Entrepreneurship Training at VIVES: Practical Bachelor’s Thesis Projects in Entrepreneurship

Entrepreneurship Training at VIVES: Practical Bachelor’s Thesis Projects in Entrepreneurship

Ann Vandenbroucke

Lecturer, Head of the Bachelor of Business Management & Entrepreneurship – Head of the Bachelor of Business Management with triple degree – Head of the English Bachelor of Business Management, VIVES University of Applied Sciences

To make students feel what it means to be an entrepreneur, we chose a practical Business Project instead of a theoretical bachelor’s thesis for the students of Business Management specialising in Business Management and Entrepreneurship. In this project, students are divided into groups, based on their profiles. The intention is to have different profiles that complement each other in one group.

At the start of the academic year, the students begin with a brainstorming process. It is the intention that they come up with an idea for a product or service in which they offer added value. So, as it were, they should not buy and sell soap and towels if they do not have a strong marketing story or a completely innovative twist.

Once the students have pinned their idea, they give a pitch to convince potential investors and fellow students. They also start conducting a market survey and developing a business plan. The students then look for funding from shareholders and (compulsorily) borrow a part of the money they need from the bank. During the first shareholders’ meeting, they present their plans to their shareholders. After that, they start buying and selling or sometimes also producing their product or service.

Doing business involves keeping correct records, keeping accounts (with internet-based accounting software) and, last but not least, doing good group work.

At the end of the academic year, students close their accounts and prepare an annual report in the same way as companies do every year. They hold a second general meeting in which they tell their shareholders how the project went and, of course, how much dividend they can pay.

The measure of success (read: good marks) is not really the amount of profit the students achieved but rather how creative the idea was, how well they executed their project (pitch, general meetings, business plan, annual plan, accounting), how flexibly they managed successes and setbacks, how they responded to the market and how well they worked together in a team.

When we question the students at the end of the project, they always agree on one thing: they have learned a great deal because they did not have to study course material, but they had to put into practice all the learning material from the past few years.

One important element of this project, from the educational perspective, is that each team has a coach available to answer questions, to provide feedback, and to follow them up all year round. There is also a confidential counsellor who the teams can turn to if there are personal problems or problems within the team that they would rather not discuss with the coach.

One example of a Creative Business Project last academic year was Chocomize Me.  As Belgium is well known for its outstanding chocolate, this team decided to personalise chocolates with a QR-code. They aimed mostly for B2B sales, but also sold directly to the customers.

In their B2B sales, they mainly focused on companies that wanted to give a business gift.  They sold the chocolates with a QR code embedded in them. When the business partner scans the QR code, a video or message from the company in question is shown. In B2C sales, they mainly sold to people who wanted to buy a gift for someone with a personal message.

The team was responsible for making or helping to make the films, linking them to the QR code, purchasing the chocolates and personalising the packaging with, among other things, the QR code, their own house style, and of course in the case of B2B the logo/information of the company.

This is how they presented their chocolates during the sales moments to private individuals.

Some other projects from last year included: a team making fancy bracelets with an own twist (Embrace It); a team that designed and produced an ice bucket in which you can hang your glasses (PersonIce); a team that made, together with a nutritionist and a caterer, healthy salads that were sold both to students and to companies (Salad Avenue); a team that sold sprays with fragrances that work on the mind (O’ de Moral); a team that sold special combinations of herbs for cooking (Epices Délices); a team that made and sold wallets made of water-repellent and non-crackable paper that take up very little space (In the Pock€t); a team that went in search of recipes for healthy muffins and then had them baked by a baker to sell them (Healthy Bite); a team that made popcorn with new flavours (‘t Poft); a team that completely personalised Eclairs – customers could choose both the filling and the toppings (Faux clair); a team that personalized tote bags with funny quotes or quotes chosen by customers (Tote.)

