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Universities must become more innovative and open in order to remain relevant in an ever-changing world. That’s why three Dutch entrepreneurs have launched an education-oriented start-up to help universities adapt. This aims to set up entrepreneurship programs and university start-up incubators.

The founders – Erik Boer, Arjan Goudsblom, and Joost Reimert  – have in-depth expertise in this field. Innovation programs provide researchers and students with an environment to test, validate, and launch their ideas as a business. Their company, Preneurz, was built on the belief that universities can play a much greater role in solving society’s problems. This can be achieved by connecting with local government, businesses, and other external organizations within their ecosystem. 

Creating mutually beneficial partnerships

If universities are embedded in these ecosystems, students will gain more opportunities to work with companies and learn practical skills. Plus, researchers can find new ways to fund their work. Through commercial partnerships, for one thing. If universities are successful at creating mutually beneficial partnerships, they will become much more valuable and sustainable. 

Erik Boer, Co-founder of Preneurz

Inspired by their hands-on experience in the Dutch innovation ecosystem and around the world, Preneurz teams up with economic development agencies to build similar in-house capacities at universities, while at the same time connecting them to local and international entrepreneurial ecosystems. 

Co-founder of Preneurz, Erik Boer, has spent the last 30 years working at universities and the last 15 years focusing on what an entrepreneurial university entails. 

“An entrepreneurial university is one that is always looking outwards to see how it can use its vast resources – research, people, and knowledge – to add value in a broader context. It’s one that is looking for ways to open up, explore new business models and also create an environment where students can learn in new ways and be prepared for the future – whatever that might look like,” he told Innovation Origins. 

Rethink, reinvent

Preneurz sees a real need for universities to rethink and reinvent themselves. There is more pressure from governments to see universities less reliant on grants and more focused on generating revenue through commercial partnerships. And whereas countries like the Netherlands have been working for years on new models and initiatives, other universities across Europe are falling behind. 

There is a lot of potential for this kind of work in many regions where entrepreneurship and innovation are not well developed. Even though Preneurz offers ‘Made in Netherlands’ programs, they firmly believe each project must be tailored to the local environment. 

If we are successful in creating entrepreneurial universities, more students and researchers will turn their ideas into businesses, more jobs will be created, and the better that will be for the economy and society.”

Preneurz Founders

“It’s important that each university understands its current ecosystem and the opportunities and obstacles they face. We don’t believe in replicating Amsterdam’s model and culture throughout the world. Each country is different and unique,” Mr. Boer said.

Preneurz runs a series of programs, incubators, and classes designed to give teachers and staff the tools, mindsets, and resources to create an entrepreneurial university. This is a process that can take 10-15 years. 

Confidence and tools to keep going

“Our mission is to empower management and teachers by transferring a lot of knowledge and lessons from mistakes that we have made along the way. We want to hand them over the reins so they can go on once we’ve left the building. It’s really important that our programs are sustainable. In order to reap long-term economic rewards, they need to stay the course. As well as have the confidence and tools to keep going,” said Arjan Goudsblom, another co-founder of Preneurz.

Arjan Goudsblom, co-founder of Preneurz

Preneurz is now working closely with international development agency GIZ to create several entrepreneurial universities in Albania. “Our mission is to ensure Albanians gain the confidence and resources to give entrepreneurship a go. There is no difference between a student’s ambition in Albania and a student’s ambition in Amsterdam. Students in the Netherlands have access to more funding, knowledge, and networks. But we want to change that with our programs. Also through the dedication and passion of students and teachers in Albania”, said Mr. Goudsblom. The second phase of this project begins in September. 

Thinking outside the box

Globally, universities are trying to think outside the box and challenge how students consider their careers and future. Director of Entrepreneurship at the University of Technology (UTS, Sydney, Australia) Murray Hurps says their entrepreneurial program is geared towards having an impact on all students. Regardless of what they are studying or whether they want to start a business. 

“As one of its goals, UTS wants to make entrepreneurship normal, desirable, and accessible. We want to have accessible places for students to come if they need help to develop their business idea. But we also want to play a role in challenging all students at UTS. We’re about preparing people so that they can make use of opportunities for their future. Whatever these may be. Establishing a university-led incubator and relevant curriculum is part of this. So too is storytelling and educating about the available possibilities,” Mr. Hurps told Innovation Origins.