Professor David A. Kirby has worked in the field of Entrepreneurship and Small Business Management for 36 years. Apart from undertaking research that has had relevance for practitioners and policy makers, he has had responsibility for both industrial liaison and technology transfer in two of the 6 UK universities, in which he has been employed. His last appointment was at the British University in Egypt, where he was Vice President with responsibility for Enterprise and Community Service. In his last UK appointment, he was responsible for setting up and managing a pre-incubator on the Surrey Research Park, as well as developing entrepreneurship degree programmes at both the undergraduate and postgraduate levels. In this interview, Professor Kirby shares his experience.
Prof. Kirby, what are your main fields of research?
My main fields of research are entrepreneurship education and entrepreneurial universities. The two are related. It is not possible to develop entrepreneurial graduates if the institutions in which they are being educated are themselves not entrepreneurial. Entrepreneurship is something that permeates the whole institution. It is an attitude of mind and a way of behaving that embraces creativity/innovation as well as being proactive and bringing about change. It is at the core of the institution’s mission. Science Parks, incubators, technology transfer offices are the “trappings” not the substance and often they are “bolt on” rather than core.
What were the recent projects and activities that you been involved in?
Having been involved in entrepreneurship education and the field of knowledge/technology transfer in the U.K. as both an academic researcher and a practitioner, I have focused my research, since going to Egypt in 2007, on the outcomes of the entrepreneurship education programmes we introduced and on the entrepreneurial propensity of Egypt’s universities, leading to a 4 phase study of the role of the country’s universities in the innovation process. The project is based on interviews with a panel of experts, a survey of Science Engineering and Technology academics, case studies and an industry survey. You can find more information about the British University in Egypt and its projects at the website: www.bue.edu.eg.
What do you consider to be the main scientific challenge(s) in this field?
The biggest challenge for me is still about agreeing what entrepreneurship education and entrepreneurial universities are and what they are attempting to achieve. Many studies of the impact of entrepreneurship education focus on the intention of students to start a business on graduation, suggesting that the aim of entrepreneurship education is about new venture creation not changing mindsets. Similarly, entrepreneurial universities are often measured according to the number of patents generated and/or the number of spin-outs launched, rather than the creation of an institution in which creativity and innovation and a “can do” culture is central to the university mission. The other big challenge is getting “buy in” – convincing the academic community that the “third mission” is an important function for a 21st century university, while at the same time, convincing industry, including SMEs, that collaboration with universities is not just beneficial but essential.
What would you recommend a young scientist just starting to work in the field?
It is important to be familiar with the extant body of understanding but to think creatively about the real issues involved and not to be “conditioned” by what has been done before or what will be published in the top ranked journals. This is an exciting, relatively new field that warrants exciting, new innovative research that not only pushes forward the frontiers of knowledge and understanding but leads to significant practical developments. In the modern knowledge economy universities may be seen as the catalyst for economic and social development, but for this to happen there have to be very significant changes in how they are perceived and managed, which requires greater in-depth understanding of the issues involved.
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