HuaweiHow universities can promote entrepreneurship by supporting networks

How universities can promote entrepreneurship by supporting networks

By offering resources, support and a strong knowledge base, higher education plays a key role in localised enterprise clusters

Entrepreneurial success is more than a simple question of securing venture capital. Taking ideas out of academia and into the real world requires resources of knowledge and support.

Networks, and the higher education institutions nested within them, are critical to sustaining an ecosystem of start-up activity. But how can such networks be best maintained?

At a roundtable discussion hosted by Times Higher Education in partnership with Huawei – “The role of entrepreneurial universities in regional innovation systems” – a panel of industry leaders shared their insights into how academia and industry can create a positive environment for start-ups.

Alexandros Papaspyridis, director of higher education for APAC at Microsoft, urged universities to encourage students to participate in entrepreneurship. “Give them the space to experiment,” he said. It is important to look at corporate collaborations as more than fundraising, he added. “I have been in meetings where the whole conversation started with how much money the corporate can provide. I think that is a very narrow focus about what role a corporate can play in partnership with a university. There is a lot more value from relationships, from know-how.”

Papaspyridis spoke of Microsoft Research Labs and how Microsoft’s network of corporate and start-up partners is a powerful driver of innovation. Giovanni Laquidara, developer advocate at Huawei, agreed. Huawei’s collaborations with universities often involve feedback and access to tech. A student-centric approach could help seed entrepreneurship at all levels of higher education. “We should focus more and more on direct collaboration with students,” said Laquidara, adding that it is vital that students understand industry’s needs and methodologies so they can anticipate where innovation can have the greatest impact.

Dr David Cleevely, co-founder and chair of Cambridge Wireless, described the changing nature of collaboration, which is moving out of the boardroom and becoming less formal. The most fertile start-up environments comprised well-resourced networks in which people could meet and exchange ideas freely. With a cornucopia of resources and a world-class university close at hand, it is no coincidence that Cambridge is home to more than 20 billion-dollar companies.

Success breeds success, and if the start-up ecosystem is vibrant, a situation arises in which if one start-up fails, others can take its place. Cleevely described this as a “compost heap” model.

Entrepreneurs need low-risk environments to engage in high-risk activities. Citing Mark Suster and Brad Feld’s writing on clusters, Cleevely spoke of the importance of alumni and the power of recycled capital in a regional economic hub. “Infrastructure is about investing in people and networks,” Cleevely said. “Serendipity is not something that happens by chance. You can construct the systems by which serendipity works. If you have too much friction, you won’t get enough patents. You want to construct systems that encourage people to interact because that is the way we will make the most of R&D spending.”

Offering a university perspective, Francisco Veloso, dean of Imperial College Business School, detailed the thinking behind Imperial’s new White City Campus project. “What Imperial is doing is creating a campus for innovation and entrepreneurship, and the way that we are designing the entire space is very much around creating a supportive ecosystem for entrepreneurs and for technological innovation,” he said. This environment allows for a focus on deep tech and projects such as groundbreaking RNA vaccine development. 

Projects need time and space to evolve, to be scaled up. Venture capital alone will not fund them, but by offering first-class facilities, a knowledge base and access to industry, higher education can help bring them to market.

The panel:

  • Phil Baty, chief knowledge officer, Times Higher Education
  • Dr David Cleevely, co-founder and chair, Cambridge Wireless
  • Bruno Cotta, executive director, Entrepreneurship Centre, Cambridge Judge Business School
  • John Finch, head of school, Adam Smith Business School, University of Glasgow
  • Simon Green, pro vice-chancellor for research, Aston University
  • James Hayton, professor of entrepreneurship, Warwick Business School
  • Giovanni Laquidara, developer advocate, Huawei
  • Timothy Nichol, pro vice-chancellor, Liverpool Business School, Liverpool John Moores University
  • Alexandros Papaspyridis, director of higher education for APAC, Microsoft
  • Nick Plant, deputy vice-chancellor of research and innovation, University of Leeds
  • Lynn Sheppard, director, Masood Enterprise Centre, University of Manchester
  • Francisco Veloso, dean, Imperial College Business School

Find out more about Huawei and higher education.

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