Universities stimulate the entrepreneurial spirit

Dropping out of university to become a great entrepreneur is nothing but a myth. The vast majority of students who want to become entrepreneurs are better off using the knowledge provided by a university, says Per Holten-Andersen, President of CBS


When we as universities offer to contribute to the entrepreneurial activities, we are sometimes met with an attitude that entrepreneurial spirit is an inborn characteristic, and that our "teaching machines" systematically undermine this innate original and creative power.

It is often documented by a statement that "several successful entrepreneurs within IT have dropped out of school to start their own business". Unfortunately, very few people succeed as entrepreneurs without an education. In fact, Bill Gates had received excellent training when he dropped out of Harvard after three years, and the founders of Google were actually PhD students from another Ivy League university, Stanford. One of the few unequivocal results from entrepreneurship research thus shows that education contributes to increased survival and growth for entrepreneurial businesses. Neither does research support the allegation that entrepreneurial spirit is inborn and cannot be acquired. A not yet published study from Stockholm University and Amsterdam University on the significance of nature and nurture to entrepreneurship - based on very unique empirical information about twins - shows that nurture is twice as important to entrepreneurial activities as nature.

Our educational system thus plays - or can play - a decisive role for the entrepreneurial power of society. On the one hand, the core expertise must be strengthened, both through a higher level of education for everybody and a more profound expertise in all degree programmes. However, one the other hand, the programmes must stimulate and develop the entrepreneurship genes that most of us have.

CBS has faced this challenge in many ways. Generally, we attempt to ensure a core expertise and challenge our students to be critical of their education and apply it creatively. Specifically, entrepreneurship and innovation are part of our programmes in many different shapes - as electives on both undergraduate and graduate level. Four out of ten Danish research publications on entrepreneurship have been written by CBS researchers. As a university, we have the best possibility of providing an overview, collaborate on and specialise in this subject.

When a student gets a good business idea, the Copenhagen School of Entrepreneurship (CSE), our student incubator, gives him or her the opportunity to test the idea. They receive coaching, office space, and a network. We give our students a reality check, which may give them inspiration, but also prevent them from making the most basic mistakes, when they pit themselves against start-up activities as graduates. Helped by CSE, the students have established several companies that are doing very well. Some have made their presence felt in the public, for instance GreenGo, who sells solar power cells, and Abeo, who sells a super light and environmentally friendly cement. Abeo has just been nominated for an Academic Enterprise Award as the best European spin-out from a research institution. The award has been established by the business schools INSEAD and ESADE.

Not only is education important; experience (and research) also shows that start-up in teams is way more frequent than before. Through the Copenhagen Innovation and Entrepreneurship Lab (CIEL), CBS has created a training facility for students in partnership with the University of Copenhagen and the Technical University of Denmark. We conduct joint teaching activities in subjects of interest to the students, our researchers, and the companies and organisations that surround us. We teach urban sustainable development and innovation with respect to green energy, transportation, smart building, pollution, waste management, food, health and IT. The students are required to solve real problems and are trained in working together across the specialisations they have obtained in the programmes offered by the three universities.

The student's chance to survive as an entrepreneur is increased significantly, when the start-up is based on an innovation, which is promoted by interdisciplinarity. Imagine that a student engineer, who is specialised in information systems, meets a life science student, who focuses on patient safety. If they are matched with a CBS student, they can build a business around a really profitable idea. Student incubators, interdisciplinarity, core expertise, specialisation, and entrepreneurship as an optional specialisation are all elements that strengthen Danish competitiveness through education.

For more information, please contact Anders Jonas Rønn Pedersen, Senior Adviser, at ajp.ls@cbs.dk, or Mikael Koldby, Public Relations Officer, at mk.ea@cbs.dk.

This contribution can also be read at altinget.dk/forskning&innovation (only in Danish)

The page was last edited by: Communications // 05/30/2013