Through these projects, all students through these projects gain some idea of entrepreneurship. A minority chooses to start an independent activity after their studies, while most of them either continue their studies or go to work in a company. Some also prefer to first gain experience in a company and then start their own business later on.

These projects are an elaborated version of the Intensive Project we have in the ECMT+ project, only in this case the teams are not multicultural. Every project is a journey in which intrapreneurship and entrepreneurship are nourished and valued.

We wouldn’t go back to a theoretical bachelor’s thesis.

 

 

Direct Application of Established Methods Leads to Practical Experience

Daniel Berger

Student of European Management (B.A.) at TH Wildau

“Entrepreneurship and Communication in Multicultural Teams” is an ERASMUS+ funded project which offered students from seven different universities in seven different countries the possibility to learn how to work together on a business idea in a multicultural team.

The project demonstrated what difficulties can occur when a multicultural team works on a common goal with different approaches. We as a group realised that there are many different methods for how to finish work on time and that every team member has a different strategy. Therefore, the development of a common strategy became the main goal during this two-week group project. During the different stages of the project, every member needed some time to comprehend in which field his or her potential could be unleashed and how he or she could support the team with his abilities to achieve a well-structured business model. The single interpretation of the common goal and the clear definition of the business idea proved to be the most difficult part of the project. However, those definitions are crucial for the success of a team and it took us a lot of time.

In the beginning every member described himself and we structured the roles of the team according to the BELBIN theory. My roles were the Resource Investigator, Coordinator and Monitor Evaluator. In the process of the business model we added more roles, like the Spokesperson or Problem Finder/Problem Solver and adapted the roles according to the experiences we made while working together. By the end of the project we were proud to have such a clear structure which had a horizontal approach.

I realised that it is very important to use different methods to visualise ideas because team members do not always understand them. I am very glad that my team showed me tools I didn´t know before that made it much easier to visualise ideas. I will surely use them again for future projects. The importance of a roadmap to achieve different goals and the clear definition of single tasks which need to be clear to every in the team were another important aspect while working together. It is much easier to double check if someone understood the task than rescheduling the deadlines. Due to the online tools we used I have learned a lot about how easier it can be having an instant check up on documents or files.

The coaches and moderators of the ECMT+ project developed a well-structured schedule which gave us as a team enough time to work on the business idea, while obtaining the right input for the final pitch. The support of the coaches helped us to work better together and to find a common communication strategy which led to a functioning group dynamic. It was interesting to see how the content of the different coaches helped us to structure the final presentation (pitch) of the business idea. The lectures about Social Entrepreneurship and Business Financing made me rethink different aspects and I am grateful for those experiences because I am sure that I will need this knowledge in my future career.

I wanted to work on a start-up idea that considered profit last, and people and planet first. To write a financial forecast for a non-profit project was my personal favourite part of the whole project. Every part of the balance sheet was discussed with the members and the research on costs and savings was very interesting. I would not consider myself a person who likes numbers, but calculating the success of a project gave me an even better insight into the business idea.

The language barrier which many thought would be the main obstacle was not that much of a problem. We understood each other and in the end every member of the team was satisfied about the exchange of knowledge in a common language. I would not say that my language skills have improved significantly.

The cultural exchange was still very interesting. We asked each other at the end of the project if the experiences we made while working together or the content of the coaching were more beneficial for the personal development. The conclusion was a mix of both. We could directly apply whatever we had just learned on the business idea, and this practical application made learning much more comprehensive.

After the ECMT+ project I posted an image on LinkedIn showing our group during the pitch and it was amazing to see the reach of this post. It was also impressive to see how during the business idea process I was able to get in touch with many students and coaches, building a network which can work together in future projects. Currently, I am in contact with students from Scotland and we are planning to work together on a business idea which could be applied simultaneously in different locations around the EU member states.

To conclude, positive and negative experiences shape your character and, regardless of the project result, the process of finishing something together, with all ups and down considered, is a priceless experience. This intensive program demonstrated that working in an international team with a specific finish line is hard but worth it, especially in times of distrust between cultures.

