How to inspire student-founders
How do you inspire students to become entrepreneurs? This is a question we find hard to answer in Germany. To few of the students are even considering to become an entrepreneur, and even less actually do so. A visit to bwtech@UMBC certainly brought inspiration.
Based on the campus of University of Maryland Baltimore County, bwtech@UMBC is a centre of innovation for businesses in all different stages of development. It’s a private organisation, open to all entrepreneurs of the region. Of course there’s a special link with student and staff of the university, but you don’t have to be either to join the bwtech@UMBC community. That’s the first thing German universities and the creators of funding mechanisms could take inspiration from. They house, among other things, an incubator called CyberIncubator. There’s also a co-working space called CyberHive. And several programs to support, facilitate and educate startups.
But this is not where the efforts of inspiring students to become entrepreneurs stop. Even though there is no business school at the University of Maryland Baltimore County, they do include entrepreneurship education in their programs. They call it ‘infusing’ programs with entrepreneurship studies. That means that elements of entrepreneurial thinking and action are included in courses on, for example, chemistry. On top of that, there are also cross-disciplinary classes, aimed at entrepreneurship, and of course a startup competition.
On paper this looks nice, but does it work? The finale of our visit to bwtech@UMBC included short presentations by, you guessed it, alumni who have successfully started companies. There were five of them, some having outgrown the status of startup, others in early stages. Another told about how he had sold a company started in class, and his co-founder shared how he now started a new business in a totally different field: he switched from mobile apps to growing vegetables.
What can we learn from this: well, I think a holistic approach, that includes teaching students entrepreneurship, giving them the opportunity to test and build out their skills in class-project, but also building a facility that helps them scale and attracts entrepreneurs from outside the university system for cross-pollination, can certainly help increase the number of students who have the ambition to be entrepreneurs. And as one of the students passionately told me, it’s important to introduce cross-disciplinary classes, because in diverse teams is where the magic happens.
Young serial entrepreneur Andres shares about his passion for growing micro greens.
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Arjan Tupan is board member of StartupDorf. During an entrepreneurship study trip to the US, he blogs about what he has learned, and how the American examples can inspire Düsseldorf to strengthen the local startup ecosystem. The study trip is sponsored by the Embassy of the United States in Berlin and was designed and will be administered by Cultural Vistas staff, who will travel with the group for the duration of the program. Arjan was nominated for this trip by the U.S. Consulate General in Düsseldorf.