Universities are both a place for innovators to learn and grow, and sometimes an obstacle to innovation.
- On the one hand, companies like Google are tightly intertwined with the support from their universities, a place to grow ideas, research, patents, and to find sometimes a first driver for growth.
- On the other hand, many universities are like ivory towers, cut off from the business world, and their teachings have been challenged both by Internet startups in the field of MOOCs, such as Coursera, and by innovators who deem they’re an obstacle to business creation (Paypal co-founder Peter Thiel has a special fund for genius kids that will support them provided they drop outÂ from their college or university).
In any case, it is impossible to imagine that Universities don’t have a key role to play in today’s shift from a service economy to high-growth companies that start little and scale rapidly with a supportive environment. The panel was composed of professors all thinking and doing entrepreneurship in their alma mater:
- Joana Mills,Â deputy director of the Center for Entrepreneurial Learning at the University of Cambridge,
- Datuk Zabid,Â President of Universiti Tun Abdul Razak in Malaysia
- Rafik Guindi, who admits “having taught all my life”, now helping Egypt to setup a new age for its education
- Peter Ng,Â founder of the UCSI group which delivers education, based in particular on Blue ocean strategy (see Chan Kim’s briefing of this business strategy)
- Larry Farrel, an American who trained with an affiliation network more than 5 million leaders in entrepreneurship
A first step is to think of the university as an institution in a region where specific businesses, culture and history exists. The University of Cambridge, in the UK, is surrounded by about 1 500 high tech companies employing over 54 000 people. It’s both an opportunity to expose students to successful entrepreneurs, and to provide the latter with new research and technology designed by the university.
The faculty, too, should be aware of the growth of entrepreneurship as a factor of growth, and have themselves an entrepreneurial mindset, be it to create new formats of knowledge sharing, to use of high-tech and/or connected tools that will empower their students, or to learn and teach the soft skills key to any business owner (networking, negotiationâ€¦).
Third point, the university should be opened to private companies. It’s frequent to see companies which hire graduates begin their mission by an intensive training, which suggests the university did not provide the right skills. The Universiti Tun Abdul Razak in Malaysia has for instance a degree in accountancy that has been designed jointly with the Australian CPA, a professional association of accountants, the 2nd largest body of this type in the world. As a result, getting the degree from the university gives in the same time the certification that allows one to work as an accountant. Universities can also take shares in their students projects. Stanford has netted $336mÂ in shares from Google as a patent license fee, and the University of Florida still gets 20% royalties from GatoradeÂ since 1973, which accounted as of 2009 for $150m. Another research group from the MIT, lead by Tom Leighton, had worked on speeding internet algorithms before creating Akamai, a company through which now 20-30% of the global internet traffic transit.
Of course, turning an education institution in an entrepreneurship building one depends of its history and way of working. Zabid Abdul Rashid, President of Universiti Tun Abdul Razak, tries to make a typology of universities, and how they can position themselves towards entrepreneurs, as there are several types of possible ventures. According to him, an education institution must take into account its own market to know how to drive different segment of entrepreneurs, from SMEs business owners to risk-takers. Stanford or Berkeley are known to take risks, when Yale will provide more corporate leaders, for instance.
In the end, added Rafik Guindi from Egypt, a university should think to what it prepares its students. After having brilliantly described how education went from learning the trade of your parents to learning new skills, then focusing on degrees and more recently on research, he describes the entrepreneurial university as encompassed in spheres of human interaction and how it must prepare the youth for effectiveness and impact:
- At an individual level, a university must provide personal knowledge (skills, taste for risk, leadership, innovation)
- At a country level, the university must develop thinking and action on national issues (such a new regime building in Egypt)
- At a regional level, the university should address topics such as security, or water resources if we take the case of Egypt
- At a global level, eventually, the university must prepare and help students tackle the world’s problems such as climate change.
Let us not forget how education and universities had been designed in the first place, as a breeder of similar andÂ exchangeableÂ civil servants, from lawyers and philosopher in kings’ courts to the British Empire literal colony of efficient mechanisms to spread a world-wide empire and administration, as reminds Sugata Mitra in a brilliant TED Talk.
All in all, the entrepreneurial university must both open itself to its environment, especially with companies, and tackle a range of subjects on which students can act directly within the university, not waiting graduation, a moment when risk-taking may be lower due to age and family relationships, for instance, to change our world. But it’s a long road. The Kauffman foundation, a leading think and do tank on entrepreneurship and education, has assessed only 12 educational institutions in the world were entrepreneurial in 2012.
Check out ourÂ report on Malaysia innovation ecosystemÂ on Slideshare too