Proof-of-Concept (POC) programs

Proof-of-Concept (POC) programs

Heiki Immonen

Principal Lecturer of Entrepreneurship at Karelia University of Applied Sciences

More and more universities offer not just entrepreneurship education and traditional patenting-licencing scheme, but also have built in-house commercialization processes (Munari et al, 2016). In this text, I write about the so called proof-of-concept programs (POCs). My personal experience in running one such a program at Karelia University of Applied Sciences has influenced my understanding of the topic quit a lot. For this reason towards the end of the text I raise up one of the key problems associated with POCs i.e. the problem of selecting the right ideas and teams to enter the POC stage. I hope to discuss this problem in more detail in future texts.

Commercialization of novel ideas is a process of uncertainty reduction. There are many questions (Anthony, 2014) such as: Is there a need for our product in the market place? Can we make the technology work and produce it at scale? Are there enough potential customers willing to pay a price that will earn us an attractive profit? The main idea of POCs is to use simple and low cost methods to kill bad ideas early. Ideas that survive with reduced uncertainty earn more investments at later stages of readiness. In a world of limited resources, the moment when an idea or business case is ready for more investments, is a central question in commercialization.

The purpose of Proof-of-Concept (POC) programs is to reduce uncertainty by testing key assumptions of novel ideas. These can include team’s capability of building a working prototype or customer’s willingness to use a demo version of the invention. POC stage takes place after initial analyses on the validity of the business case are done. In higher education, POC programs often bridge the funding gap between traditional R&D activities and private funding. A business case that survives the POC stage becomes much more attractive to the private investors, as the associated uncertainty is lessened (Munari et al, 2016). POC programs often focus on IP owned by the university, but some program operate more like grant programs supporting university-born entrepreneurship regardless of the status of the IP ownership

Picture 1. Role of POC programs in the commercialization pipeline

To illustrate how POCs work, let’s look at NASA’s technology readiness level (TRL) classification (Kapurch, 2010). According to TRL an idea is ready for physical tests and prototyping when it passes the first two levels. Passing the first level requires gathering and reporting most relevant scientific findings about the technological challenge. To put it in other words, TRL 1 is about becoming familiar with what is already known. In some cases basic research type activities are needed, if the phenomenon is not well studied. At the second level actual concepts are being developed and analysed for feasibility and benefits. No experimental data or detailed analyses are required to pass this stage. Thus, given what we already know from TRL 1, TRL 2 can be said to be about creating good concepts that solve the challenge. The POC stage begins at TRL 3. This is when developers start to do small experiments to validate their models and assumptions.

NASA’s TRL classification assumes that the technological challenge at hand is important and a solution is required. In business setting however, the existence of a customer need is often the most important uncertainty. In a more business oriented POC toolbox, the lean start up methodology, validation of customer need is the first step. In lean start up, techniques such as use of google ads for testing for customer interest can be used. In the next stage of the process a minimum-viable-product (MVP) is created (Ries, 2011).  Anthony (2014) introduces a process with an initial definition stage and then two steps of so-called desktop research. During these steps basic assumptions of the business case are evaluated by searching for evidence using various sources of information such as online sources and expert interviews. According to Anthony these steps should take only from few hours to few days to do. For Anthony, the POC stage can be seen to begin with building a simple demo to be used by the potential customer.

POC programs that operate in higher education can face unique problems. All students, researchers and faculty in higher education setting are not necessarily fully up to date with business case evaluation and commercialization methods. POC programs or idea grants that only cover some expenses and don’t pay inventor salaries, also have the uncertainty regarding the would-be entrepreneur’s continued motivation (Immonen, 2017). This puts a lot of burden to the selection process, as program should be able pick good ideas and teams from poor ones. Pitching to a panel of experts is a method used by many POC program, but selection based on pitching alone can be heavily biased (Pentland, 2008). One option is to comb through every business case in detail, but this easily increases the relative cost of the selection process itself. Robust and quick ways to deal with selection process would be much needed. This very topic I hope to address in future writings.

