Stan Gloss, an entrepreneur with dyslexia, launched his first business at age 11. He’s now the cofounder and CEO of BioTeam, a multi-million-dollar company that builds supercomputers to accelerate scientific research. His clients include the National Institutes of Health, Biogen, Autism Speaks and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Growing up, Gloss had a tough time in school. We asked him to reflect on his challenges and successes, how his parents advocated for him and why he thinks so many entrepreneurs have dyslexia.
1. When were you diagnosed with dyslexia?
I was diagnosed in 1965. At that time, the diagnosis of dyslexia was really unheard of. My struggles began in the third grade. It was the transition from learning to read to reading to learn where I hit the wall.
At school people labeled me as “stupid” and “lazy,” and they told me to “just try harder.” I was trying as hard as I could. My schools didn’t understand how I learned, so I could not get the help I needed.
My mother believed in me and wanted to find answers. She searched high and low for someone who could help and found Dr. Charles Drake, a Harvard researcher who was working with language-based learning disabilities. Drake diagnosed me with dyslexia. He was dyslexic too.
A few years later, Dr. Drake went on to found the famous Landmark School for learning differences like dyslexia. Unfortunately, that was too late for me.
2. How did you get through school?
If you can’t read and want to survive and keep up with the kids in your class, you have to find creative ways to get your schoolwork done.
I organized study groups so I could listen to learn. I wrote my own study guides that other kids borrowed. I did three times the work of my classmates just to get a C grade. My hard work did not pay off in school—but it would later in business.
To build my self-worth I had to find something I was good at. For me, that turned out to be business.
I started my first business when I was 11, shoveling snow (like Shark Tank’s Daymond John, who also has dyslexia). I went out door-to-door in November before there was snow on the ground and got homeowners to agree to hire me. So by the time the snow fell, I’d already had all my contracts lined up and cut out the competition!
When I graduated from high school, I got turned down by every college I applied to because my SATs were too low. But my mom was really smart. She suggested I go to an associate degree program at Northeastern University for respiratory therapy. They accepted me.
For me college was easier than high school. Once I could see that what I was learning applied to what I was doing as a respiratory therapist, my grades skyrocketed. When I applied to graduate school I was accepted and received full tuition and a stipend for living expenses. The naysayers that said I would never go to college, but I proved them wrong.
3. How did you become an entrepreneur?
After college I taught respiratory therapy at Quinnipiac University. With my background, I was then able to get several jobs in the medical equipment field. That’s where I discovered I was really good at something—sales!
In sales, reading was not as important as communicating. And I’m good at talking to people and understanding their needs.
Eventually, I made the jump into the field of research computing. The company I worked for designs computer systems for life sciences. That includes anything from genetics to health to bioengineering.
I worked with three amazing consultants in that job. When we all left that company we founded BioTeam. That first year, we barely made enough money to get by. But every year the company’s revenue has grown, and we’ve done well. That was 14 years ago.
4. Why do you think people with dyslexia make great entrepreneurs?
I think the main reason is that struggling in school teaches you to innovate to survive. You have to figure out a way to get things done. That’s what I did.
Also, being an entrepreneur means living with discomfort. The chances of succeeding are slim, and the possibility of failure is always present. If you have dyslexia and struggle to read, every day in school is a day you learn to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. And that’s a must for an entrepreneur.
They say that great entrepreneurs have to fail many times to succeed. Well, I failed more times by the time I graduated from high school than others will fail in a lifetime.
It was awful to struggle in school, but in some ways I’m thankful for it. The success comes from the struggle. I actually feel bad for the people who could read easily and were the perfect students. I like to think they got shortchanged, not me.
The adversity I faced in school was a great training ground for the entrepreneurial life, which isn’t easy.
5. What’s your advice for parents whose kids want to be entrepreneurs?
If your child has an idea for a company or a new product, have her go immediately and make a prototype. It doesn’t matter if it’s on paper. It doesn’t matter if it’s made out of cardboard. Encourage your child to just get started. If your kid wants to start a T-shirt business, get the supplies and start making T-shirts.
There’s a lot of talk about business plans for kids. Forget it. If you tell a kid with dyslexia who is excited about something that she needs to write a business plan, she’ll get discouraged. So just…start.
Entrepreneurs are not measured by grades. They are measured on their effort.
See Stan Gloss talking about dyslexia and entrepreneurship in a video interview. Find ways to uncover your child’s passions and strengths. And explore more dyslexia success stories.