New series of case studies about entrepreneurial higher education institutions in Europe

We have completed several case studies about entrepreneurial higher education institutions (HEIs) in Europe. These case studies are part of the HEInnovate platform (, an initiative of the European Commission (EC) and Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) that offers a self-reflection tool and resource base for higher education institutions who wish to explore their innovative potential.

The following cases show a broad spectrum of activities and experiences in making higher education institutions more entrepreneurial places for research, teaching, and knowledge transfer. Several cases deal with entrepreneurship education at science and engineering departments, a subject for which the HEInnovate database so far included only few examples. The cases are from eight different countries.

“It is encouraging to see how dynamically and diversely entrepreneurship education and support develop at higher education institutions in Europe. However, many cases also highlight barriers that we still must overcome. For example, prevailing reservations against entrepreneurship among scientists. Also, administrative regulations that make it difficult to cooperate across departments and institutions. This is an issue because entrepreneurship education benefits from trans-disciplinary activities.”

Stefan Lilischkis (author)

YUFE Alliance: An interinstitutional and multicultural endeavour to boost European (entrepreneurship) education

Young Universities for the Future of Europe (YUFE) is an Alliance emerging from a European Commission initiative to provide examples of what a European University should look like. YUFE has been active since 2019 and currently consists of nine young universities in Europe and two non-academic partners. They have a strong interest in promoting education that is student-centred and oriented towards solving practical societal challenges, embracing multiculturalism as a key trait of the European Union. The Alliance has a series of instruments to promote entrepreneurship and innovation: First, “Challenge Teams” that seek developing solutions to societal issues and second, Yufethon, an online competition of innovative ideas. Moreover, the Inno4YUFE project promotes innovation, and YUFERING fosters research and knowledge transfer with business and civil society. YUFE has received positive feedback about its challenge-based approach, the involvement of citizens as additional stakeholders besides businesses and governments, and the wide promotion of innovation and entrepreneurship.

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Sofia University, Bulgaria: Education in sustainable entrepreneurship

Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski” offers several study programmes on different degree levels that combine sustainability and entrepreneurship: A bachelor’s programme in Biomanagement and Sustainable Development, a master’s programme in Sustainable and Responsible Governance, and a continued education programme in sustainable leadership. The programmes respond to the United Nations agenda to fulfil the Sustainable Development Goals as well as to the European Green Deal. They aim to train a new type of specialist in sustainable business development, corporate social responsibility as well as in the public and civil sectors. In the master’s programme, partnerships with business, governments, and the social sector allow students to gain in-depth practical experiences. While it was challenging to find educators who combine expertise in subjects such as management, finance, and law with sustainability, these specialised experts are now a strength of the programmes. The University expects graduates to have profound impact on sustainability in the organisations in which they will become employed or to which they will return.

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University of Cologne, Germany: Start-up-oriented professorships

From 2019 to 2024, the University of Cologne receives considerable state funding for establishing a Gateway Excellence Start-up Centre. A key approach is establishing nine new professorships. Seven of them are “start-up-oriented”, meaning that they deal with business creation in their teaching, research, and student support activities, while focusing on a different academic subject. These professors are in the Faculty of Management, Economics and Social Sciences, in the Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences as well as in the Faculty of Humanities and the Faculty of Medicine. The objective is to anchor entrepreneurship and innovation, also combined with digitisation, across the University. The key task is to motivate students to think and act entrepreneurially. The University recommends to other universities that also seek to establish start-up-oriented professorships to find an approach that suits the university’s profile and framework conditions. Moreover, the university’s whole hierarchy must support the approach. Establishing such professorships is incredibly challenging but also rewarding, as they provide new perspectives on start-ups.

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Aarhus University, Denmark: Gamification to develop entrepreneurial thinking and acting

Gamification plays a special role in entrepreneurship teaching at Aarhus University and in the EIT Food master’s programme in Food Systems. Digital & physical games are a specialty of an entrepreneurship professor from Aarhus University. In several courses he has been using both physical and digital games for targeted purposes. Three games played a key role in online teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic:

  • LeapInTime is a patent game developed specifically during the pandemic to tackle online team learning about intellectual property.
  • Savvygoat requires teams to fulfil tasks for climbing a mountain, training students in collaboration and internal team and project management.
  • ESHIP:NavigatingUncertainty is a multiplayer cooperative board game that teaches student teams to decide cooperatively under uncertainty.

Available evidence indicates a positive effect on students. Serious games tend to enhance their technical understanding related to entrepreneurial processes such as intellectual property protection and acting under market uncertainty. However, the effect of digital games on improving teamwork skills was found to be limited.

