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Entrepreneurial Universities: Key learnings

By Platform
Students walking on university campus

On Thursday 14 March, the Policy Learning Platform held a webinar on the topic of Entrepreneurial Universities: spinoffs and technology transfer. Universities have multifaceted responsibilities that go beyond their traditional roles of developing human capital (education – the first mission) and producing new knowledge (research – the second mission).

They are increasingly encouraged to embrace a ‘third mission,’ which involves actively engaging in regional development and contributing to society. This third mission requires universities to adopt a more entrepreneurial approach and explore innovative services and initiatives aimed at fostering regional growth and community development (OECD).

The third mission encompasses a diverse spectrum of actions, ranging from promoting social equity and community development to fostering collaboration between universities and industries. University-industry collaboration activities can be regrouped into education, research, valorisation, and management. (See here University-industry collaboration types and activities)

Webinar recording

Watch the webinar recording below. 

Webinar agenda

The webinar has been designed and moderated by Arnault Morisson and Marc Pattinson, Thematic Experts for a Smarter Europe.

00:01:04 Introduction to the webinar and topic by Arnault Morisson

00:14:59 Presentation on the latest trends by Arno Meerman, CEO of the University Industry Innovation Network, the Netherlands

00:27:19 Q&A: You mentioned that 1% of universities produce 70% of the license income. Should regional universities, that are not elite universities, prioritise entrepreneurship rather than licensing or patenting?

00:30:50 Q&A: Many people are looking at ways to create more value for their regional ecosystems and we see a mismatch between the research excellence and the business ecosystem. Do we invest in our businesses or do we change our research? How can we close the gap?

00:34:16 Presentation on the latest trends by Sébastien Hug from the Head Innovation Office at the University of Bern, Switzerland.

00:48:16 Q&A: Cities and regions are launching challenges and asking young entrepreneurs and startups to help solve them. Do you organise something similar with this challenge-oriented approach?

00:50:45 Latest insights from Interreg Europe good practices by Triinu Lööve on the University of Tartu spin-off program, Estonia (IMPROVE).

00:59:40 Q&A: Given the target set for you, what do you do with the rest of the startup community? Do you have a prioritisation scheme?

01:01:04 Q&A: Are the skills necessary or do you have to offer them training?

01:02:25 Initiatives from the Interreg Europe project VIADUCT by Cristina Ruiz from the University of Zaragoza, Spain.

Panel discussion

01:14:17 Q&A: You all mentioned the importance of accelerating or developing the entrepreneurship culture. Do you have good examples where entrepreneurship training is done at an early stage?

01:26:16 Q&A: If there is one KPI you would give yourself to demonstrate research valorisation, what would it be?

Key learnings

Explore the key learnings from the webinar below.

Alignment with regional strategies: it is crucial for entrepreneurial universities to align their research valorisation efforts with the priorities outlined in regional smart specialisation strategies (S3). For example, in Auvergne, France, academic sourcing targets aligning research endeavours with S3 priority sectors through collaborative projects involving public and private stakeholders.

Need for boundary spanning agents: entrepreneurial universities require boundary-spanning agents who can initiate, coordinate, and support engagement among university-industry, government, and societal stakeholders. These individuals should possess a diverse skill set and adaptability to effectively communicate with various stakeholders.

Addressing fragmentation in regional innovation ecosystems: often, there is a gap between entrepreneurial universities and their regional innovation ecosystems. Mapping regional innovation services and actors can help universities and policymakers create a clear pathway for research spinoffs and academic startups.

Internal focus of universities: entrepreneurial universities should prioritise internal initiatives like fostering an entrepreneurial culture among academics and students, offering pre-incubation programs to kickstart startups, and providing incubation programs with seed funding.

Supportive regional innovation policies: policymakers need to ensure that the regional ecosystem offers opportunities for research spinoffs and academic startups to progress through technology readiness levels (TRLs). This can be achieved through acceleration and scale-up programs, as well as funding opportunities from venture capital and public sources.

University of Bern’s Innovation Office: the university’s innovation office organises events and workshops to inspire entrepreneurial spirit among students and academics, offers pre-incubation programs to support startup launches, and encourages impactful engagement with industries through initiatives led by students and researchers.

University of Tartu (UT) Spin-off Programmedesigned to promote new business creation based on deep technological innovations, this program aims to translate research outcomes into marketable products or services. It equips UT scientists, students, and researchers with the necessary skills for business establishment and management.

The VIADUCT Interreg Europe project focuses on driving knowledge transfer and commercialisation of public applied research, particularly in regional S3 priorities. It addresses barriers hindering spin-off creation and consolidation.

  • UNIZAR research results evaluation methodology  provides a comprehensive methodology for assessing research results to determine their potential for commercial exploitation and transfer at the University of Zaragoza (UNIZAR), Spain.
  • Scouting Public Lab Inventions involves proactive scouting of innovative research findings within university labs through two main actions: weekly permanencies and educational events organised by business and detection officers from SATT Conectus, the regional TTO from Alsace, France.
  • Mature Your PhD is a programme initiated by Conectus to assist doctoral students in leveraging their research theses into professional opportunities, including potential spin-off ventures.

Entrepreneurial universities must promote an innovation and entrepreneurship culture by: 

  • Fostering an entrepreneurial mindset starting from the bachelor’s level.
  • Embedding entrepreneurial courses in the curriculum.
  • Encouraging interdisciplinary collaboration, such as between engineering and business.
  • Developing challenge-based projects addressing societal or startup challenges.
  • Supporting student-led entrepreneurship clubs.


Download the presentations below.

More information

Have a look at our peer review report on challenge-driven innovation policies to promote university-industry collaboration for the Autonomous Region of the Azores, Portugal.

Or explore our policy briefs on the topic: