How the University of Aveiro Is Unleashing the Entrepreneurial Capacities of Its Students
As the university-business cooperation in the form of educational activities gains momentum across Europe, more innovative models of joint programmes emerge to equip students with the right skills, and bring them a step closer to the job market. An outstanding example is Learning to Be (L2B), which makes it possible for 60 students to take on business challenges every year, working on problems pitched by participating companies. This elegant and effective program is proving to be very innovative in its approach to entrepreneurship education. Conceived and implemented at the University of Aveiro, L2B is designed to offer students a peek into the actual life of entrepreneurs. By bringing the ‘wicked problems’ of companies to the attention of a team of multidisciplinary students, L2B makes the entrepreneurial experience palpable.
How it all began
L2B is the outcome of two like-minded professors at UA who aspired to transform the way of delivering entrepreneurship education. Ana Daniel is a professor at the department of Economics, Management, Industrial Engineering and Tourism, with a solid innovation-management experience both within and outside academia. Similarly, Mariana Pita boasts an impressive track record when it comes to managing entrepreneurial activities such as technology transfer and spin-offs. Their compatible experience coupled with their shared vision of providing students with a more practical skill-set created a fertile ground for the creation of L2B.
When the program first commenced in 2014, it did not consider the involvement of companies in the region. Rather, the internal facilities and process of UA were used as a case to be analyzed and improved by the students. However, the pilot phase made it apparent that the participation of companies in the delivery of entrepreneurial education is pivotal to enriching the practical skill of students. As a result, companies and their multifaceted problems became invaluable co-participants in the program from 2015 onwards.
How does L2B work?
With the aim of unleashing the entrepreneurial capacity of students, the L2B program is organized under three major phases: Business Empathy, Value Create, and Strategy Test. The Business Empathy phase is designed to give students the chance to have a good understanding of the problem’s context before embarking on the identification of possible solutions. In this phase, students are expected to visualize the problem from the company and customer perspective. As such, field visits, interactions with customers, and observations of the business processes of the company are undertaken.
Once students have a clear understanding of the problem both from the perspective of the company and the customer it serves, they proceed to the Value Create phase. Here the students engage in a wide range of idea generation activities such as brainstorming and ideation techniques. The aim is to find a solution to the complex and ever-evolving problems of companies. Finally, the Strategy Test phase allows students to check the feasibility of their proposed solution by discussing it with customers and employees of the company. This is an iterative process as the feedback of customers and employees can result in minor or major modifications. Upon finalization of this process, the students officially present their proposed solution in an open event where faculty members, company representatives, and other stakeholders are present.
Although relatively young, the L2B approach is already proving to be successful. L2B students benefit from the hands-on experience that enhances their problem-solving skills, critical thinking abilities, and creativity. Not to mention the social capital they build up over the course of the program. Partner companies benefit from the fresh and diversified ideas of the multidisciplinary teams of students. Additionally, they can use the opportunity to identify and recruit talent.
What makes L2B so interesting is that it can be implemented at a relatively low cost, making the idea of transferability a real possibility. Recognizing this potential, the founders of L2B are also working on a book and programme modules to make the approach more easily accessible and transferable to other regions.
Want to learn more about Learning to Be? You can find the full report here
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Meet the authors
Habtamu Diriba is a graduate of the Erasmus Mundus Masters in Research and Innovation in Higher Education (MaRIHE). Before joining the MaRIHE programme, he has completed a two year graduate study in Business Administration (MBA) at Jimma University. His research interests mainly consist of topics relating to university entrepreneurship & innovation, higher education governance & policy, and internationalization. Habtamu has presented on multiple international conferences including winning the ‘Outstanding paper award’ at the 38th EAIR conference in Birmingham, UK.
Richard Woolley is a researcher at Ingenio (CSIC-UPV) at the Universitat Politècnica de València. He is currently collaborating with the TIK centre at the University of Oslo on the OSIRIS project, which is investigating the impact of science and research on society.
Hacer Tercanli is a recent graduate of an Erasmus Mundus Masters course, Research and Innovation in Higher Education (MARIHE), and since November 2016 a Project Officer at UIIN. Previously she has worked in public and private higher education institutions in Turkey and completed a Fulbright Master’s program in Applied Linguistics in the US. As part of her Erasmus Mundus Master Hacer studied in Austria, Finland, China and Germany. During her studies she has participated in HE development projects that involved mapping digital learning environments in Germany and facilitation of internationalization in Turkey. In addition, Hacer has also been involved in EU projects at the Science-to-Business Marketing Research Centre in Munster, Germany. Among her recent interests are university-industry cooperation and quality assurance in international joint degree programs.