„Entrepreneurship is relevant for all academic disciplines“

 Alexander Tittel is a research assistant and doctoral candidate at the Chair of Entrepreneurship and Technology Management at Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT). For EPICUR, he works as the task leader of the work package „Sustainable Entrepreneurship” (WP 5.2). In this interview he talks about, what “entrepreneurship education” is and how it can contribute to the strengthening of the regions and connecting our partner universities. Yvonne Cunia conducted the interview (EPICUR Communication Officer at BOKU, Vienna). The interview was translated from German.

EPICUR encourages the development of entrepreneurship at university level und offers students attractive opportunities, for example, courses such as „Sustainable Entrepreneurship“ (spring term 2021) and „Entrepreneurial Lab“ (winter term 2021). Why is entrepreneurship relevant for all academic disciplines and how does it connect the regions?

We live in tumultuous times. A time of digitalisation, climate change, a change in mobility behaviour and so on. The coronavirus crisis in particular has exhibited the strengths and weaknesses of our society. Facing these challenges requires courage, creativity, the ability to look ahead, but also the willingness to take responsibility in order to develop new solutions and help people. To me, this is what entrepreneurship is all about. Entrepreneurship is relevant to all academic disciplines because creativity, the competence to solve problems and assuming responsibility for society are not tied to a single education or field of study. Nor to economics, where entrepreneurship lectures are usually set up. Today’s products and solutions are so complex that interdisciplinary teams are indispensable. This interdisciplinarity is very well represented in EPICUR by the eight partner universities, their strategic orientation and international networking. So what we do – throughout the project and in the area of entrepreneurship – we try to bring people together, across regions and disciplines. We give them space to discover each other and network, be creative and ready to act, thus, lay the foundation for a sustainable collaboration in this European context. Someone who wants to do this will find an excellent opportunity to develop with EPICUR. A first step in this direction was the Annual Forum.

„I’d like to launch my product on the German market. What do I have to do, who can I approach?“

The Annual Forum was EPICUR’s first event on a large scale. In December 2020, KIT hosted three virtual days with varied activities under the theme “Sustainability & Entrepreneurship”. There was a panel discussion and a virtual start-up tour. The aim was to provide young founders with a platform for presentation and networking. What has evolved from this?

From my point of view, the forum was a great success. We really did manage to establish sustainable networking. And these contacts and activities have continued since the forum. During the virtual start-up tour, young entrepreneurs presented their products and business ideas on a virtual stage. They exchanged ideas and got to know each other. But they also discussed the question of early internationalisation. “Hey, I would like to launch my product on the German market. What do I have to do, who can I approach?”, they asked, or, “I have an interesting, exciting product in Poland. How can I bring it to France?” Things like these were discussed. For the panel discussion, we brought together students from university groups involved in social and traditional entrepreneurship. We discussed with them ways to collaborate, how to leverage synergies and share best practices. This has resulted in a network that I actively maintain by, for example, drawing attention to events and forwarding information to target groups such as students, start-ups, mentors and other stakeholders. By the way, the EPICUR Forum and the individual events are available on YouTube.

“According to the EU Commission, entrepreneurship is one of eight core competencies of EU citizens”

 You are a research assistant and doctoral candidate at the Chair of Entrepreneurship at KIT and you publish on entrepreneurship education. What is “entrepreneurship education” and do students from all fields of study benefit from it?

“Entrepreneurship education” refers to all measures in the context of academic and practical education at universities, in incubators or in accelerator programmes. The goal is to prepare students for their future as founders. As entrepreneurship instructors, we want to enable students to become responsible entrepreneurs. To be an entrepreneur, you need certain skills. In the academic context, we speak of so-called entrepreneurial competencies. These include: Recognising entrepreneurial opportunities, setting up a business model, pitching the business idea to investors. In entrepreneurship education programmes, these and other competencies are developed and supported through pedagogical means. We have written an article on this subject and looked into the question of exactly which entrepreneurial skills are important and what should actually be taught in entrepreneurship education in order to effectively prepare students for their future activities.

