Facilitating En­trepreneurship in Communities to Augment Univer­sity Engagement: Can This Wait for the Future?   

Facilitating En­trepreneurship in Communities to Augment Univer­sity Engagement: Can This Wait for the Future?  

Universities have existed for hundreds of years with the Univer­sity of Karaouine in Fez, Morocco, (established over a millennium ago) still operating. Although there are parallels between medieval universities and those of today as places of higher education and knowledge, many of today’s uni­versities have realized the need to break down the ivory tower walls, and become more immersed in and engaged with the commu­nities they serve, while retaining pure the pursuit and dissemina­tion of knowledge. As universities evolve and adapt to changing community attitudes and increasing technological and social change, community engagement is becoming an imperative under­pinning relevance, resilience, and sustainability.


Entrepreneurship as a new form of university engage­ment

Community engagement, as an ethos and way of operating that is embedded in university culture, is evolving. Traditional approach­es to community engagement can occur through meetings among university, industry, and government personnel, university workshops and seminars open to the public, community part­nerships, etc. Although traditional engagement methods provide the foundations, evolving community expectations of universities require additional innovative engagement approaches as communities look for increasing university contribu­tions to enhance their prosperity.

The facilitation of entrepreneur­ship in communities by universities provides opportunities for universi­ties to engage with and contribute in ways not addressed by more traditional engagement methods. Entrepreneurship in universities has often been viewed from an academic disciplinary perspective underpinned by entrepreneurship teaching and/or research and quite separate to engagement – though the two do not need to be mutually exclusive.

However, an increasing num­ber of universities also undertake non-academic entrepreneurial activities through the establishment of business incubators, innovation hubs, co-share work spaces for students, etc. Other institutions take entrepreneurship a step further and look to develop a more entrepreneurial and innovative cul­ture in both the student body and academic/professional staff.

The knowledge and experience universities accumulate through their entrepreneurship academic and non-academic activities can be significant and influential. En­trepreneurship is a powerful tool for developing and regenerating economies and so should not be overlooked as an essential tool for engagement. The time is ripe for institutions to address entrepreneurship engagement oppor­tunities through co-creation and collaboration with industry and government to meet the increas­ing wider community needs.

Capitalizing upon their accumulated entrepreneurial knowledge and ex­perience, universities can position themselves as leadership exemplars for facilitating entrepreneur­ship in communities be­cause they, more than any other entity, are in a posi­tion to provide a multi-layer value bundle to the com­munities they touch com­prised of economic, intel­lectual, social, and cultural value.

Thus, engagement through entrepreneurship can augment traditional engagement efforts. But this means that universities them­selves need to embrace entrepre­neurship; not just in a piecemeal fashion. That means, entrepre­neurship teaching, research, and engagement are required to be present in the university with the boundaries among the different academic and non-academic components being permeable (rather than having impenetrable academic versus non-academic silos) with each component complementing and informing the other.

Those universities poised to be­come more successful at engag­ing with communities through en­trepreneurship will adopt a holistic and systemic approach to entre­preneurship that integrates the academic research and teaching and non-academic engagement entrepreneurship components. Their success will be underpinned by the creation of a one-stop shop entrepreneurship portal that provides a dedicated pathway into the university as well as a focused entrepreneurship unit poised to engage with communities that can provide a plethora of entrepre­neurial services, skills, knowledge, advice, and experience.


The future-thinking univer­sity – with entrepreneur­ship embedded

And so, consider a future-think­ing university that integrates its ac­ademic entrepreneurship research and teaching staff with its non-ac­ademic mentoring, innovation hub incubation facilities, and proto­typing activities into one cohesive unit with innovation hub nodes embedded across the university and in local, regional, and interna­tional communities. The benefits are many.

Its students studying entrepre­neurship or undertaking entre­preneurship learning alongside other degree programs have the opportunity to undertake intern­ships with the entrepreneurial ventures located in the incuba­tor(s) and various internal and external nodes or set up their own business. In this way, they not only learn about entrepreneurship, but are doing entrepreneurship. That means, when they graduate they not only have a University degree but also a functioning start-up venture that can be integrated into the community.

If the university has established international business incubation facilities in overseas communi­ties, the students undertaking internships in these facilities not only develop an appreciation for global entrepreneurship and dealing with risk and uncertainty in overseas environments. Rather, the communities supporting the incubators also benefit from the students being there – culturally, economically, socially, and intel­lectually through the exchange of ideas – as they integrate into the community (at least for the term of their internship studies).

For example, imagine if a non-European university had established an incubator in the Champagne region in France with students undertaking a for-cred­it internship course with local French businesses in the incuba­tor and being given the oppor­tunity to undertake work experi­ence in the Champagne Houses, French Patisseries, and/or French Cheese-Making businesses lo­cated in the region. The students benefit and the community bene­fits, in multiple ways. And, be­cause of the ongoing relationships developed between the university and the community there, other engagement, research, and/or ed­ucational opportunities may evolve benefiting both the university and the community.

Technological change moves at a significant pace, compelling social change in its wake. Higher education institutions should be at the forefront of this wave, but the bureaucracy involved in the rev­olutionary change required often cannot keep pace. Disruption is a given! Change should be brought about by the proactive directive of institutions rather than a lagged reactive response that still may not fully meet the changing demands of society.

And so, while entrepreneurship can assume a more traditional role in universities contributing to their teaching load and research outputs, while other university business units assist students and staff to commercialise their re­search innovations by way of tech transfer and business incubation, entrepreneurship can also be a key pillar in facilitating community engagement through developing ongoing relationships with com­munities and generating real value in those communities.

Adopting a holistic approach and integrating the academic and non-academic entrepreneurship components will create additional value. While using entrepreneur­ship to engage with communities may be something for the distant future for many universities, there are some that are already doing this now because they see the benefits of augmenting/disrupting the traditional community engage­ment approach and using entre­preneurship to drive growth and shape their future.


Noel Lindsay is Pro Vice Chancellor – Entrepreneurship and Director of the Entrepreneurship, Commercialisation & Innovation Centre (ECIC) at The University of Adelaide, where he is the Professor of Entrepreneurship and Commercialisation. Within his position, Noel has gained extensive experience in leadership, team building, strategy, quality assurance, corporate governance, and change management, which complements his role in establishing and developing an Australian University in South Africa. Noel has investigated blended learning approaches to teaching entrepreneurship to high functioning intellectually disabled young people in his recent major research projects. He has established and harvested ventures in various countries, including Australia, South Africa, and Malaysia.

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