Engaging Entrepreneurship: University as a Test Bed for Innovation

As part of Global Entrepreneurship Week, Universities Scotland is highlighting how universities in Scotland are embedding entrepreneurship and enterprise in students and staff. Across eight blogs this week, we have experts the length and breadth of Scotland telling their stories about how universities are contributing to make Scotland an entrepreneurial nation.

In our penultimate blog, Professor Gordon McConnell, Robert Gordon University’s Vice-Principal for Commercial and Regional Innovation talks about RGU’s new recently launched start up accelerator programme.

A key objective of univeristies in the new century is to be an engine of economic growth.

This includes ensuring that we are preparing our graduates, and our alumni, for the massive changes ahead. Part of this is acknowledging that future of work is changing, in particular with digital transformation. Career choices are also changing, with the present generation of graduates more than likely changing not just their jobs but their whole careers several times during their working life, a working life that is likely to be longer than their parent’s.

These career outcomes also include potential participation in what is being referred to as the ‘gig economy’ but also the potential to become entrepreneurs in a startup scenario.

So during Global Entrepreneurship Week, we ask the question: how can universities support entrepreneurship and innovation in this context? One way is to drive ‘latent’ entrepreneurs within the institution through startup activity.

At RGU we have launched an externally funded start up accelerator programme, which includes our partner institution North East Scotland College (NESCol) which will support up to 30 new startups from students, recent alumni and staff.

We are currently in the final week of this first competitive campaign, which includes messaging to the different disciplines that entrepreneurship and innovaiton can be found anywhere.

This attempt to ‘democratise’ entrepreneurship is vital to ensure that creative students realise that they too can engage in startup activity before they even leave the university. The accelerator acts as a basic ‘test bed’ for new creative, innovative ideas which could be a new product or service, digital or otherwise.

A mentor-led process which starts in January supported by bite-sized teaching modules will help these new founders to develop their ideas, articulate their value proposition and scael-up their idea.

Yet the accelerator process does not sit in isolation: it can also interact with the research going on in the university, poentially through the commercialisation of intellectual property being derived from research projects.

At RGU it is supported through a range of new non-credit, lunchtime and evening short courses in a range of entrepreneurship and innovation subjects, called the Innovation Skills and Tools programme.

Over 400 students, alumni and staff have already benefited from participation in these courses, not to mention the wide range of for-credit courses in entrepreneurship, design thinking creativity, ideation and innovation that are taught across the RGU disciplines.

A colleague from Arizona State University, Dr. Rick Shangraw who is CEO of ASU Enterprise Partners, was our inaugural speaker for the new RGU Innovation Master Class.

During his presentation on how universities engage with start-ups, he covered the ASU EdTech accelerator – a key part of which is allowing the EdTech startups to test their new technology within ASU.

The idea of the university as a test bed for education technology innovations has been raised by UK organisations such as NESTA.

As we see a number of potential startups come up through the RGU startup accelerator process, it opens up the tantalising potential to see if we can use the university as a broader test bed for ideas.

Ideas that could significantly improve not just the student experience or the learner journey, but also help higher education to access the productivity gains offered by the Fourth Industrial revolution for the benefits of society.


You can read the rest of the blogs in this series as they are published at: