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The number of offers and programmes for entrepreneurs and startups at Danish universities is growing. But there is still more to be done before world-class research is translated into explosive startups at the right speed.

Sponsored: This article is published in collaboration with Digital Tech Summit.

Along with the Silicon Valley-startup wave came an ideal of dropping out of college or university as soon as possible to start a business and become as successful as Steve Jobs, Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg. But in reality, of course, dropping out does not increase your chances of succeeding with your startup. On the contrary.

This is why Danish universities are increasingly focused on how much can be achieved by combining entrepreneurship with academics. One way is through the Venture Cup Denmark association, which has worked for 22 years to strengthen entrepreneurship at universities.

“Danish universities have been on an impressive journey in entrepreneurship, where some have gone from having no offerings for students or startups to today having strong environments and a wealth of programmes that are strongly integrated into teaching and research. The arrival of the universities’ own hubs means that Venture Cup is increasingly becoming an umbrella organisation that seeks to strengthen and develop cross-cutting networks and collaboration,” says Morten Ugelvig Andersen, CEO of Venture Cup Denmark.

Knowledge must interact with business

When the Digital Tech Summit opens its doors to 5.000 attendees on 25-26th October, it is again this year to bring research and industry together. Because success requires building new connections across the board. An ambition shared by Open Entrepreneurship.

“Universities and entrepreneurs have started opening up more in recent years in regards to using each other. For example, research and business can now join forces in the national Open Entrepreneurship project, which brings together all universities and addresses societal challenges in an effective partnership with business. Partnerships that contribute to scale and impact. This means that Denmark can give a much-needed boost to the exploitation of research, which is sorely needed when you look at the need for technology to solve green change and other major societal challenges,” says Jes Broeng, Programme Director for Open Entrepreneurship.

The same is true at DIREC, which aims to turn world-class research into innovative products and services in collaboration with private companies and the public sector.

“In recent years, universities have invested a lot in entrepreneurship, especially for students, and there are generally more and more ambitious offers for knowledge entrepreneurs. More can still be done to make it administratively easier and more attractive, especially for researchers, to start a business. For Danish start-ups to succeed, it is important that they have a unique competitive advantage that is not easily copied by international competitors. Spinouts from universities can provide this competitive advantage by being the first and sometimes only to offer a unique technology in a product,” says Thomas Riisgaard Hansen, Managing Director of DIREC.

Private players are moving in

As with any startup, it takes capital to grow. That is why in 2019 the Innovation Fund started the Innoexplorer programme, which aims to mature entrepreneurship based on knowledge and research results from Danish public research and education institutions and hospitals. And although it has helped many get started with a budget of around DKK 50 million a year, the Innovation Fund still believes there is significant untapped potential across all disciplines.

“In Denmark, we can pride ourselves on producing world-class research. The big challenge for us is to translate this excellent research into concrete value for society: new business ideas and new solutions. This is one of the purposes of the Innovation Fund: to act as a bridge between knowledge and research on one hand and companies and other actors on the other,” says Sidsel Hougaard, head of Innostartup at the Innovation Fund.

The private sector is increasingly interested in linking up with the knowledge environments at Danish universities. One example is the venture fund PreSeed Ventures, which, in addition to investing in early-stage start-ups, is also involved in GreenPact, in collaboration with DTU, which aims to commercialise more research in the fight against climate change.

“Universities have made great strides in offering and developing various initiatives aimed at supporting entrepreneurship. Everyone wants more successful, fast-growing startups that we spin out of Denmark and build from the goldmine of research that our universities hold. But talented entrepreneurs and results don’t come naturally. We can only accelerate development fast enough in collaboration with even more foundations, companies and other business stakeholders who support the expansion of universities’ entrepreneurial ecosystems. In concrete terms, this requires even more of the good initiatives to be co-funded by private foundations and companies,” says Christel Piron, CEO of PSV Core

Both foundations and companies will need to engage across the ecosystem, and role models for the next generation of entrepreneurs will need to be highlighted to help spin out more companies from universities. And that requires, among other things, that the private sector dares to invest.

“There is a paradigm shift underway – but we still have a long way to go to support universities having the best opportunities to teach students the strategic thinking of entrepreneurship towards solving societal challenges such as climate change. We need to get even better at pulling, say, a patent out of university and into a commercial business idea. That usually takes a long time, and that’s why we need everyone on board,” says Christel Piron.

About the Digital Tech Summit:

  • The Digital Tech Summit is jointly organised by the eight Danish universities. The aim is to create a common platform for the meeting between research, industry and technology.
  • This year the fair is moving to a larger venue in Bella Center Copenhagen, and expects over 5.000 participants across researchers, students, industry and the startup ecosystem. The event will be held on 25-26 October.
  • Digital Tech Summit’s startup activities are sponsored by Otto Mønsted Foundation, Innovation Fund, Growth Fund, Danish Maritime Fund, Fund for Entrepreneurship, Technology Pact, PreSeed Ventures. Other partners include VentureCup, KRING, DIREC, Open Entrepreneurship, Station, ThirdRoom, DigitalLead/Cyber hub, Copenhagen Fintech and TechSavvy.
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