How to encourage unconventional thinking and a shared passion to break the economic boundaries, and revitalize a region with new innovative solutions? Confronted with this question, universities worldwide have started to reinterpret their traditional practices through more agile and externally fluid approaches. Likewise, the University of Tartu (UT) has accepted the challenge of fostering organizational change towards becoming more entrepreneurial, and recognized the importance of well-established interactions with community stakeholders, to better prepare students for their contributions to the advancement of Estonian society.
This renowned national research university with more than three centuries of history, UT has taken the leap to go under a major transformation. The institution’s 2015-2020 strategic plan reflects its motivation to become an entrepreneurial university, focusing on two major areas: promotion of student entrepreneurship via start-ups and the enhancement of entrepreneurial education. In accordance with this strategy, university-business cooperation (UBC) is reflected in UT’s entrepreneurship courses, practical learning or internships, pre-incubation and idea incubation programmes, technology transfer activities, and spin-offs.
External engagement in UT’s curricular activities
The university adopts a customized approach to external engagement when it comes to entrepreneurial education.
UT Network of Centers of Entrepreneurs, which is also called Mentor Network, connects more than 100 entrepreneurs and specialists who work within companies to actively participate in UT education activities. The members are invited to mentor, supervise, lecture and collaborate with students and academic staff in the respective courses. Project-based internship option also emerges as an attractive curricular activity that promotes connectivity between the student body and the business representatives. As part of their internship, the students are encouraged to connect with the industries by developing a project, to offer solutions for specific market challenges. A specially organized platform for master students, ‘student web’, serves as a meeting point for companies to submit or suggest their practical problems to be resolved by the students.
Besides targeted curricular content, the annual pre-incubation programme STARTER gives students the opportunity to receive substantial practical guidance from more experienced counterparts in the development of their business ideas or start-ups. The programme invites industry and business supervisors to evaluate and pilot the participants’ business models or prototypes, with Vega Fund reward of €80,000 for the best student idea. The programme is organized by IdeaLab service, a platform that supports extracurricular activities for student-entrepreneurs at UT, and is co-designed in collaboration with other eight Estonian universities.
Cooperative technology transfer though ADAPTER network
Strategic external links are also established in the technology transfer unit that oversees the transfer of new research from UT to companies, and supports the establishment of spin-offs. To expand its external outreach, UT serves as a leading partner in the cooperation network ADAPTER, which pair up young companies with the universities for service exchange. The network has established a single-entry online point for the companies to easily send their requests to the participating universities for support, which has collected 50 enquiries in a couple of months. In such pace, ADAPTER is expected to be hosting as many as five inquiries per week in the nearest future.
Beyond successful implementation of entrepreneurial strategies in place, UT shows its commitment to further strengthen its practices by cooperating with external institutions for evaluation and feedback. The university has recently been selected in the first pool of the universities to be accredited by ACEEU, Accreditation Council for Entrepreneurial and Engaged Universities, according to the extent and quality of its engagement and entrepreneurship activities. The outcome of this assessment is expected to provide a clear view to UT to progress further with its goals in creating the innovative society it aims for.
To learn more about the UBC scene at the University of Tartu, please access the full case study here.
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