Entrepreneurship is on the verge of disrupting our way of thinking, teaching, and acting. It is not merely another university subject, but a fundamental shift in the orientation of a university.
It adds a fundamental career choice for students in addition to careers in academia/public sector and industry, which need specialized education and support. This has effects throughout all levels of the university, in research, teaching, and administration. Several trends and developments are fostering this move for universities to offer more entrepreneurial pathways. We have identified three major themes: education is global, technology is accessible, and innovation needs impact.
Education is global
Individual empowerment, for example, has resulted in a growing number of students enrolled at universities and a more intensive world-wide movement towards higher education (660 million estimated students by 2040 or 10% of the world population, compared to 4% or 200 million in 2012 and around 50 million in 1980¹). This creates unprecedented complexity and pressure for institutions with a strong regional focus.
High Quality Education is highly accessible everywhere through MOOCs and Online Academies. Barriers to knowledge are low for those who are talented enough to study and make use of what is “accessible”. As a consequence, local monopolies on knowledge erode with increasing speed. The great value of higher education will be in physical presence and empathy, not in facts. Building not only brains, but also souls. That means, people and personalities will become ever more central for higher education institutions. For universities, this resonates in the growing importance of such as the ecosystem which surrounds the university. These ecosystems will become the sandboxes for talented students, travelling and searching for the best places for exchange, interaction, and teamwork.
Finally, for a growing number of foreign students, searching for a new host country becomes ever more important. Growing numbers of students taking advantage of Erasmus or ASEAN programs are a new seed of well trained, “soft skilled” smart and open-minded young people – in short: “entrepreneurs” in their own matters.
Technology is accessible
With a growing amount of software in products and services, new technology gets cheaper and more accessible. The conflation of time and space through technology becomes reality. Providing access to resources for communities of practice, and interacting more seamlessly with corporate and entrepreneurial ecosystems becomes a key part of higher education. An iterative and test-driven approach to technology development can be efficiently conducted for both hardware and software. This will complement established and more rigorous procedures to designing technical systems and their dominance in the curriculum. As a consequence, the potential for project-based learning in a flipped classroom increases. This favours a bottom-up and experiential approach to learning and will complement, if not dominate, a top-down and theory-driven approach. Understanding the university as a safe-ground for such empowered experimentation across disciplines will be key to leading this development.
Innovation needs impact
Government spending for R&D is shifting from basic to applied research. In turn, pure science projects will need to get more funding from industry. Universities need to become more entrepreneurial in closing this gap as marketability gains even more importance in this context. As a consequence, the integration of research and teaching as well as the differentiation of basic and applied research become blurred. This needs to lead to a change in how research organizations are designed. Specifically, we are likely to see a stronger alignment to the innovation process, from idea to IPO, making use of cross-disciplinary teams with deep knowledge.
How to design the future
Entrepreneurial universities can face these future challenges, by positioning themselves in a global market, making use of the talents inside them to provide immediate value to society through their projects, and sustain long-term research visions by intensive interaction with corporate and entrepreneurial ecosystems. In the end, entrepreneurship is not a gene or something you are born with, but something which can be taught, learned, and applied. Young people and students are eager to make use of this knowledge anyway. They need to use us teachers as coaches for a methodology and a mind-set, rather than as a source of facts. Professors and teachers can apply entrepreneurial approaches not only to commercialize their research results, but also to actively influence their environment and peers. This opens up new sources of funding and creates more independence from centrally controlled government funding. University staff can embrace a more dynamic and self-missioned approach to designing the learning infrastructure of the future.
Einstein said that “Education is not learning of facts, but the training of the mind to think”. The merger of education in this sense with the toolset we have right now within entrepreneurship has the potential to trigger creativity, boost personal development and lay the foundation for the application of one’s “own means” in the field of one`s interest.
In the end, research should not be conducted for the sake of technological advancement but the betterment of mankind. Let’s start by empowering talents to shape their realities, not by teaching them facts. Let’s start within our own means, right there, right now
1 Calderon, A. (2015). What will higher education be like in 2040. University World News, (381).
Dr. Dominik Böhler is responsible for the entrepreneurial and technology-oriented teaching activities for students at UnternehmerTUM, the Center for Innovation and Business Creation at TU München. This includes curricular courses (TechTalents) and personal development programs (Manage&More) at TU München (TUM) and beyond. Focal fields are personality development, design thinking, technology development, and business modeling. Dominik and his team put emphasis on developing new methods in teaching and delivering prototypes in a flipped classroom setting. He received a diploma in business administration and a PhD in information systems from the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg (FAU).
Oliver Bücken manages the training offers for professionals at UnternehmerTUM (Managing Growth, Financing Growth, Design Thinking, Lean Startup, Agile Bootcamps, etc) and the Executive MBA in Innovation & Business Creation (together with TU München). Start-ups and entrepreneurship have been salient features throughout his professional life, and after graduating in business administration, he worked in the banking and in the venture capital industry. He was also one of the co-founder of an e-commerce company (IPO, Exit) and committed to funding and co-founding of start-ups as a Business Angel.