Since their inception, the four universities of technology in the Netherlands have brought forth a vast number of students that developed their knowledge and skills into their own business idea. As start-ups play a key role in creating a sustainable tomorrow, teaching an entrepreneurial mind-set becomes an increasingly valuable skill for future engineers. But how is this done at the 4TUs? What are the best practices? For the past couple of months, four student assistants, one of every TU, have analysed the status of entrepreneurial engineering education. The result is presented in a brochure.
The brochure touches upon some of the “best practices” in entrepreneurial education. ‘It has been designed to inspire lecturers and educational leaders to integrate entrepreneurship more in existing education, thereby preparing students to become the engineers of the future’, say student assistants Merel Laarhoven, Victor van Saltbommel, Alex Bala and Simon Drolbach who composed the brochure. Having analysed the “best practices” among the entrepreneurial courses at the 4TU, they found that almost all courses include (interdisciplinary) teamwork and require students to cope with external stakeholders. They also discovered that it is of importance to involve mentors and experts, that can help the students with the entrepreneurial process, as well as subject specific matters.
Struggling with real-life scenarios
Simon Drolsbach who joined a couple of entrepreneurial courses himself learned a lot from these courses: ‘My fellow students and I were struggling with real-life scenarios. This provides an opportunity to test whether solutions can add value to a given situation. The courses offer you an opportunity to critically assess your own business idea and assumptions, which is very important because all too often innovations fail because there is no market for it. Is the problem I encounter shared by others? Is my solution attractive enough? These are essential questions you need to ask yourself’.
Tips for entrepreneurial education
When executed well, entrepreneurial education offers a balance between the development of practical skills – such as coming up with a business proposition – and more intangible skills – such as developing a future vision, accompanied by a roadmap to get there. Several recommendations for entrepreneurial education at the 4TUs flow from the research into best practices:
- Increase the level of uncertainty and ambiguity in the learning process of courses. This can be done by increasing the number of decisions regarding an entrepreneurial process that needs to be taken when information is incomplete or ambiguous. It should be taken into account here that this might not be appealing to students but is essential for developing an entrepreneurial mind-set.
- Emphasize critical self-reflection and specific lessons learned concerning the entrepreneurial learning process on an individual- and team level. Role models (e.g., alumni or entrepreneurial students) with an entrepreneurial mind-set and operating in different contexts can be a source of inspiration.
- Achieve high levels of alignment with external stakeholders and emphasize co-creation. Authentic and complex entrepreneurial challenges together with, e.g., enthusiastic and involved commissioners will contribute to the motivation of students and the outcome of entrepreneurial education.
- Explain the context of the value creation process that takes place, and the impact students can make on a local, regional, (inter)national, or systemic level in various contexts (e.g., financial-, social-, cultural- or ecological domains). This can increase the relevance of a project and students’ motivation.
The brochure is part of the 4TU.Centre for Engineering Education project ‘Educating the entrepreneurial engineer’, which aims to develop education materials, modules, and courses on entrepreneurial engineering. The brochure can be found on the 4TU.CEE website.