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In his acceptance speech for his honorary doctorate at Twente University, Prince Constantijn of Orange shared his belief that universities have a role to make an impact beyond education and science. “This is not an incremental change. It’ll be a paradigm shift. It requires a willing and open mindset, as well as an ambition to make an impact. Wouldn’t it be a great challenge for the University of Twente to lead this change?”

But to get there, much would have to be done, Constantijn adds. Many of the elements are already there, “but the engine for impact at scale isn’t running yet. It is as if all the pieces of this engine lay scattered around in the garage, but we’re not piecing them together. Now and then a bicycle may emerge from the workshop, but we are left with many spare parts, wondering what we could have built if you would have the right manual.”

With regards to that manual, the University of Twente is leading an initiative to create better terms for entrepreneurial scientists, Constantijn says. “However, there’s much more to this than just a manual. It’s about a culture of entrepreneurship and impact. It’s about embracing an ambition.” To achieve this, the university has to accept the basic notion that a spin-out or start-up is the vehicle for disruptive innovation that can bring new technologies to market, and scale them from there, Constantijn adds. “Also, there’s a need to embrace a permissive environment aimed at spinning out as many ventures as possible, by supporting entrepreneurs as Olympian athletes. Moreover, ideally, the university shouldn’t monetize IP by demanding equity.”

Profitable companies

In other words, tech transfer cannot be an afterthought. It must be a deliberate and purposefully organized capability of universities. “Be the example of a culture in which scientific research and impactful entrepreneurship go hand in hand, in which people are trusted to create impact and recognized for doing so, whether they are conducting fundamental research or building a profitable company.”

The university itself will also benefit from such a shift, Constantijn says. “Universities could be at the center of flourishing ecosystems, creating new jobs, new world-leading businesses in areas like semiconductors, in biotech, new energies, materials, and cultured meat. This doesn’t only create more jobs, but also better research, it attracts more talented students, and creates a virtuous spiral that will make your institutions stronger.”

Europe’s most entrepreneurial university

Even though he remains an outsider, Constantijn promises to help Twente and other universities in The Netherlands to make his dream come true. “I will keep pushing for a cultural shift that will make us better, and it will make you and your institutions proud of the impact that your breakthrough companies are making here and across the world. Let’s build Europe’s most entrepreneurial university, here in Twente.”


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