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.
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.
Lecturer in Mediation and Communication at University of Applied Sciences Wildau, Germany
In a contribution to the book, Global Citizenship. Perspectives of a World Community, Dirk Messner writes: “Research on cooperation has shown the basic mechanisms to help develop and stabilise cooperative relations: reciprocity, trust, dense networks of communication, reputation, fairness, instruments to support rule-abiding behaviours or to sanction free-rider strategies, we-identities and shared narratives.” There are a lot of ideas here, and I have been reflecting on these in relation to my own experience of international and crosscultural teamwork in the ECMT+ project and other contexts.
Firstly, the context: global citizenship is about international networking and cooperation, but not merely for economic gain. It is rather that if we see ourselves as global citizens, then because we are taking some (ideal or practical) responsibility for the state of the world and of people around the world. This is an ethical and political mindset that is on the rise. It involves cooperation for the sake of improving lives, not just for own gain. I believe that cooperation between universities around the world does contain this element too; we are creating networks that should promote understanding, acceptance of difference, and enrichment of lives. And this not just to make money. ECMT+ has a focus on entrepreneurship, which is of course also about business and financial success. But not only: we have focused many times on social entrepreneurship and responsible business. And we are also gaining lots of insight into each others’ work and worlds, and learning about and from each other. This is what international cooperation means for myself, above all other matters. Can ECMT+ be reframed a little as a project within the larger context of global citizenship, or at least European citizenship? I think yes. Definitely yes.
Returning to the recipe for cooperation. Reciprocity and trust must be givens, of course, as also dense communication networks. In our ECMT+ project we have managed much of this, but not without bumps and challenges along the way. Particularly, I think that our communication networks at times were not always reliable and dense enough – and I have heard members of our international team from different countries ask themselves why responses to their input have been low at times. It is a learning process, and we are learning. For us, this international project is work over and above our other jobs, which are busy enough. But not getting answers can demotivate too.
And sanctioning non-compliance with performance, agreements or deadlines? Well … on the one hand participation here is voluntary, so who should dare to warn and sanction? On the other, given that the project is EU funded, I think we probably should do more of that too. But I will leave that one there.
Shared narratives and we-identities. Yes, for sure. These are absolutely essential. We are working on it. But I would also take issue with this idea in just one respect: that our need for a shared narrative should not muscle out our differences. Any shared narrative needs to include respect for different ways of working and thinking, which in this project have truly surprised me, and I would like to share a few ideas on why.
I have had some experience of international project work in the past and present, including a former European consortium, and also work across continents, with team members from many different countries and continents from the USA to India, China to Australia. In these projects there have been shared goals and narratives, and we have got results. The differences in ways of working have sometimes been immense, and particularly noticeable in communication behaviours and strategies. Using email and online platforms is the norm, but their actual usage rates vary wildly and sometimes frustratingly. Levels of precision and detail in communication, project management and outputs also widely diverge. In these non-European teams I have learned to be patient, to accept and wait, to politely ask and reframe requests, and not to worry about surprises, silences, and twists in the tail. We have always got there in the end.
What has really surprised me this time has been the need for precisely the same kind of acceptance of difference within a purely European consortium. I never questioned my expectations before we began, but I am doing so now – I probably expected the teamwork and project work here to be so much easier and “efficient.” After all: we are all Europeans, aren’t we? Looking back, it has not been that different from working with partners outside Europe. For this reason I would add to Dirk Messner’s recipe for successful cooperation: patience! I am working on it.
Delphine Van Iseghem
Lecturer, Vice Dean – Department of Commercial Sciences & Business Management, VIVES University of Applied Sciences
In March 2018 six students from VIVES University of Applied Sciences (Kortrijk, Belgium) participated in the two weeks Intensive Programme “Driving Urban Entrepreneurship” at Technical University of Applied Sciences Wildau, Germany. When reading through the reflective essays the students drafted afterwards we are convinced it was an inspiring journey.
Some students really appreciated the immersion in different cultures: “Working in multicultural contexts and teams is an excellent opportunity for development. Exposure to diverse people and experiences can uncover that you might be making incorrect assumptions or missing out alternative perspectives due to overreliance on your own cultural background. That’s what I’ve experienced during the ECMT+ project in Wildau.”
Others consider developing entrepreneurship skills as the added value of the programme:
“I am very grateful that I had the chance to join the program, as it was a very interesting experience. The opportunity to work on a product/service from the creation, initial idea until the pitch in front of investors was a challenge. To see how every step happens in practice and work on it as a team was really valuable. In the future I would like to start my own company, so this experience will be invaluable.”
