The Entrepreneurial Ecosystem at Nova University and its Impact on Students

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In her article, UIIN- Lehigh University Iacocca Scholar Taylor Pistone shares her reflections on a recent meeting held with Isabel Rocha, the Pro-Rector for Tech Transfer and Entrepreneurship at Nova University in Lisbon, Portugal. During the meeting, Dr. Rocha shared her insights on the entrepreneurial ecosystem of the campus, as well as the activities they take on to encourage NOVA students to pursue their business ideas.

Nova University began as a federation of six different institutes. Founded in 1973, it is the youngest of the public universities in the city of Lisbon, earning its name as NOVA, which means “new” in Portuguese. Despite its name and relatively short history, our homework about the university has revealed that NOVA has built itself a respectable place in both national and international academic circles, with an award-winning Business School and the quality of research outputs. 

Entrepreneurship are business development are the themes the institution pays special attention to and promotes among their students and academic staff alike. All colleges provide entrepreneurship training with a blend of everyone’s backgrounds for new initiatives. The Faculty of Sciences takes up approximately a half of the university and has one department devoted to business. This Faculty offers entrepreneurship as a compulsory course for all students, covering around 1000 students every year, and is focused on innovation and research on technology. The faculty creates optimal space to begin an incubator for entrepreneurship.

How do they encourage entrepreneurship across different study fields?

They are able to bring the various faculties together through a program in the Starters Academy, in which only NOVA students of all backgrounds gather together to compete for a business idea. The program is a way to provide scientists and students with hands-on training in entrepreneurship. It is constantly being modified in accordance with societal changes happening in business. The academy has successfully been run for fifteen years, which helps the university encourage entrepreneurship.  The winners of this competition receive tickets to a three-week training program at the European Innovation Academy. In this way, the winning group is able to gain insight of the steps they should take to grow their business.

In addition to competitions, Nova University has an incubator with around forty companies. The incubator is a physical structure that fosters university’s relationship with innovation. It specializes in IT and has grown so much in popularity that there is a waiting list! They do not push businesses to join the incubator, instead, they assess the needs of a start-up and if they can provide necessary resources. Researchers have an opportunity to take sabbaticals and work for the spin-off companies that apply to join.

Students ecosystem

What role does the incubator play for the ecosystem?

With over 100 companies in the ecosystem, the incubator plays an integral role in connecting these businesses with students. They hold events to bring different faculties together and they encourage the marriage of unity and spirit within each faculty. Spinoffs of the incubator still have access to the network and facilities of NOVA even after leaving the incubator, which shows the long-term relationship the university has with the businesses. The university also collaborates with the international nonprofit organization to hold intensive trainings and improve upon what they have accomplished.

How is the impact measured?

Dr. Rocha explains that they measure the impact of the NOVA activities in promoting innovation through a five year evaluation plan. This plan observes their strengths as well as where they have room to grow. It takes into account both quantitative and qualitative data by also looking at the number of patents, start-ups, and programs developed. This helps them recognize the challenges they face and create strategies to overcome them. One of these being the legality of starting a company while researching or teaching for the company. The rectory acknowledges this by making an exception if the company is recognized within the NOVA ecosystem. By building solutions such as this to their issues, NOVA University hopes to make global impacts economically through jobs.