References

Anthony, S. D. (2014). The first mile: a launch manual for getting great ideas into the market. Harvard Business Review Press.

Kapurch, S. J. (Ed.). (2010). NASA systems engineering handbook. Diane Publishing.

Munari, F., Rasmussen, E., Toschi, L., & Villani, E. (2016). Determinants of the university technology transfer policy-mix: A cross-national analysis of gap-funding instruments. The Journal of Technology Transfer41(6), 1377-1405.

Team Engagement – Exercises for Improved Team Communication

Team Engagement – Exercises for Improved Team Communication

Heiki Immonen

Principal Lecture of Entrepreneurship at Karelia University of Applied Sciences

Since 2008 I have worked with hundreds of student product development teams and very early-stage startup teams. Typically, there is a standout individual in every team who acts as a team spokesperson and a team manager. If there is a pitching event, this extroverted individual takes care of business. When you go and follow team meetings, the roles often remain the same. When measured in terms of how much each individual in the meeting speaks, the spokesperson often dominates the conversation. Of course, this is a common feature of meetings in professional teams and organisations as well. We all know the problem. What if a silent person has something valuable to contribute? What if the ideas of the spokesperson are not actually that good, but nobody criticizes them?

Engagement is a term referring to a pattern of internal interaction in a team or an organisation. Engagement and its effect on team effectiveness has been one of the major discoveries of Alex Pentland (2015) and his research group from MIT. A meeting where everybody spends equal time talking, the duration of individual comments is short, and where people take turns talking in no specific order has a high level of engagement. The opposite, i.e. low engagement, is when one person uses most of the shared time in long monologues. The reasons for low engagement are not really significant, they could be personality driven (introverts vs. extroverts) or due to some formal hierarchy or cultural difference. The thing that matters is the actual level of engagement. If the team fails to utilize the knowledge of all of its members, the team will not use all of its potential.

In their paper published in the highly acclaimed Science magazine Wooley et al. (2010) found a so-called “collective intelligence factor,” which surprisingly didn’t correlate with either the average team intelligence or the maximum individual intelligence of the team members. Instead, this factor depended on the social sensitivity of team members and equality of conversational turn-taking. Teams with higher collective intelligence were able to perform better in complex problem-solving tasks. In another study of engagement in companies, Pentland and his colleagues (2015) discovered that the amount of communication and idea flow between co-workers directly influenced the profitability of a call-center. When workers had the opportunity to talk about their tasks during coffee or lunch breaks, efficiency rose.

Obviously, engagement matters. How can you teach students the skill? In the past couple of years, I’ve been experimenting with my fellow teachers e.g. Dr. Ana Gebejes from the University of Eastern Finland, with different methods that help teams of students to become more engaged in their meetings and interactions. One of the exercises that allows students to have an analytical viewpoint of their team’s communication patterns is to have the team record their meeting and then ask each student to analyze a certain part of the recording, e.g. a ten-minute segment. Analysis is done by counting the number of times each person spoke and the total time each person spends talking. After that, you can ask participants to provide suggestions for how the team could improve their communication pattern.

Another exercise, directly integrated in the meeting, has an immediate effect on communication patterns. This exercise creates a so-called token economy. In the first version of the exercise, each team member gets an equal amount of tokens, e.g. small pieces of paper. Every time a person talks she takes one token from her personal pile and tosses it in the middle of the table. As everyone’s token pile is visible, team members can adjust their participation. If person A has very few tokens left, he should start listening more, and if person B has a big pile, then she should start getting more involved. In the words of Elon Musk: “You haven’t said anything. Why are you in here?” The second version of this exercise has one big pile of tokens in the middle of the table. Every time a student talks, he or she takes a token from the pile. If a personal pile gets too big, it’s time to give more room for others. Of course, there isn’t much difference, but the first version might require less reaching out to the middle of the table.

