The Role of the University in an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem
ounded in 1966 and based in Linz, JKU is the largest university in Upper Austria, with nearly 100 academic degree programs and postgraduate programs.
Johannes Kepler University Linz (JKU) is the biggest public university in the region of Upper Austria, with over 24,000 registered students. JKU is also a major player in the regional business scene. In fact, says Christopher, “many of the startups in Upper Austria were founded by graduates of JKU.” Entrepreneurship is a major part of the university’s mission and DNA, and as the Vice Rector for Innovation Christopher is a key player in managing and running these initiatives at JKU.
In this role, Christopher not only helps shape the position and direction of the university, but also how JKU engages with and transfers knowledge to society and the economy. This means the cultural aspects of innovation, such as how to involve civil society in research, how to get university research and IP out to companies, and even helping to found startups.
Supporting and promoting entrepreneurship and the startup ecosystem happens on various levels. First, entrepreneurship is part of the curriculum at JKU, so students work directly on entrepreneurship projects or with local companies to get practical business knowledge. There are also specific programs dedicated to entrepreneurship and connecting students with further resources, such as the Founders Week which is designed to encourage founders and entrepreneurs in the student body and connect them with like-minded team members. JKU also offers programs that help faculty and staff to start their own businesses.
As Christopher elaborates: “The nucleus of our work to promote innovation and entrepreneurship is the Open Innovation Center. This is a huge coworking space, where people from industry, academic institute, and startups come together with our young entrepreneurs. This helps them to get into the ecosystem early; it’s not just about having a place at the table, it’s about the network they have just by being a part.” Through the Open Innovation Center, students can get input from academics on cutting edge technology, and advice from successful business leaders, investors and corporations to help guide and launch their own startup journeys. After all, Christopher says “often it’s not about the hardware, but the people you know that gets a company started.”
The nucleus of our work to promote innovation and entrepreneurship is the Open Innovation Center. This is a huge coworking space, where people from industry, academic institute, and startups come together with our young entrepreneurs.
At JKU, students have ample opportunities to find out if entrepreneurship is something they want to pursue. But despite all these initiatives, and the core belief that “people should be confronted with entrepreneurship,” Christopher points out that it isn’t necessarily something that can be taught. “Entrepreneurship is not for everyone, and I think it’s important to identify this. Rather, it’s crucial to motivate and encourage those who can and want to do it, to help bring out the inner entrepreneur.”
Often, Christopher says, students may go through the entrepreneurship curriculum and programs and then still decide that they want a typical job in a company. But after gaining experience and trying out the employed life, they come back to JKU and join the Open Innovation Center, or one of the many labs or facilities available to startups, as motivated founders. Alumni are also able to take advantage of JKU’s business network.
There’s a certain necessity right now, with the challenges the world is facing, to focus on digital and ecological transformation both in civil society, business and at the university level.
Aside from these direct resources, startups benefit more broadly from the universities role in society. This is also a mutually beneficial relationship, as former students who go on to create successful businesses or innovative solutions represent their alma mater to the world. Christopher notes that many of the students who have gone on to start companies come back to the university for research and collaboration. Through this research and collaboration, universities like JKU are also sources of new ideas and new technology, which are then monetized by businesses. Current and former students working with the university generate IP and patents and then go on to found high-tech startups.
Christopher says that universities are also going to be vital to solving the problems of the future. “There’s a certain necessity right now, with the challenges the world is facing, to focus on digital and ecological transformation both in civil society, business and at the university level.” Upper Austria has been focusing on this transformation for the past few years, and both as the largest public university and a major player in the innovation ecosystem of the region, which has translated into a change of focus in the classroom, in research and in the initiatives supported.
Most important tips for startups:
- Entrepreneurship is not for everyone. And that’s ok! If you are interested in entrepreneurship, however, try to find out if it’s really for you. For those that think they might want to be founders later in life, that’s also a great option, and you’ll bring your life and work experience with you.
- Networking is vital. The people you know and the connections you make can mean the difference between failure and success, and are often the most important factor in a startup. Universities can provide a diverse and wide ranging network of connections that are predisposed to help and support fellow alumni.
- Universities can be collaborators. Especially in tech and STEM fields, collaboration between businesses and universities can generate exciting new patents and IP.
Main Photo by: Antje Wolm