Heikki Immonen & Marja-Liisa Ruotsalainen
Entrepreneurship programs in higher education
Emergence of the economic development as the third mission
Karelia UAS with it’s entrepreneurship programs and open RDI practices is one of the about 40 higher education institutions in Finland actively engaged in the economic development mission of universities. This so called third mission emerged after the second world war alongside the more traditional tasks of education and research. We can view entrepreneurship programs and open RDI activities as approaches our universities take to penetrate the so-called knowledge filter that prevents utilization of developed knowledge and technologies in the economy and broader society (Audretsch, 2012).
Of the more traditional forms of economic involvement Suomen Yrittäjät, an organization focused on small and mid-sized companies in Finland, recently published results of their survey that found out that companies are appreciative of training collaboration, company-sponsored theses, and UAS-originating innovations.
Entrepreneurship programs take many forms
A university that engages in university entrepreneurship by operating concrete entrepreneurship programs can be defined as an entrepreneurial university (Immonen, 2021). According to Immonen entrepreneurship program range from technology transfer offices (TTO) to accelerators and business incubators, and from proof of concept (POC) programs to pre-incubators programs with emphasis on education. What these programs have in common is that typically they help nascent entrepreneurs by providing business counselling, training programs and access to funding and/or resources. For students these programs typically focus on educational outcomes, as the means are mostly commonly forms of courses and training programs.
Current state of programs in University of Applied Sciences in Finland
If you pick a random Finnish university of applied sciences and search for entrepreneurship programs you’ll likely discover several programs or activities in each university. The programs we have in universities of applied sciences in Finland tend to focus on the pre-incubation stage and emphasize educational outcomes over provision of resources and real business results (Immonen, 2021). Results by Immonen indicate that the reason for this focus is the current structure of the financial incentive scheme for both universities and the students themselves in the Finnish higher education system. Often there is a wish to develop new flexible approaches, but the financial incentive structure dominates.
Draft Program® is an Eastern Finland area entrepreneurship program
From a TTO service to an entrepreneurship program with 5 organizations from two regions
Draft Program® is an entrepreneurship program that started in 2008 as TTO service at Karelia UAS and evolved in to a full entrepreneurship program with four more participating organizations: Riveria College, Sakky College, Savonia University of Applied Sciences and University of Eastern Finland. Reflecting national trends, Draft Program® shifted its focus from ideas only to the teams engaged in the process of commercialization of knowledge or technology. These changes have strongly diversified the types of teams joining the program, and allowed the program to better match experts and teams.
Funding and business counselling
In its current form Draft Program® offers funding up to 4000 euros per team, and 4 + 4 months training program. We select new teams to the programs several times a year based on a written one-page business plan and a pitch applicant gives to a jury. Teams with at least one student, staff member or alumni of the participating organizations can apply for a place in the program.
Implementing the Open RDI model
The need to maximize impact and be more effective
Back in 2019 we started to re-think our strategy. We felt that the program needed a shake-up. The goal was to developed a new vision, which would improve the program’s impact regionally and at the same time improve its effectiveness. The traditional “behind closed doors” way to operate an entrepreneurship program was outdated. We were ready for a paradigm shift.
Entrepreneurship program as a living lab
First of all, we started to see Draft Program as a sort of a living lab of business development. The work our business coaches, who are lecturers and RDI specialist from UAS, do with the startup teams became an opportunity to test and introduce novel business development tools and approaches. Team-specific coaching sessions between the team and the coaches are the most important opportunities for testing and introducing new methods. The teams benefit from getting access to the State of Art in business development, while the coaches understanding of the limits and applicability of the new methods grow.
Every team is an expedition to industry know-how and local ecosystem
Second, we see each of our teams as an expedition in to the team-specific industry and to the regional business ecosystem. As by definition, a startup has a novel business idea, parts of the challenges a team faces on its journey are novel. The approaches taken with each team, are adapted to their needs. To discovery and distill more broadly useful knowledge, business coaches can participate in various activities teams do such as meetings with customers, partners and funding providers, or registration of new businesses or trademarks. Teams are also asked to report their experiences and findings.
Blogs, videos and podcasts
In the traditional business advising setting new knowledge and opportunities are only accumulated in the mind of the business advisor. Our key insight was to convert our findings from the work we do with our startup teams in to practically useful openly accessible publications. Publications so far have been in the form of blog posts, “How to” articles, videos and podcasts, all easily accessible via the program website. When a business coach integrates the production of these publication in to his/her weekly routine, the work with teams and the more reflective work of publication writing become a powerful combination.
