Entrepreneurship support and digitalisation - Summary article of the webinar
After the Summer break, the HEInnovate webinar series opened with a webinar centred on the topics of entrepreneurship support and digitalisation. During this webinar, university representatives from Latvia and Serbia provided examples of different institutional approaches that help enhance digitalisation and support entrepreneurship. They also and reflected on the challenges that remain. These institutional examples are also described as case studies on the HEInnovate website and can be read and downloaded from the Resources section.
The guest speakers were Claudio A. Rivera, Ph.D., Deputy Dean at RTU Riga Business School and Associate Professor in Leadership and Director of the University of New York at Buffalo/RBS Bachelor’s Programmes in Business and IT; and Paula Elksne, a marketing professional and educator and Assistant Director of Bachelor Programmes at Riga Business School. From the Faculty of Economics at the University of Belgrade, Nenad Stajic, MSc, a Senior Associate at Center for Corporate Relations presented. Nenad is the Coordinator of Startup Centar, Creative Center and Ekof Business Lab and he is also in charge of managing corporate relations with companies in Serbia to help develop and identify internships and job opportunities.
In his presentation, Claudio explained, why an entrepreneurial approach should characterise the vision of higher education institutions. Universities should be seen and treated as live elements of an ecosystem where all elements are essential to the equilibrium and functioning of the whole system. To achieve this dynamic and inter-dependent system, universities must continuously open up and evolve, forging alliances and dialogues across all sectors with the Government, the corporate world, risk capital firms, and local entrepreneurs. Universities cannot be run as closed systems and represent what monasteries used to be for culture in the Middle Ages.
This inter-connectiveness between different elements of this ecosystem should also be reflected in a higher level of interdisciplinarity. This should be implemented both in the curriculum and through the recruitment of academic members of staff who can bring a diversity of competences to the table. Claudio also referred to the current global educational trends that decision makers in higher education need to consider when tackling current challenges:
· The increasing importance of knowledge, with a specific focus on liberal arts education
· The demographic pressures in higher education institutions, which, in turn, put pressure on the governance and the financing of the institutions
· The digital transformation of education, which has accelerated because of Covid-19
· The impact of increasing globalisation and competition in education
Claudio emphasised the importance of being able to distinguish between short- and long-term challenges when formulating responses. The decisions that need to be made to tackle immediate problems will appear easier to make and more likely to be good decisions, if they are feeding into a longer-term plan. To ensure this, it is important that decision makers in higher education have a clear long-term strategy so that their short-term responses to challenges work well in the longer term too.
Paula reflected on the changes made by Riga Business School (part of Riga Technical University in Latvia) in their response to the Covid-19 crisis. In March 2020, all teachers switched to a synchronous mode, and were able to do this very quickly due to streaming facilities already available in the lecture rooms. In this current academic year, they are operating in a hybrid mode, pairing up face-to-face teaching with live streaming lectures. Due to the strict application of the bubble principle (whereby 30-45 students constitute a group that meets regularly), the students can gather in a classroom to attend the live-streamed lectures and they can thus interact with each other during the lecture.
Nenad explained that in Serbia it is rather difficult to motivate students to develop business ideas and to start new businesses. To facilitate the process of developing new ideas and turning them into business propositions, they established the Startup Centre three years ago. The Centre is based at the Faculty of Economics at the University of Belgrade, and it is open to all students in Serbia.
The Startup Centre is a five-year project supported by the University and the MVP Workshop Company. It provides students with opportunities to create new digital business ideas and it also teaches them how to develop these ideas further. Through a mentoring structure composed of MVP staff, entrepreneurs covering different thematic areas as well as university teachers, students are taught how to enter the world of entrepreneurship by having their ideas tested and validated. Students learn how to produce business models, and they are given the opportunity to present their business proposals to potential investors.
There are only few start-up centres in Serbia, one based at the Faculty of Economics and one at the Faculty of Engineering. Such limited access to start-up centres is indeed a barrier to scaling up the initiative and to successfully promote entrepreneurialism to broader audiences in Serbia. Nenad also noted, that this year there has been a shift in students’ focus decrease in new entrepreneurial ideas developed by students in 2020 due to the Covid pandemic.
A broader question from the audience enquired how can existing entrepreneurial expertise and ecosystems further support digital start-ups. Two main ideas emerged. One idea expressed the fundamental need to create connections between policy makers and entrepreneurs who are aware of the future trends, and those who write the curricula. The other idea highlighted that digital and ‘non digital’ entrepreneurship differ substantially, and subsequently they are supported by different mechanisms. Therefore, it is not easy to establish how one can support the other in practice. Given this complexity, there is a need to create spaces in higher education institutions that are open and flexible, while interconnected so that they can support all forms of innovative entrepreneurship.
The recording from the webinar can be watched here: https://vimeo.com/user24857374/review/472931534/737cc7e2b4.
Case study - Entrepreneurship and Digital Transformation at Riga Business School, Latvia
Case study - Supporting students’ business ideas at the University of Belgrade’s Startup Centar, Serbia