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!
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?
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.