Training Entrepreneurs as University Challenge: Part II
28.02.2018

This time I am going to tell you how Tomsk State University is going to deal with the issues I outlined last time. We have decided to draw on the experience of our Dutch colleagues. Why have we chosen their way? The Netherlands were home for the first    bourgeois revolution in the history of the modern society, which was the first step of the formation of the entrepreneurial social class. Accordingly, the traditions of entrepreneurship and training entrepreneurs are very strong and diverse in this country.

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At present, various educational institutions are involved in training entrepreneurs in the Netherlands, including state universities, private business schools, and non-profit organizations. Dutch experience is being studied all over the world. This country has been exporting education in entrepreneurship for centuries. Peter the Great was the first to bring this model to Russia. Today it is easy to find an educational online programme and pay for it by your credit card if you want to get knowledge, skills, and an international certificate from, let’s say, NIMA (Netherlands Institute of Marketing).

However, despite all achievements and international recognition in training entrepreneurship, the question of how and what to teach is constantly being raised in the Netherlands. The way to respond to this question was to open independent business schools that do not give diplomas or certificates, but provide students with the experience of being part of a real project.   For example, Knowmads Business School in Amsterdam. The name of the school is based on the concept of “knowmads” by John Moravec who, in his turn, used the concept of “knowledge workers” by Peter Drucker. The students pay around 5,500 euros as an entrance fee but have the opportunity to make money while learning. The curriculum is based on active learning and built around four areas: sustainability and social innovation, personal leadership, entrepreneurship and new business design, and marketing and creativity.

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Every year the school staff bring four assignments to their students. The students work on them together with leaders from collaborating organizations. When teams receive their assignments, they prepare working plans that include financial proposals for final products. When collaborating organizations accept the quotes, the tribes (this is how they call teams) start working on the projects together with the staff. Besides the projects, students are encouraged to work on their own business ideas. The aim is a win-win-win situation, for the students, for our partnering organization, and for our broader society. Experts sourced from the Knowmads network coach each student during the year. Besides studying, the students work at so-called Knowmads Greenhouse, where they work on projects for money. Such independent educational organizations become more and more popular not only in the Netherlands, but around the world as well.

However, despite the options provided for future entrepreneurs, Dutch universities are still leaders in training. This may be explained by the fact that only universities are capable of creating and developing entrepreneurial ecosystems.

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Founded in 1636, Utrecht University is one of the universities that possess scientific, historical, and cultural heritage similar to what TSU has, according to the experts of the 5-100 Programme. We have been maintaining good business relations with it for many years. One of the elements of its ecosystem is the Centre for Entrepreneurship at the School of Economics, directed by Hein Roelfsema, who visited TSU in the beginning of 2018. This is one of the reasons why we decided to consider the Dutch experience in organizing such a centre at TSU. Doctor Hein Roelfsema is an Associate Professor of International Entrepreneurship, Coordinator Master in International Management, Member of the Board of Holland Startup company. He has a huge experience and great deal of knowledge in marketing, transnational management, innovations, growth, and development of entrepreneurship. 

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The result of the negotiations was the decision to establish the Centre for Entrepreneurship at TSU’s Institute of Management and Economics. Doctor Roelfsema kindly agreed to help with developing its model. The centre will open by the 140th anniversary of our University. We have already carried the situational analysis and started working on the roadmap. We expect our partners from Utrecht University to become our consultants in the future, as well as active participants and lecturers.

Doctor Roelfsema agrees with the opinion of the experts I talked about in my previous post. He also believes that modern entrepreneurs are those who have, first and foremost, strong personality and are well educated (complex persons). He thinks that TSU has a strong research basis and provides good education, which makes it capable of creating such strong and complex personalities who are able to positively influence the society, using its knowledge and skills.

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Having solid entrepreneurial basis, the TSU graduates can create jobs for themselves and for other people as well. This will affect other people’s well-being, psychological security, and self-actualization, which will be in best interests of the whole society. But first, we need to make entrepreneurship an integral part of University’s curriculum.

Naturally, not all the graduates will self-actualize themselves as entrepreneurs. This is not the aim for us, considering that TSU is a classical research university, not a business school. But we want to provide our students with options of possible scenarios of how they can implement the range of knowledge and skills we give them in the process of education, which for us is a process of making our students “complex people”. Entrepreneurship is one of the options. In order to offer this option, we need to create a multilevel system of education and training. 

The first level may consist of basic educational courses for future bachelors and masters, including trainings as options. Later on, the principles of “from simple to complicated” and “from theory to practice” will be applied. Those who want and can go to the last level will have more chances to become real entrepreneurs. Building a startup may be the basis for their dissertations.

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I want to emphasize one more time that all faculties must be involved in this system of education and training at the Centre for Entrepreneurship at the Institute of Economics and Management. Each faculty will be represented by a coordinator. This person will control the process of embedding the faculty he or she represents into the system of training, communicate with the Centre, and help with carrying out educational programmes. We have established a working group with our vise-rectors and some university staff as members. They are preparing a beta-project of an entrepreneurial educational programme “Computer Engineering”. It will be carried out in coordination with several Tomsk IT-companies. The programme will have much in common with business schools’ approach to training. There are other faculties that showed their interest in training entrepreneurs as part of their curriculum. The rest will have the opportunity to participate, following on-demand educational tracks.

The TSU’s educational system with the Centre for Entrepreneurship as a part of it is necessary for transferring knowledge into technologies the fastest way possible. However, we do not have enough specialists with entrepreneurial competencies who can teach the others. We need experts from outside the University to help us with that. That is why we have established a venture fund with our graduates as members and investors. Now we must give them ideas and motivation. Ideally, we have to aim at developing an entire entrepreneurial ecosystem, considering we have many elements of it already. For example, we have strong collaborating organizations and companies. However, an ecosystem is truly viable only when all its members see that their interests are respected. In this case, they strengthen and complement each other.  

We invite all students and professors who are interested in building an entrepreneurial ecosystem to join us in our efforts.