Connecting Students to Their Enterprise Ecosystem
To integrate enterprise university students into their citywide community of entrepreneurs, innovators, and industry partners, students attended curated events during Dublin StartUpWeek.
Call to Action:
The hallmark of entrepreneurship education is the integration of industry engagement into the curriculum that provides opportunities for students to gain a network, obtain an authentic understanding of the world of work, and develop their mastery of business concepts. The use of guest speakers and industry connections develops entrepreneurial self-efficacy in students, giving them a sense of realism that is challenging to emulate in the classroom (“you can’t be what you can’t see”).
Our initiative aimed to give students these confidence-building opportunities at a scale that could not be achieved in the university alone. We knew that, by collaborating with the wider entrepreneurial ecosystem, we could provide more customized role models and opportunities for our students. By allowing interaction with the public, we wanted our students to experience the enthusiasm for entrepreneurship that is present in our locality, encouraging them to see the inherent value of the experiences before them.
In addition, the networking opportunities were everywhere for the industry-ready students. As educators we are often criticized for operating in an academic bubble. Not only do we need to encourage our students to engage with these communities, but our institutes need to be proactive and visible leaders in these initiatives. What is needed is some forward planning in modules, a dedicated effort in organizing and managing events, and early engagement with students. It is clear from our example that business, councils, and enterprise-support agencies are receptive to these initiatives.
Techstars' Startup Week™ Dublin, powered by Dublin City Council, brought more than 3,500 entrepreneurs, local leaders, and friends together over five days to build momentum and foster innovation around the city in October. Over 90 free events were held throughout the city, ranging in themes of Entrepreneurship101, UX Design, Scaling, Investment, and more.
First-year students of the new Dublin City University (DCU) Business School LIFE (Learning Innovation for Enterprise) module were required to self-select and attend one StartUpWeek event, reflecting on the experience as one of their module assignments. Roisin Lyons, module coordinator for LIFE, also acted as university lead for StartUpWeek and used this role to support the creation of student-focused events, and to curate a schedule for them. By reaching out to other higher education institutions in the city with the initiative and teaching resources, the program grew.
Multiple student events were developed by collaboration among inter-institution entrepreneurship societies and partners, with educators from varying faculties and institutes working together as guardians for collective student bodies (e.g., taking attendance, monitoring behavior).
An estimated 900 students engaged in events during StartUpWeek Dublin as a result. Events curated for students saw a number of inspiring national and international entrepreneurs share stories of their journey. The following are examples:
- Student to Startup (TalentGarden Coworking Space, DCU): A panel event that discusses how starting a company during college years impacts students’ future careers
- Study and Startups: How to Leverage Both (Trinity College): Five student entrepreneurs discuss their companies and the challenges and opportunities of entrepreneurship
The impact of this initiative was palpable during the week itself, and ripple effects continue to be noted. During StartUpWeek, a number of the LIFE first-year students won first place at a social innovation hackathon weekend. Others were offered mentorships and internships in the days following startup networking events. Both collaborating entrepreneurship and startup student societies noted a drastic increase in members following the week of events, with the majority signing up during the events themselves.
Students expressed genuine interest and excitement about the events they attended, and many noted that entrepreneurship as a career or journey is less daunting after having watched so many engage with it (“they all seemed like... just normal people”).
The reaction of the business community members who engaged and interacted with the students was also extremely positive. Organizer of StartUpWeek Dublin, David Pollard, has thanked the DCU students for their engagement and enthusiasm, noting that they were great ambassadors for the university. Norman Thompson from Dublin City Council said that he hopes the success of this initiative paves the way for other institutes to integrate such opportunities to connect these industry and student communities.
The initiative will be grown in scale and size in its second year, with even more higher education institutions becoming involved (and potentially some at the secondary level). Plans are currently underway, including formation of a subcommittee, to develop an app for students to register and “check in” to events, share information, and stay connected to the ecosystem.