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EIT InnoEnergy: Master’s in Sustainable Energy Systems

The EIT InnoEnergy master’s programme in Environomical Pathways for Sustainable Energy Systems has broad and deep offers in entrepreneurship training. Its Innovation and Entrepreneurship (I&E) Journey is a structured learning experience aimed at providing students with the skills, tools, methods, and motivation to become an entrepreneur, innovator or intrapreneur. The Journey consists of six elements: Impact projects (Project of the Year and Integrated Project of the Year), Business and Innovation training, an entrepreneurship competition named “Battle of Green Talent”, Data Science for Energy Engineers, career support, industry challenges & community, and internships. The Journey is supposed to be a key differentiating factor as traditional engineering degrees do not offer such training. Education in this programme is highly digitised. For example, it connects students from different cities in hybrid courses, and the “Battle of Green Talent” competition takes place online. The programme involves seven universities from different European countries.

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University of Iceland: Joint entrepreneurship education for business school and engineering students

The University of Iceland offers a master’s programme in Innovation and Business Development which is run by the Faculty of Business Administration in cooperation with the Faculty of Industrial Engineering, Mechanical Engineering and Computer Science (IEMECS). Six of the programme’s courses are available as modules for other students from other faculties. In these six courses, business students and students from other faculties learn together, seeking even participation of both student groups. The programme emphasises a combination of theory and practice. Students acquire a theoretical basis in innovation and entrepreneurship, but they also must go through the practical aspects of an innovation process. The core of the programme is a two-semester course on the implementation of innovation. Students work in teams on a comprehensive project that develops a concrete product, in cooperation with local businesses. The biggest challenge of the joint programme is the work across different faculties of the University. Moreover, it may be a challenge for students to fully understand the demands and limitations of the company they are cooperating with. The educators need to mentor students thoroughly and manage situations when students’ work does not meet companies’ expectations.

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Free University of Bozen-Bolzano, Italy: Students & Company Sprint – an extra-curricular entrepreneurial week

In February 2022, the Free University of Bozen-Bolzano, in cooperation with NOI Techpark of Bolzano, offered an extra-curricular entrepreneurial programme named “Students & Company Sprint”. It was a five-day event where three companies presented an innovation challenge that student teams had to solve, mentored by experts and scientists. The student teams included second- or third-year bachelor students and master students from any faculty of the Free University of Bolzano. The event followed the methodology of Google Design Sprint and was oriented towards problem-based learning in a limited time. After the Sprint, an online survey was sent to the students with questions based on the competences of the European Entrepreneurship Competence framework, revealing that the Sprint had an overall positive effect on students’ entrepreneurial competences. The highest effect was on the ability to “work with others”. The University concludes that the type, complexity, and wording of the challenge determines the students’ learning of entrepreneurial competences. Moreover, such a challenge should be sufficiently simple and open to leave room for creativity.

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Vilnius University, Lithuania: Supporting entrepreneurial life science students

Since 2015, life science students from Vilnius University (VU) have participated very successfully in the iGEM innovation competition. At iGEM, an annual event in Boston, United States, selected student teams from universities around the world compete with innovative solutions in synthetic biology. The main driver for participation was a renowned professor from the University’s Institute of Biotechnology. VU supports the iGEM student teams and their innovative and entrepreneurial activities through finance and the opportunity to use laboratories and meeting rooms. Entrepreneurship education is not part of the students’ studies – they learn how to act innovatively while preparing the targets and methods for their contribution to the competition. Taking part in the competition has had considerable impact on the mindset of students, of the research community, and of the University’s executives who now appreciate such ways to tackle scientific challenges and act entrepreneurially. Moreover, taking part in the competition has also had tangible outcomes in terms of a spin-off enterprise: In 2018, students who participated in iGEM founded the company Biomatter Designs based on one of the innovative solutions.

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Erasmus University Rotterdam, Netherlands: Building the Erasmus Centre for Entrepreneurship and advancing corporate entrepreneurship

Erasmus University Rotterdam has a long track record in entrepreneurship teaching and research, notably both in entrepreneurial management and in the economics of entrepreneurship through its Rotterdam School of Management and Erasmus School of Economics. The central hub for extra-curricular entrepreneurship education, training, and coaching offers is the Erasmus Centre for Entrepreneurship within the university. In 2013, Erasmus University expanded its already well-established entrepreneurship education profile by adding corporate entrepreneurship to its agenda of master’s degree programmes in entrepreneurship and targeting small business owners and corporate intrapreneurs also in its entrepreneurship training offers within the entrepreneurship centre. This portfolio and the organisation of corresponding education activities in cooperation with a community of entrepreneurs contribute to the valorisation of the university’s expertise in entrepreneurship. This provides instructive insights and options for transfer to other universities in terms of further developing existing curricular entrepreneurship programmes as well as building self-sustainable entrepreneurship centres based on a resource-efficient set-up of premium education activities together with external entrepreneurs as educators.

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