The question is: what if you really don’t have anything new to contribute? Isn’t the smart choice to stay quiet? Not really, you can significantly advance the dialogue by using one of two powerful conversational techniques. First, you can paraphrase what the other person just said: “So you’re saying X?” This allows the whole team to see if everybody is on the same page and even improve the thinking of the person with the original contribution (Kaner, 2007). Second, you can simply ask a clarifying question: “What do you mean by Y?” This is especially good in situations where the previous speaker used words or terms that are unfamiliar for the listener. You cannot really appreciate the value of an idea if you don’t understand the words being used.

Because of blended learning, IoT and AI, there is an opportunity to integrate technologies into meetings that automatically produce an engagement report for the whole team to learn from. Dynamic applications could nudge individual members to interact in a more balanced manner even during the meeting. As it is, these technologies already exist. Pentland’s group have used electronic automated measurements. Their techniques are based on the use of sociometric badges, i.e. small multi-sensor devices people wear on their necks. However, it is likely that voice recognition and directional microphones can replace such wearable devices. With such powerful tools, team working skills would become a more concrete objectively measurable ability.

References

Kaner, S. (2007). Facilitator’s Guide to Participatory Decision-making. John Wiley & Sons.

Pentland, A. (2015). Social Physics: How Social Networks Can Make Us Smarter. Penguin.

Woolley, A. W., Chabris, C. F., Pentland, A., Hashmi, N., & Malone, T. W. (2010). Evidence for a Collective Intelligence Factor in the Performance of Human Groups. Science, 330 (6004), 686-688.

Competence vs. Entrepreneurship

Competence vs. Entrepreneurship

Heiki Immonen

Principal Lecturer of Entrepreneurship at Karelia University of Applied Sciences

Many moons ago I did my master’s degree in physics. One of my classmates continued and finished his PhD a few years after. His next step was to move with his wife to Switzerland. He had received a post-doc position from a prestigious Swiss research institution. During their three-year stay, my friend became an expert in X-ray optics. He designed optical elements that were bought by synchrotron operators around the world. After his post-doc position at the research institution came to an end, he and his wife made the decision to move their family back to Joensuu, Finland. My friend had realized that he had the opportunity to keep servicing his synchrotron customer network independently of the Swiss research institution by utilising the lab equipment available at the physics department in Joensuu. And simply as that, he had become an entrepreneur.

In this day and age, entrepreneurship is touted as the miracle medicine to heal economies at both the level of the individual and of society. In Finland, this is evident at the level of the National Government Programme (2018) of prime minister Juha Sipilä’s government and locally for example as one of the three strategic traverse themes of Karelia University of Applied Sciences (2018). This has resulted in a situation where universities and their partner organisations are offering continuously expanding portfolios of entrepreneurship education and services. Recently we discovered that there are more than eighty different entrepreneurship-related courses or services (including services offered by partner organisations) available for Karelia UAS students. In a university of about 4000 students, this is a big number.

In the final analysis, people give money away only in exchange for something they consider valuable, out of many other competing options. Keywords here are value and competition. In order to get the customer’s money, an entrepreneur must be competent enough. His offering must be seen as valuable by the customer relative to competition. By definition, to be competent in something is to have a capability to solve a set of associated problems, to create value competitively. A competent carpenter stands out from the rest through quality and affordability. Competence is competence regardless of the employment framework, i.e. it doesn’t matter whether the carpenter operates as a paid worker in a larger company or as a single entrepreneur.

When we teach our students the many skills and mindsets of entrepreneurship, such as creativity, experimentation, business planning and networking, are we actually teaching them anything of value? Can they find any employer or a customer who is willing to pay for the direct application of these skills? The answer in majority of cases is no. An entrepreneur with only entrepreneurial skills and without competence, i.e. something valuable to offer to a paying customer, is a bust. This is evident even at the level of ideation. In a problem-solving setting, people without any competence relative to the problem typically produce worthless ideas. You really need to be competent in the given topic to have a creative impact (Von Hippel, 1986).

