By Guest Author Christine Volkmann
[Last week, the series discussed what entrepreneurship education should look like; today Christine Volkmann addresses how to implement last week’s ideas in a university setting.]
Creating a “high surge” of entrepreneurs in institutions of higher education
The current global economic and social crisis may leave people puzzled, doubting that existing ways of doing things may still work in the future. In other words, powerful engines for creating innovative solutions and effective approaches to problems are badly needed, be it in financial services, renewable energies or elsewhere. However, now more than ever we feel that it may be hard to decide what will be effective new approaches and what will not – and this is where entrepreneurs, who have a shot at such problems, come in.
In this context entrepreneurship education at higher education institutions (HEI) is an opportunity to develop and enhance entrepreneurial mindsets and behaviour of students, professors and other stakeholders. In the words of Peter F. Drucker, entrepreneurship is “not magic; it’s not mysterious; and it has nothing to do with genes. It’s a discipline and, like any discipline, it can be learned.”
Universities play a vital role as originators of scientific discoveries, inventions and new knowledge; traditionally, measurement of faculty success has been “paper-driven” (e.g. journal articles or books), and most graduates use their university degrees as a springboard for paid employment. While this type of academic and educational output is undoubtedly valuable, there is also the entrepreneurial path in which students and faculty develop new products and services, take the driver’s seat and become entrepreneurs themselves. This requires developing an entrepreneurial mindset in institutions of higher education around the world to encourage people to try new ideas and pursue venture projects (be it by founding a new business or within existing public or private organisations). In this context, the chapter on entrepreneurship in higher education in the World Economic Forum’s recently released Report identifies a range of critical issues and calls for action for policy makers, leaders in academic institutions and business.
In terms of education programmes for entrepreneurship in higher education, the following issues are particularly important: Overall, there needs to be a) a larger scale of entrepreneurship activities at higher education institutions (HEIs) (e.g. the number and reach of programmes) and b) increased sustainability rather than one-off projects (long-term institutionalisation of entrepreneurship in students’ degree courses and adequate conditions and incentive structures for faculty to become entrepreneurs). To effectively teach entrepreneurship, this also entails more adequate teaching approaches such as interactive, creative and participant-oriented learning “like entrepreneurs do” supported by state of the art information technology. The need for scale and sustainability in generating entrepreneurial activity in universities and other institutions of higher education raises a host of challenges.
Increasing demand for entrepreneurship programmes globally – While in Western economies HEIs frequently have entrepreneurship on their teaching agenda, the theme is less established in transforming and emerging market economies; however, in view of the prospective future growth and rapid structural change of these regions, they will soon offer the most interesting entrepreneurial opportunities and challenges. This calls for additional efforts to develop networking activities and an exchange of educators, teaching material and approaches.
Building a complete support chain for entrepreneurship – Entrepreneurship education and the support of entrepreneurial opportunities at HEIs must go beyond the door of the class room. HEIs need to develop a support infrastructure for entrepreneurship ranging from stimulating students’ and faculty’s entrepreneurial interest in new business formation and technology commercialisation. For example, this may include increased efforts relating to industry collaboration in product development and marketing as well as hands-on support in market entry (e.g. contacts to technology partners, IPR consultants, potential vendors, industry-specific investors etc.). In terms of target groups, the support chain must not only be able to reach internal university members but also alumni, addressing the typical time gap as graduates do not necessarily want to start their own business immediately after leaving university.
Widening the teaching portfolio in entrepreneurship or going beyond traditional business planning and management courses for new ventures, programmes have to build students’ competences in leadership and responsibility. Such competences are at the heart of innovation-oriented entrepreneurship to convince others to commit resources and to follow the uncertain path of developing and marketing new products and services. Entrepreneurship programmes certainly have to take a cross-disciplinary, university-wide approach in order to develop the competences required for pioneering novelty. This will require building new and extending existing platforms for cross-faculty co-operation on entrepreneurial projects in an organisational context where “thinking in isolated departmental structures” is still common.
To embrace a wider target group of entrepreneurship education or to build an entrepreneurial ecosystem on a broader scale, we should appreciate the role of academics and graduates as future opinion leaders in all areas of society. These leaders may not all found businesses of their own, but they will be important stakeholders to new entrepreneurial ventures in their careers in media, banking, education, engineering, politics etc. Entrepreneurship programmes should therefore strive to reach a broader group of academics in order to sensitise them to the needs and challenges of new entrepreneurial ventures (as opposed to those of large established companies).
Becoming an entrepreneur friendly university or even an entrepreneurial university – A university-wide, cross-disciplinary approach to entrepreneurship is not only an issue of programme reach and scale, but also a question of developing an entrepreneurial spirit in order to create and maintain a continuous output of entrepreneurial ideas, venture opportunities and new businesses. To create truly organization-wide entrepreneurial outputs, universities (and other education institutions) need to work in a number of directions at different organisational levels: a) a strengthened steering core in terms of university top-management’s vision and mission for an entrepreneurial organisational culture, b) university-wide and faculty-specific boundary spanning roles and institutions to facilitate collaboration with industry and other external stakeholders important in new venture formation and technology commercialisation, c) adequate incentive structures and framework conditions for faculty to take on entrepreneurial roles and participate in venture projects, d) reflecting the entrepreneurial approach in the university’s funding base (i.e. more financing from activities like technology licensing, industry contract research etc. and less state funding).
Overall, education policy as well as university and faculty leadership need to prepare the ground for more entrepreneurial activities in education institutions in an integrated approach involving national education systems, university missions and departmental policies to support students and researchers at the grass-root level to become entrepreneurs in a higher education context.
Striving for a fruitful balance between traditional scientific outputs and entrepreneurial outputs of HEIs – Generating funds from contract research and accelerating commercial outputs is reminiscent of a potential tension field between a university’s entrepreneurial activities and demands for academic quality. While university presidents and faculty deans need to address concerns articulated inside and outside the organisation, examples of leading entrepreneurial universities show that there does not need to be a trade-off between academic and entrepreneurial outputs of HEIs.