Entrepreneurship might be one of the most misunderstood concepts in the university world. The typical interpretation is that entrepreneurship is about developing startup companies that are spun out from the university. But that interpretation is far too narrow, and it hampers the societal contributions from universities.
Imagine that we chose to see it differently and viewed entrepreneurship instead as a competence and recognized that it is applicable to university research and education as well as to innovation and other forms of utilisation.
In fact, this is not a novel view at all. For some time already, researchers, practitioners and public organisations have been debating what should and what should not be regarded as entrepreneurial competence. The concepts vary a bit across the board but there is a fair agreement that entrepreneurial competence is about mobilising the resources necessary to taking ideas and opportunities into action while creating value for others.
“What would be truly novel is a university taking entrepreneurial competence as the pivotal point of departure when defining its mission and strategies. It seems attractive at first glance but is difficult to do in practice since universities generally are large, old and quite conservative organisations.”
Nevertheless, the potential is significant since the societal contributions of universities would increase in multiple ways. Research questions would be formulated differently, yet fully independent by academics, based on understanding of how the results might be applied in practice.
Teaching would be conducted differently, with a value-centric perspective on students and their future employers. Innovation and other forms of utilisation would naturally be reinforced including, but not at all limited to, the spinning out of startup companies. Many non-commercial routes utilisation of would also be favoured, including those that will impact norms, beliefs, rules and standards.
Entrepreneurial competence of faculty and students is key to have universities respond even more strongly to the paramount challenges society today is facing. Policy programs like Horizon Europe are not more powerful than the reaction they trigger. I am convinced that entrepreneurial universities create more value for society compared to non-entrepreneurial ones.
Hence, entrepreneurial competence is a mean for policy makers and funding organisations to increase the return on investments in research and higher education. And note that entrepreneurial competence is not exclusive to engineering or business schools, but of vital importance to all scientific disciplines including natural sciences, medicine, social sciences and humanities.
Investing in the development of universities’ entrepreneurial competence is therefore a smart thing for policymakers and funding organisations to do. The reason is simply that they will get more societal impact from universities without allocating more money to research and higher education. Making sure that some resources are reserved for the long-term development of entrepreneurial competence will improve how universities go from “input to impact” in general and with regards to societal challenges in particular.
We are facing a future where the world needs to recover from the coronavirus pandemic and at the same time prepare for a green, digital and resilient sustainable future. With such an outlook we would like to be sure that universities provide their outmost contributions and that they have the right conditions to do so. Entrepreneurial competence is a vital part of those condition and policymakers and funding organisations plays a key role in stimulating its development within universities.
Dr. Fredrik Hörstedt is Vice President for utilisation and innovation at Chalmers University of Technology. He is responsible for Chalmers’ innovation ecosystem including venture creation, research technology organizations and science parks. He holds the overall responsibility for Chalmers’ interfaces with business, research institutes, public authorities and politics. He is a board member of the European Innovation Council, a member of the EUA Innovation Ecosystems Expert Group, and an advisor to the Swedish Government on research, innovation and digitalisation.