Entrepreneurship is the New Currency in Higher Education.

Entrepreneurship

In recent years, a focus on entrepreneurship has emerged as a major theme within Australian universities.  In the architectural industry, this theme manifests in the language of RFPs (Request For Proposals) to design new buildings and facilities on campus, from the explicit inclusion of entrepreneurial hubs, innovation hubs, incubators or makerspaces, to simply enabling industry engagement. The derivation of this trend appears directly related to government policy, demonstrated in the Commonwealth Government Chief Scientist’s paper titled ‘Boosting High-Impact Entrepreneurship in Australia: A Role for Universities’1.  In this report, published in 2015 under the authorship of Spike Innovation, it is declared that “producing entrepreneurs is now seen as an economic priority, and teaching high-impact entrepreneurship has become an important role for universities” (page v). While Australian universities perform relatively well on research quality, there are currently no Australian universities in Reuters Top 100 of the World’s Most Innovative Universities2. The consensus is that universities need to become more competitive in the innovation stakes and participate in the development of a new generation of entrepreneurs.   

The multidisciplinary nature of entrepreneurship is one of the key challenges within universities. Where on campus can students and staff collaborate across Faculties, Schools and disciplines? The structure of Faculties within universities has created a siloed effect commonly reflected in building infrastructure. The library is typically the only truly multidisciplinary facility on campus, but not necessarily well equipped for entrepreneurial activities. Similarly, multipurpose spaces may exist on campus, but are not always located or fitted out to support multidisciplinary activities.

The interest in entrepreneurial activities on campus has prompted questions such as, What does ‘teaching high-impact entrepreneurship’ look like? And how might this change the way we design university facilities? 

New Space Typologies on Campus

Universities are developing facilities such as innovation hubs, incubators, makerspaces, enterprise centres and accelerator hubs. Whatever they are called, the essence of these spaces are places where people can come together to develop ideas, services and products that can be tested and taken to the market. They are usually multidisciplinary environments, open to all staff and students, promoting industry engagement with mentors and potential capital fundraisers. Specialist equipment may need to be supervised or managed through training, but the intention is that very few barriers will prevent people from coming together to develop new ideas.

There may be subtle differences between the names of entrepreneurial spaces. For example, an incubator is usually associated with supporting start-up businesses. Makerspaces are usually associated with equipment and processes to ‘make’ things. Innovation hubs and enterprise centres are associated with emerging ideas for new products and services. 

Events such as hackathons may take place in entrepreneurial spaces. The idea of a hackathon has moved beyond its community-based origins of computer-based problem-solving, to becoming a more popular type of event that develops entrepreneurship within universities, kick-starting ideas for new products or services, solving multidisciplinary problems and meeting collaborators. One of Victoria University’s Entrepreneurs in Residence recently described a campus-based hackathon as:

  • an intensive experience from Friday night to Sunday night (participants operate on very little sleep)
  • being held in a technology-rich space for 30 - 100 people to work collaboratively
  • starting with participants pitching an idea
  • socialising and networking helps develop ideas further and groups are formed
  • groups ideating, designing, developing ideas/products over the weekend using technology &/or materials
  • easy for fast-food delivery and access to snacks & drinks
  • presenting ideas back to the audience (including industry representatives) voting on the best ideas

In the past, venues for these types of events have not been easy to find on campus. The conundrum of multipurpose venues is that they are intended to enable a wide range of events but are rarely designed for any specific purpose. However, the imperative place on developing entrepreneurs within universities is creating demand for purposeful, multidisciplinary, technology-rich spaces.

UNSW Enterprise Centre

In 2013, Woods Bagot facilitated a workshop at UNSW where the aim was to conceptualise a ‘Student Enterprise Centre’, a facility where students could develop the skills and experience required to be entrepreneurial and the support to build, grow or lead globally competitive innovation-based organisations. Dozens of academics came together from across many faculties to debate why, what and how an Enterprise Centre would work. The outcomes of the workshop were synthesised to identify key characteristics of not only the Enterprise Centre, but the quintessential elements of an entrepreneurial hub as a place where:

  • multidisciplinary connections between students, staff and industry friends can be developed
  • students can develop ideas over time (not a time-limited space)
  • students can build something
  • collaborating on a small or large scale is encouraged
  • networking and mentoring with industry partners is fostered
  • groups can exhibit and test their ideas
  • transparent, easy to find, not hidden away


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