Circle boosts novice tycoons

June 22, 2001

Cambridge University is one of six institutions that have formed a network to help convince students with bright ideas that starting their own knowledge-based business is a viable option.

The Entrepreneurship Education and Training International Association brings together Cambridge University's Entrepreneurship Centre with France's HEC business school and Ecole des Mines d'Alès, the Polytechnic University of Catalonia, Montreal's Ecole des Hautes Commerciales and Morocco's Al Akhawayn University.

All teach entrepreneurship but believe lessons can be learnt from each other. The goal is to increase the number of high-tech start-up companies in each university.

Peter Hiscocks, director of the Cambridge centre, said it had a strong link with Massachusetts Institute of Technology, whose entrepreneurship centre has been going for about 15 years.

But, he said European schools took a different approach to the United States, which favoured the case-study approach, and ideas such as getting students to work in teams on real projects had considerable potential. Learning from others' successes - and failures - would help all schools in the association create better courses.

According to Mr Hiscocks, universities needed a culture that encouraged students to think about entrepreneurship and setting up businesses. The idea that entrepreneurs were little more than dodgy used-car dealers was no longer the case, he said.

While some people would always be more entrepreneurial than others, Mr Hiscocks likened the situation to not knowing if someone had the potential to be a concert pianist if he or she were never allowed to play the piano.

Interest from MBA students in entrepreneurship classes had been affected by the economic downturn, yet demand from engineering students was strong, he said.

Mr Hiscocks believed that MBA candidates were less entrepreneurial than engineers or physicists, as they usually aimed to work for large organisations. For this reason, he wanted to introduce an MBC course - master of business creation - to better cater for those who want to run their own show.

The new association, which has been driven by Gerard Unter Naehrer, of the Ecole des Mines d'Ales, aims to create student exchanges and work placements as well as getting companies themselves involved. Other universities, particularly those in the US, may be invited to join in the future.

The network is complemented by the UKSEC, made up of Britain's 12 university science entrepreneurship centres. Directors of the centres meet three to four times a year to exchange ideas and information.

Cambridge Entrepreneurship Centre: www.cec.cam.ac.uk

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