Never before has it been so easy to study at university and run your own business at the same time—a growing tendency that reaps rewards for startup communities, universities and society alike.
This article is made in collaboration with ‘Fonden for Entreprenørskab‘ – one of the amazing partners making the magazine ‘From University to Unicorn 2021’ possible. You can read the full magazine here.
2020 saw the opening of ‘The Kitchen’, a dedicated entrepreneurial space for students and researchers at Aarhus University to meet and work on their business projects. And the fun doesn’t stop there: entrepreneurship has also begun to work its way into the rest of the university.
In fact, Aarhus University has developed a 2025 strategy that aims for business and innovation to play a greater role in university life, and similar initiatives can be seen at other Danish universities. While The Kitchen in Aarhus is first and foremost a place where students can go to cultivate their entrepreneurial ideas and projects, it also meets students where they are—on many university courses, students now receive teaching in entrepreneurship as part of their education.
“We established a committee, who are responsible for ensuring that The Kitchen and, more generally, a focus on innovation, is spread out across the university. The intention is that innovation should be an integral part of the structure of university life, it’s no longer just this thing on the side, but is integrated into everything else,” says Jeppe Dørup, head of The Kitchen, formerly Science & Innovation Attaché at Innovation Center Denmark in Silicon Valley.
Now that entrepreneurship is a regular part of university programs, as well as offered as an extracurricular option, students who might not have otherwise seen themselves as entrepreneurs are becoming increasingly aware of the possibility of entrepreneurship as a potential career path. And if they want to explore that possibility further, they can head to The Kitchen, where they can, amongst other things, do an ‘internship in their own business’, or even get a specially designed ‘Career Program’, allowing them to run their business alongside studies—a similar setup that has previously been offered to elite athletes in education.
“The interest in entrepreneurship is growing and with all these initiatives such as the 2025 strategy, The Kitchen and various educational programs, we’re sending a clear signal of support to the students and the business community. American universities have been doing this kind of thing for the past couple of decades,” says Dørup.
Getting with the program
Although Danish universities are focussing more than ever before on innovation and entrepreneurship, the goal is not necessarily to generate lots of startups, but instead to teach entrepreneurial thinking for all students, who could also go on to become innovators employed at established companies. According to The Danish Foundation for Entrepreneurship (FFE), the original innovation hubs at universities are now becoming an ingrained part of the main syllabus at many universities.
“Most of these entrepreneurial spaces started up as separate entities—something for students to seek out if they were interested in learning about entrepreneurship alongside their studies. Little by little, we’re seeing how these hubs and the teaching at universities are becoming more symbiotic,” says Emilie Normann, Head of Research, Analysis and Higher Education at FEE.
She points out that, as our understanding of what happens in entrepreneurial environments has grown, so has the interest in teaching entrepreneurship and innovation. It’s seen as a way to bring students closer to the world of business. One such example of how entrepreneurial teaching is becoming a more integrated part of university degrees is at Copenhagen University, where a record number of 970 ECTS points were earned by students in 2020, solely through activities conducted at the entrepreneurial hub ‘UCPH Innovation Hubs’.
Everyone’s a winner
According to Normann, Danish universities have very good reasons for moving towards a more integrated entrepreneurial education.
“It goes two ways,” she says, “hub environments get more diverse and so do university degrees. Entrepreneurship isn’t just about the actual act of starting a business. It’s about a way of thinking that gives graduate students the capabilities to start new businesses as well as innovate within existing ones. We’re getting the next generation ready to develop the future.”
“Everyone’s a winner. The universities, the entrepreneurial communities surrounding them and, at the end of the day, society as a whole,” Normann concludes.