A tale of 2 universities

Some universities can be a place for innovators to learn and grow. Others are an obstacle to innovation.

  • On the one hand, companies like Google are tightly intertwined with the support from their partner universities. They are a place to nurture ideas, spearhead research, establish patents and are sometimes first drivers for growth.
  • On the other hand, many universities are like ivory towers, cut off from the business world, and their teachings have been challenged both by Internet startups in the field of MOOCs, such as Coursera, and by innovators who deem they’re an obstacle to business creation (Paypal co-founder Peter Thiel has a special fund for genius kids that will support them provided they drop out from their college or university).
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The UK, Malaysia (x2), Egypt and the USA to talk about the way they kickstart entrepreneurship in their universities

Universities have a key role to play in today’s shift from a service economy to high-growth companies, those that start small and scale rapidly with a supportive environment. The panel at GES was composed of professors all promoting entrepreneurship in their alma mater:

  • Joana Mills, deputy director of the Center for Entrepreneurial Learning at the University of Cambridge,
  • Datuk Zabid, President of Universiti Tun Abdul Razak in Malaysia
  • Rafik Guindi, helping Egypt to setup a new age for its education
  • Peter Ng, founder of the UCSI group which delivers education, based in particular on the Blue ocean strategy (see Chan Kim’s briefing of this business strategy)
  • Larry Farrel, an American who trained more than 5 million leaders in entrepreneurship with an affiliation network

4 steps to turn a university into an entrepreneurial hub

A first step is to think of the university as an institution in a region where specific businesses, culture and history exist. The University of Cambridge, in the UK, is surrounded by about 1 500 high tech companies employing over 54 000 people. It’s both an opportunity to expose students to successful entrepreneurs, and to provide the latter with new research and technology designed by the university.

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The University of Cambridge and its ecosystem of companies

The faculty, too, should be aware of the growth of entrepreneurship as a factor of growth, and have an entrepreneurial mindset themselves. They can create new formats of knowledge sharing, use high-tech and/or connected tools that will empower their students, or teach the soft skills key to any business owner (networking, negotiation…).

Thirdly, the university should be open to private companies. It’s common to see companies hiring graduates and starting them off with intensive training. This suggests that the university did not provide the right skills. For instance, The Universiti Tun Abdul Razak in Malaysia has a degree in accountancy that has been designed jointly with the Australian CPA, a professional association of accountants and the 2nd largest body of this type in the world. As a result, graduates receive both a degree and the certification required for one to work as an accountant. Universities can also take shares in their students projects. Stanford has netted $336m in shares from Google as a patent license fee, and the University of Florida has been getting 20% royalties from Gatorade since 1973, which accounted for $150m as of 2009. Another research group from MIT, led by Tom Leighton, had been working on speed internet algorithms before creating Akamai, a company through which 20-30% of the global internet traffic now transits.

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Different types of education institutions can address different segments of entrepreneurs

Of course, the question of how to turn an education institution into an entrepreneurial hub is very much contextual. Zabid Abdul Rashid, President of Universiti Tun Abdul Razak, is trying to make a typology of universities and crafting steps that they can take to support entrepreneurs. According to him, an education institution must take into account its own market to know how to drive different segments of entrepreneurs, from SME owners to risk-takers. (Stanford or Berkeley are known to take risks, while Yale nurtures more corporate leaders, for instance)

4 Roles of an Entrepreneurial University

In the end, added Rafik Guindi from Egypt, a university should think about what it prepares its students for. After having brilliantly described how education has gone from learning the trade of your parents to learning new skills, then focusing on degrees and more recently on research, he described the entrepreneurial university as encompassed in spheres of human interaction and how it must prepare the youth for effectiveness and impact:

  • At an individual level, a university must provide personal knowledge (skills, taste for risk, leadership, innovation)
  • At a country level, the university must develop thinking and action on national issues (such a new regime building in Egypt)
  • At a regional level, the university should address topics such as security and water resources
  • At a global level, eventually, the university must prepare and help students tackle the world’s problems such as climate change.
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Universities was designed to provide exchangeable civil servants. How can it adapt to an entrepreneur-driven growth?

Let us not forget how education and universities had been designed in the first place; as a breeder of similar and exchangeable civil servants, from lawyers and philosophers in kings’ courts to the British Empire’s literal colony of efficient mechanisms to spread a world-wide empire and administration, as Sugata Mitra reminds us in a brilliant TED Talk.

All in all, the entrepreneurial university must both open itself to its environment, especially with companies, and tackle a range of subjects on which students can act directly upon within the university to change our world. But it’s a long road. The Kauffman foundation, a leading think and do tank on entrepreneurship and education, has assessed that only 12 educational institutions in the world were entrepreneurial in 2012.

Check out our report on Malaysia innovation ecosystem on Slideshare too