Impact and future opportunities
First benefit: Learning materials start to accumulate
There have been several benefits already from this new open RDI approach to entrepreneurship programs, which we call “exploratory entrepreneurship” or “tutkiva yrittäjyys” in Finnish. First of these is that the accumulated publication can be used as learning materials on a new course focused on business idea development. This way resources are saved and the subject matter of the course truly presents state of art in business development. Study counselors and subject-matter teachers for examples can integrate these publications to their teaching. For example, a lecturer from Aalto University recently used one of the publications in his teaching.
Second benefit: Teams can easily refer back to the materials
Second surprising benefit is that teams can easily get back to the topic and materials they were exposed to during the program. As all the publications are created to function as independent publications, their usability is very high. This naturally aids the long-term use of the knowledge and long-term growth of the entrepreneurial competences of the teams. This is counter to the traditional online learning approach where in learning materials are hidden inside e-learning systems and platforms. The general push to promote open RDI is helping in this pursuit.
Third benefit: Location-specific knowledge that nobody else provides
Third, due to the way business coaches work with the startup teams, the resulting knowledge and publications are highly localized. This is completely opposite to the trend we’ve had in Finland during the past few decades where in public entrepreneurship and innovation services have become more and more centralized and top-down managed. As of now, there are no other entities that create or produce regionalized and localized industry-specific business development knowledge that has high practical value.
Combining the three missions
To sum up, the new “exploratory entrepreneurship” open RDI model implemented in the Draft Program® is combining all the three mission of the universities: research, education, and economic development in to a highly useful and practical approach with opportunities for big impact.
Heikki Immonen, MSc (Physics), principal lecturer of entrepreneurship, Karelia UAS
Marja-Liisa Ruotsalainen, MSc (Econ and Bus Admin), project specialist, professional teacher, Karelia UAS
Audretsch, D. B. (2012). From the entrepreneurial university to the university for the entrepreneurial society. The Journal of Technology Transfer, 39(3), 313-321.
Immonen, H. (2021). Application of object-process methodology in the study of entrepreneurship programs in higher education. Phd Dissertation. https://lutpub.lut.fi/handle/10024/162393
PK-yritysbarometri, kevät 2021. (2021) Suomen Yrittäjät ry. Helsinki. Viitattu 17.3.2021. https://www.yrittajat.fi/sites/default/files/pk_barometri_kevat2021.pdf
Väinämö, J. (2019). Yrittäjyys houkuttaa pohjoiskarjalaisia nuoria, YLE 2.9.2021. Viitattu 24.3.2021. https://yle.fi/uutiset/3-11522785
Tutkiva yrittäjyys on avointa TKI-toimintaa ja avointa oppimista
Yrittäjyysohjelmia pidetään usein keskeisenä osana yliopistojen kolmannen tehtävän – alueellisen taloudellisen kehityksen tukemisen- toteuttamisessa. Nämä ohjelmat voivat olla monenlaisia, aina täydellisistä startup-yritysten rahoitus- ja kiihdytysohjelmista yksinkertaisiin ideakilpailuihin, joista opiskelijat voivat ansaita opintopisteitä. Suomalaisissa ammattikorkeakouluissa tällaiset ohjelmat keskittyvät yleensä esihautomovaiheeseen painottaen yrittäjyysosaamista.
Tässä artikkelissa kerrotaan uudentyyppisestä yrittäjyysohjelmasta, jossa painotetaan vahvasti avointa TKI:ta ja avointa koulutusta. Karelia-ammattikorkeakoulun kehittämä ja hallinnoima Draft Program® sai alkunsa entisen Tekesin vuosina 2008-2011 rahoittamassa innovaatioiden kaupallistamisohjelma TULI:ssa. Nykyisessä muodossaan Draft-yrittäjyysohjelma tarjoaa henkilökohtaista yrityskoulutusta ja rahoitusta varhaisen vaiheen startup-tiimeille Pohjois-Karjalasta ja Pohjois-Savosta.
Avoin TKI integroitiin ohjelmaan: 1. näkemällä se living labinä uusien liiketoiminnan kehittämistyökalujen ja -menetelmien siirtämiseen ja testaamiseen, 2. pitämällä kutakin tiimiä tutkimusmatkana toimialakohtaiseen osaamiseen ja paikalliseen yrittäjyysekosysteemiin. Nämä kaksi näkökulmaa antavat valmentajille, jotka ovat ammattikorkeakoulujen asiantuntijoita, alustan löytää ja julkaisemaan uutta tietoa, joka on erittäin hyödyllistä ja merkityksellistä alueellisesti.
Viimeisten 12 kuukauden aikana ohjelmassa on julkaistu yli 60 blogiviestiä, videota ja podcastia. Yhdessä nämä julkaisut ovat alkaneet muodostaa oppimateriaalien ja ohjeiden varaston, jota nykyiset ja tulevat ohjelmaan osallistuvat tiimit sekä yrittäjyyden alkutaipaleella olevat henkilöt koko alueella käyttävät.