Sometimes working together in groups is a challenging experience: “It really is a learning experience and I (unfortunately) learned that the hard way. Although my group failed, most of the others succeeded. Furthermore, we can learn a lot from failures, more so than from successes in my opinion. This has been a great learning experience nonetheless and I would recommend anyone to apply for a programme like this. Working in a multicultural team is something that is very important. Especially nowadays, the world has become a much smaller place than it once was thanks to the improvements made in communication technology.”
The IP was a great learning experience that can be recommended to anyone who wants to develop international skills: “I am really grateful for the opportunity to take part in this IP and want to thank the European Union for funding such projects. I think some improvements can still be made, but we are certainly on the right track towards developing a fully functioning project from which every person can benefit. Not only as a student, but also as a teacher, people should be able to develop their international skills even more.”
Students regret such a project will only last until 2019.
 Julie Meerschaert, student of the Advanced Bachelor International Management , VIVES University of Applied Sciences
 Dimitri Decru, student of the Advanced Bachelor International Management, VIVES University of Applied Sciences
 Andres Harinck, student of the Advanced Bachelor International Management, VIVES University of Applied Sciences
 Emiel Verhellen, student of the Advanced Bachelor International Management, VIVES University of Applied Sciences
Student at the Silesian University in Opava, School of Business Administration in Karvina, Czech Republic
When I came back from my working stay in America in the penultimate semester of my university studies, I immediately had an interesting opportunity to take part in another project called ECMT+, taking place in Wildau, Germany. I did not hesitate and I immediately filed in an application. A couple of weeks later I was accepted. Then it was time to prepare, pack and embrace this next challenge in life.
“What kind of challenge in life? It’s just another trip, covered by our university,” my friends said. Yes, at first glance it may sound like yet another trip, but the opposite was true. The ECMT+ program can open your eyes to many things.
The most important finding that I brought back from Germany is that work in an international team is both very enriching and at the same time very demanding. This is due to the significant differences in the so-called “mindset” of each member of the team. In my team I worked with students from Poland, Germany, France and Scotland. Every nationality, or its citizens, have a different mentality, opinions, behaviour, level of English, etc. As I have already mentioned, everything has its positives and negatives, but for me in particular the work and everyday contact with these different opinions and mentalities was the most enriching experience.
In addition to students from different European countries, our team was coached by two professors, French in the first week and Scottish in the second. While the first coach had to help the team clarify the initial ideas, strategies, and goals that needed to be developed during the two-week project, the second coach had a much easier job. At first, he listened to the provisional results of our work, and then, thanks to his professional experience, gave us valuable advice to ensure success in the final presentation before a professional jury at the end of the programme. In just two weeks, of course, no one could expect a functional business model or a good marketing strategy. But I am sure that everyone has done a lot of good work and every participant learned something new. I have personally tried in practice some interesting methods that I can apply in the future when setting up a business, which is my lifelong dream and goal.
Several times during this intensive program, each participant had to leave their comfort zone, whether by presenting in front of a lot of people in English (which did not matter to our Scottish friends) or validating the problem right in the streets of nearby Berlin. We have taken lots of valuable experience home from Germany, and also many experiences and new friends. And who knows, maybe even future business partners. Each participant knows the needs and opportunities of their home market, and therefore the creation of a joint (global) business sounds very tempting. Only time will tell if we are going to do such a thing in the future. Wish us luck!
Evelyne Lefèvre Downs
Lecturer in Project Management and Coordinator International Affairs, IUT de Roanne – Université Jean Monnet
This project got me thinking a lot about the challenge of working in a team from places located all over Europe with different environments, different people, different views and expectations … nothing new for experts who are used to intercultural communication and yet, the way we are now compelled to work – that is online – is certainly adding another layer to the complexity.
I am currently working on an online module on teamwork for the project. I was wondering how I should start this module. As I started reflecting on my own experience of teamwork it struck me that the projects I have struggled the most with have been the project where the foundations I needed had not been laid. Objectives, tools, tasks had most of the time been beautifully organised and yet, the magic of teamwork did not happen. And that gave me the answer to the “How should I start this module?” The answer: with expectations.
What do we all expect from working together? What do we expect from ourselves, the others, and us as a group?
As a project coordinator I am a firm believer in team communication. This is my expectation. And sometimes, as task managers from the Western world, I feel we sacrifice the time dedicated to building relations to the benefit of performance and task management. This works well when we are involved in short-term projects. But from my experience, the more complex the project, the more diverse the team, the more distance there is between the members, the longer the project will run, the more we should invest our energy first in relationships and what we call teambuilding.
Even if it may feel like a waste of time when there is so much to do and organise, my belief is that this investment in the human part of the project is what will enable a team to flourish. Voicing these expectations and sharing them could be one of the first stepping-stones for an aspiring team.