Do entrepreneurship skills carry actual benefits, then? The utility of business management side of the skill-set is clear. Management of a business requires you to take care of marketing, sales, revenue, costs, labour, investments etc. To run a business, you need to know how to run a business. What about the innovation-side of the entrepreneurship? Advanced innovation methodologies such as NASA’s systems engineering framework (Kapurch, 2010), Toyota’s set-based design (Sobek et al, 1999), ICED methodology i.e. Innovative Conceptual Engineering Design (Camarda, 2013), Innosight’s first mile commercialization process (Anthony, 2014) or the Lean Startup methodology (Ries, 2011) are actually processes of learning about a problem and a set of possible solutions. In other words, the innovative and creative sides of entrepreneurship are actually processes of becoming competent in a given topic. From this point of view, innovation and creativity are similar to education; both activities have the goal of becoming competent at something that is valued in the marketplace.

Whether one aspires to become a highly paid employee or an entrepreneur, try to choose a problem that matters to you. Clinical psychologist Jordan Peterson argues that you should do what is meaningful not what is expedient (Peterson, 2018). According to him, a good compass to guide you is your interest and curiosity. It’s quite likely that you cannot even articulate why a given topic draws your attention. Try to understand the problem – the customer need – more deeply than your competitors (Christensen et al, 2016). Solutions come and go but your knowledge about the problem keeps on accumulating.

Perhaps we need to adjust entrepreneurship education with more emphasis on entrepreneurship as a process of becoming competent rather than entrepreneurship as a skill to implement and execute a business idea. From a higher point of view still, what is the correct ratio of entrepreneurship education and training of skills of more direct value on the marketplace?

 References

Finnish Government. (2018). Government Programme. Retrieved May 3, 2018 from  http://valtioneuvosto.fi/en/implementation-of-the-government-programme.

Karelia University of Applied Sciences. (2018). RDI Focus Areas and Themes. Retrieved May 3, 2018 from http://www.karelia.fi/en/research-development/areas-of-focus.

Anthony, S. D. (2014). The First Mile: a Launch Manual for Getting Great Ideas into the Market. Harvard Business Review Press.

Camarda, C. J., de Weck, O., & Do, S. (2013, June). Innovative Conceptual Engineering Design (ICED): Creativity and Innovation in a CDIO-Like Curriculum. In Proceedings of the 9th International CDIO Conference.

Christensen, C. M., Dillon, K., Hall, T., & Duncan, D. S. (2016). Competing against Luck: The Story of Innovation and Customer Choice. Harper Business.

Kapurch, S. J. (Ed.). (2010). NASA Systems Engineering Handbook. Diane Publishing.

Peterson, J.B. (2018). 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos. Penguin Random House.

Ries, E. (2011). The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses. Crown Books.

Sobek, D. K., Ward, A. C., & Liker, J. K. (1999). Toyota’s Principles of Set-based Concurrent Engineering. Sloan Management Review, 40(2), 67.

Welcome to the ECMT+ Blog

Greg Bond, lecturer in mediation and communication at TH Wildau, Liisa Timonen, project leader at Karelia University of Applied Sciences

Entrepreneurship and Communication in Multicultural Teams

Entrepreneurship and intrapreneurship in diverse contexts in Europe – an Erasmus+ Strategic Partnership.

Welcome to the ECMT+ blog. In this blog we wish to share our experiences in this Erasmus+ Strategic Partnership between seven European universities. Contributors write about the various elements of the project, from the intensive programmes with students, to entrepreneurship and society, the pleasures and challenges of multicultural project work, to research on entrepreneurship teaching, and personal relections on our own project teamwork and learning. We invite participants in this partnership and all interested persons – trainers, researchers, coordinators, students – to share their thoughts and engage in dialogue.

Greg Bond and Liisa Timonen