Entrepreneurship and Innovation are major features of a University’s strategy

Photo by Sebastian Svenson on Unsplash

In this post, Alessandro Rosiello argues that embedding enterprise in the curriculum means developping a new strategic and pedagogical mindset that empowers students to be disruptors and change agents. Alessandro Rosiello holds the Chair of Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the Business School and is currently Director of Innovation at the Edinburgh Futures Institute. This post belongs to Teaching Matters’ Learning & Teaching Enhancement theme: Embedding enterprise in the curriculum↗️.

University students and staff aim to thrive in their work experience after completing higher education or while working at university, sometimes pursuing market opportunities they have seen emerge, and other times translating ideas or technologies they have helped develop. In an increasingly globalised and multidisciplinary world, however, it is universally recognised that this requires something more than in-depth knowledge of a specific field and related skills. There are certain psychological traits, personal skills, and cultural and environmental stimuli for learning that are critical to surviving and succeeding in conditions of high uncertainty and unpredictability.

Promoting entrepreneurship in higher education includes both the development of a new mindset and programmes to support the generation of innovative ideas and creation of new businesses. In most cases, only a minority of students and academics are truly interested in starting a new business or running their own business during their studies, immediately after graduation or while practicing their academic profession. Nonetheless, improving the innovative and entrepreneurial capabilities of their companies and their employees has become vital for many employers and businesses. In fact, a growing number of employers are looking for enterprising and innovative people. This is because, as argued by illustrious thinkers such as Joseph Schumpeter and Peter Drucker, these traits and skills increase the likelihood of prevailing over the competition and establishing sustainable business models in the medium to long term, which often involves finding new ways to address and exploit high levels of unpredictability and complexity.

Consequently, innovation and entrepreneurship have relevance in many aspects of higher education. Universities should equip their graduates and staff with the ability to think and behave creatively, innovatively and entrepreneurially. Students and academics should be given the opportunity to pursue their entrepreneurial and/or innovative aspirations as this often leads to making local industrial and economic ecosystems more prosperous, resilient and productive.

But there’s more. The global economy and our societies are increasingly faced with complex and urgent challenges – e.g. climate change, the tail end of the pandemic, energy crises, fluctuations in the cost of living and frequent economic and financial crises. New ways to frame these challenges are needed, and once we have framed them, we need to find innovative ways to solve them. But while the urgency to find solutions is increasingly pressing, many organisations, including universities, struggle to transform themselves into agile and proactive institutions with value systems suited to training effective agents of change. Their leaders have a dual responsibility not only to create the right conditions to fuel a flow of new ideas, innovators and new practices, but also to transform organisational structures and cultures. Real change cannot happen if innovative and entrepreneurial mindsets are not deeply rooted in their value systems.

As effective strategies are needed to implement change, these should set clear objectives for the innovation and entrepreneurial agenda, which could be associated with key performance indicators, e.g.:

  • Promotion of the entrepreneurial mentality (i.e. new motivations, cognitive methods and attitudes);
  • Cultivating innovative skills and abilities (i.e. not only new products or new services, but also by-products of the innovation process: new knowledge, new visions and new ways of working collectively);
  • Support for new ventures; commercialise research results through technological transfers;
  • Strengthening cooperation between the University and local businesses and partners.

In our opinion, promoting a mindset and culture that can inspire disruptors and change agents should be the primary strategic objective. To this end, a university should consider including entrepreneurial learning outcomes in the development of all teaching and learning programs in all or, if this is not possible, in as many subject areas as possible.

In pursuing this goal, sometimes the intellectual or ideological beliefs of academic staff may be a factor to consider. The leadership challenge is to engage these views and provide alternative interpretations of the value of an innovative and entrepreneurial mindset for the reasons stated above. These should fit into a shared vision of the future and a strategy for organisational and individual development. Unfortunately, this vision may not have the desired effects if perceived only as institutional rhetoric and not supported by real examples, credible actions and role models in which academics and students can reflect their aspirations and from which they can draw positive inspiration.

Our vision is for the Edinburgh Futures Institute (EFI) to become a magnet for creative disruptors who will change existing ways of thinking, structures, practices, markets and business models, to bridge the gap between knowledge bases existing and emerging challenges that our society faces. In doing so, the EFI will help create new value, results and much-needed transformations.

The EFI will be a physical and virtual campus to stimulate the entrepreneurial aspirations of students, academics and partners, offering them the opportunity to develop relevant skills, knowledge and experience and providing relevant support and resources to enable them to become entrepreneurial. Unlike the vision of an entrepreneurial university where innovation and entrepreneurship are limited to specific parts of the institution, our campus will be accessible to a wide variety of stakeholders from across the university and ecosystem local.

photo of the authorAlessandro Rosiello

Alessandro Rosiello holds the Chair of Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the Business School of The University of Edinburgh. He is currently Director of Innovation at the new Edinburgh Futures Institute. With a substantial track record of high-quality publications with leading international journals, Alessandro has worked as a consultant for organisations such as Deloitte, Rand Europe, Scottish Enterprise and various high-tech ventures. He has advised institutions such as the European Commission, the Lithuanian, Greek, Romanian and Scottish governments, the OECD and ASEAN, on business and innovation policy. He has direct experience of entrepreneurship and financial management, having been co-founder and non-executive director of three high-tech ventures.

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