits since it was founded.

One response to “From psychology to business: A story of two accidental entrepreneurs

  1. Pingback: From psychology to business | Carlos Velasco·

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