Whether all disciplines will benefit from this also depends on whether the university offers courses in entrepreneurship and how the faculties promote and recognise entrepreneurship in their regulations. In my opinion, access to such offerings should be available to all who want it. For this reason, we have configured the EPICUR Entrepreneurial Lab in such a manner that students from all fields of study can participate. However – and this is still a major challenge within European universities – ECTS creditability is not a given. In addition, the workload is quite high. This means that we hereby offer a voluntary commitment and thus a high intrinsic motivation is required from the students. As recognition we issue an EPICUR certificate, which attests not only to the participation in such an international programme, but also to the entrepreneurial competences and the equivalence of 6 ECTS. According to the EU Commission, entrepreneurship is one of eight core competencies of EU citizens, languages are also included as well as digital competencies, but also entrepreneurial competencies. And this is exactly what we address with our programme.

“Our courses are designed to motivate students and give them courage”

Alexander, you are talking about entrepreneurship. What about sustainability and entrepreneurship? Are these two concepts still a contradiction? Or do young students start their founders’ careers from a mindset for sustainability, for example, inspired by “Fridays for Future” or other movements?

This question of sustainability and entrepreneurship – do I want to make money or do I want to change the world – often showcases an ideological conflict. I believe that in today’s world there is no other way than to consider and anchor both aspects – sufficient profitability and sustainability – in a modern business model. From where I’m standing, it’s not a question of focus, but of balance. There is also “social entrepreneurship” which is very much concerned with social and sustainable aspects. And there, too, start-ups are founded that are capable of surviving. I talked about responsibility in the beginning. I think taking responsibility is very important. You can’t walk through the world today with your eyes closed. As a young person, you are part of this society and entrepreneurship education enables you to take responsibility. That’s when you must have the courage to tackle problems, to change things and not look away. It’s about our future and the environment we live in. We have to change things there and not wait for someone to do it for us, or not do it. That’s what it’s all about today: Being economically sustainable as well as working with the global issues we face in mind. The way I approach this – this is really close to my heart – is that I don’t just let the students develop business ideas in my courses. Instead, I go through an opportunity recognition process based on problem areas. I take these from the SDGs and the “European Green Deal Framework”. These are the global problems that have been formulated by the United Nations for humanity. There are 17 goals – 17 Sustainable Development Goals – and that’s where I have students dive in and look for topics that they resonate with. It is about matching the person, their values and competencies. Our courses are designed to motivate students and give them courage. As well as enable them to answer their own questions about what suits them and what career path they want to take.

Give us a glimpse into 2021. What are EPICUR’s plans on sustainable entrepreneurship for the rest of the year?

We are organising internships in start-ups at several EPICUR locations. In addition, the international EPICUR course, “Entrepreneurial Lab” will take place in the winter semester of 2021. For this purpose, we are recruiting founders (who have performed at the Forum) as mentors to accompany students, support them in their projects and advise them. We are also working on a virtual map of stakeholders so that networking and collaborating will become easier. It is a visual representation of stakeholders where interested parties can see which networking meetings on the topic of entrepreneurship are taking place, which innovative projects are currently being set up and who the contact persons are. Investors can find start-ups, lecturers can search for events where they can pass on their knowledge, and so on. There are many exciting use cases that we are currently working on. I’m sure there will be many more activities to come.

In conclusion: What was your motivation to join EPICUR?

I stumbled upon the chance to join. This is how it often works with these projects. After I understood what it’s all about and what potential it has got, my motivation focussed on giving young people the tools through education to shape our society constructively. EPICUR is a great stage, it is not a KIT or BOKU event. It is an international stage with the possibility to develop a really broad horizon, to reach many people and to realise many great possibilities and ideas together.

Thank you very much for your time!

Contact information, A. Tittel (Entrepreneurial Education, Entrepreneurship at EPICUR, WP 5.2): alexander.tittel@kit.edu
Contact information, Y. Cunia (Communication EPICUR, all WPs): yvonne.cunia@boku.ac.at

 

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