You are most certainly aware that Higher Education Institutions (HEI) play a key role in modern society serving as a seedbed, where not only knowledge is produced and transferred, but where the new generation is able to acquire the necessary tools for further technological developments, especially those associated with the basic science and health science. But were you aware of the influential role of HEIs in the development of start-ups?
As EIT Health Germany’s Education Manager, my role within that progress is to promote the implementation of HEI programmes that aim to foster start-up creation and support HEIs in the successful integration of these programmes. “Let us leave things just the way they are” is a comfortable and dangerous premise and definitively a poisonous thought if you are willing to create new inventions, products, or services for your community, something universities are also becoming aware of. Delivery of concrete solutions can only be accomplished with the correct commitment of HEI, supported by local government and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).
So, what is the main role of HEIs in the development of start-ups?
The continuous participation from HEIs in entrepreneurial ecosystems leads, for instance, towards the swift creation of new companies, thus mitigating unemployment, and ultimately keeping Europe’s economy booming. Innovation promptness in the health area is binding and a key factor for maintaining health standards. Therefore, we easily understand the fundamental nature of innovation and the universal connotation that it bears.
Innovation comes as a blend of inspiration and observation. We create because we care. The moment we stop caring is the moment when entrepreneurship and innovation ceases. It is because EIT Health cares that we are placing the creation of start-ups as a priority and an essential activity for degree programmes, a vision already being shared across the international academic community.
Evidently, innovation ecosystems in the academic environment exist already. However, to further enhance them, we want to achieve an integration of the learning and economic environments, thus building the needed relationships to achieve common aspirations. One of our main goals is to strengthen the stability in knowledge for the healthcare system and to guarantee concrete solutions for the upcoming health challenges within the European borders.
Student start-ups are a significant part of overall university entrepreneurship.
The university context plays indeed a role in start-up generation, but an even stronger influence is played by regional characteristics. I want to emphasise the positive influence of HEI in start-up creation on students in their path to entrepreneurial activity. Naturally, individual characteristics are still the main driver of students’ entrepreneurial behaviour. The role of HEI outside economically growing European (core) regions is even greater when developing the necessary capabilities to promote spin-offs successfully. Furthermore, the presence of entrepreneurial students as positive role models exerts an even stronger effect in these non-core regions (as published by Bergmann et al. (2016)).
EIT Health’s education managers, therefore, encourage the University programmes supporting entrepreneurship and further enhancing its effectiveness through mutual coordination with regional public strategies. EIT Health has developed a cross-European entrepreneurship support policy and we are now coordinating the required strategies for both parties — EU and HEI — to achieve more successful efforts. A beautiful example is the recently launched call HEI Initiative. EIT Regional Innovation Scheme (RIS)-located universities are an important part of the local entrepreneurial ecosystem. This scheme is an additional offer to the involved countries to facilitate their engagement with the EIT Community and to accentuate the regional environment as a crucial driver of their students’ entrepreneurial activities.
Our next challenge is to fulfil the performance index in the number of start-ups created, linked to a degree programme.
Clearly, for student entrepreneurship to flourish, ecosystems are required to be carefully envisioned by bringing together the right stakeholders. My advice for HEIs to be more effective: networks with stakeholders need to be extensively developed. We, at EIT Health, are eager to help HEIs in connecting with stakeholders within our ecosystem and to facilitate additional financial support. Thus, we are fostering pan-European Master and Doctoral programmes that deliver entrepreneurial skills to students with a special focus on innovation and entrepreneurship, including healthy living, active ageing, technological innovation, and medical data analytics.
Summarising, new degree programmes are required to begin to promote start-up creation and motivate their students in this very needed academic feature in their curriculum. Each student is encouraged to be involved in the development of a start-up since the very first semester. The innovation process is never-ending, and our contribution to this cycle is present in every step. It is our common responsibility to continue creating, to continue caring, never ceasing to innovate.