The genesis of relevant entrepreneurial processes – stimulating problem solving capabilities by joint university-industry collaboration

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The very basics of entrepreneurial processes rest on the capabilities of individual actors to come up with new, innovative solutions to real problems. The ‘born or made’ discussion in entrepreneurship research as well as creativity research has demonstrated that such capabilities can be acquired through training and learning. We focus on one important learning device in this, that is university-industry collaboration, however, a special form of university – industry collaboration.
A large number of studies have established that university-industry collaboration positively impact on firm performance. The performance measures in these studies vary but have often been centered on innovative output, indicated by patent activities. Therefore university-industry collaboration has for decades been a top priority in innovation policy making. The policy initiatives include spin-off programs, mobility of researcher programs, preferential tax treatment of firms who do R&D-collaboration with universities etc. Such initiatives for promoting and sustaining university industry interactions have in the literature been seen as an important part of an effort to encourage the development of the “entrepreneurial university” (Fontana et al., 2006).
Although there may be such a link between university-industry collaboration and output there is a risk of simplifying matters if an automatic increase in performance is assumed. The non-linearity between R&D and innovation outputs has been recognized since long (Rosenberg, 1982, Kline and Rosenberg, 1986, Dosi, 1988) but it is also clear from a number of other, recent studies that the outcomes from external knowledge sourcing depends not only on the source of knowledge when firms source in knowledge (Laursen and Salter, 2006) but also the type of collaboration (Cohen et al., 2002, Schartinger et al., 2002, Roper et al.,2006, Roper et al., 2008) and type of partner (Schartinger et al., 2002). It may also be argued that the distance between the collaboration partners matter. The distance may in turn be sub-divided into spatial, cognitive, institutional, organizational and social proximity (Boschma, 2005) each of these dimensions facilitating knowledge transfer in different ways. A further complication, we argue, is that often the impact is long-term, and not direct.
Until now the literature has primarily focused upon what is transferred and learned in collaboration between universities and industry in R&D contracts, joint ventures and other standard ways of collaboration. For example, Schartinger et al. (2002) provides a review of university-industry collaboration and find 16 types of knowledge transfers. However, there is little mentioning of the future carriers of this knowledge, that is graduates from the universities.
In this study we fill a gap in the literature by focusing on the effects of collaboration between industry and university students. Specifically, we will focus on the organization of Business economic education in the fifth semester at Aalborg University as one of the initiatives in this respect. Project writing on the BSc program's fifth semester has for several years been carried out in cooperation between students and companies located in region North Jutland. In the period between mid-September and December the students are associated with a private or public company in order to develop a business analysis, including a more detailed analysis of a specific problem, in collaboration with a business unit. The final project report consists of approx. 120 pages of a comprehensive description of the company, and a detailed analysis in conjunction with the company delineated problem area.
Earlier studies have investigated the outcomes of internships (Liu et al., 2011, D’Abate et al., 2009, Gault et al. , 2010), however, so far the literature has been relatively silent regarding relating the outcome to the underlying learning model. Moreover, the empirical foundations for the earlier studies are most often ad-hoc student satisfaction surveys for a single program and a single point in time. We aim at filling this gap in the literature by employing both quantitative and qualitative measurements, longitudinal, repeated surveys over a 10 year period, both company and student assessments, and link to the learning environment in which it is embedded. Earlier studies have used experimental learning theories to frame experience in the general learning (Kolb, 1984) but rarely to provide a framework for internships (Erikson et al., 2012) . We use problem-based learning (PBL) as a framework to understand the learning processes involved in the internship model in question .
The case work serves two purposes. First, it illustrates how a model for internship may be designed. Secondly, it has a prescriptive purpose as it constitutes a recommendation to how relevant learning and entrepreneurial mindsets may be stimulated. Hence, we demonstrate that the type of university-industry collaboration (UIC) we describe in our case not only is positively evaluated by participants in it, the UIC is also likely to spur problem solving capacity, which is likely to be productive not only in relation to the specific collaboration but also in the longer term, and in other contexts. We argue, though, that this learning is not likely to happen to the same extend if a UIC is set up outside the PBL context. We further suggest that the model for university-industry collaboration we describe will be more or less effective depending on the Instructional approach employed when teaching students. Coming from a problem-based-learning environment enables students to reap the full benefits of learning from the real life UIC.
The paper is relevant to entrepreneurship research not only on a micro, individual level of aggregation. It also point to that, in line with Etzkowich (2000), the transition towards an entrepreneurial university involves the extension of both research and teaching missions. According to Etzkowich teaching is extended when students are enabled to test their academic knowledge in the context of company and act as intermediary between these two spheres.
Thus, our overall research question is
‘What are the outcomes of university students– industry collaboration?’
When posing this broad research question we have in mind the specific university student – industry collaboration (USIC) we investigate and we have sub-questions derived from the research regarding
to what extend it is possible to quantify the outcomes;
what are motivations for investing in this USIC;
what are learning points from this case and can it be replicated in other contexts?
As this problem is complex and involves a number of both effects and processes with different actors and in different time perspectives we use different methodological approaches to investigate this problem. These include case studies, longitudinal evaluations, and survey data. Specifically we perform an exploratory case study of two exemplary USIC. Subsequently we go as far as possible in quantifying effects from such processes based on 5 repetitive evaluations of this USIC, the project writing on the HA program's fifth semester in collaboration with companies in North Jutland. These evaluations were done among businesses participating in the collaboration over the past nearly 10 years. Finally we do a survey among 150 students who in the fall 2012 were part of the scheme.
Original languageEnglish
Publication date25 Oct 2012
Number of pages27
Publication statusPublished - 25 Oct 2012
EventInaugural Workshop on Entrepreneurial Processes - NOVI, Aalborg, Aalborg, Denmark
Duration: 25 Oct 201225 Oct 2012


WorkshopInaugural Workshop on Entrepreneurial Processes
LocationNOVI, Aalborg

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