It takes a village – Welcoming students into a citywide entrepreneurship ecosystem
Techstars' Startup Week™ Dublin, powered by Dublin City Council, brought over 3500 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. Linking the initiative to academic learning, first year students of the new 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.
Dr. Roisin Lyons, module coordinator for LIFE, also acted as University Track Captain for StartUpWeek and used this role to support the creation of student-focused events, and to curate a schedule of student-friendly ones.
“My role was to encourage third level (higher education) institutes and their students to engage in the network and events, and to curate events with the student in mind. We were delighted that events ran in five of our higher education institutions across the city. We also organised a number of key events specifically for the students”.
By reaching out to other higher education (3rd level) institutions in the city with the concept and teaching resources, the initiative scaled. Multiple student events were developed by collaborating inter-varsity entrepreneurship societies and partners, with educators from varying faculties and institutes working together as guardians for collective student bodies (taking attendance, monitoring behaviour). It is estimated that over 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, through events that included:
- ‘Student to Startup’ (TalentGarden Coworking Space, DCU). Panel event discussing how starting a company during college years impacts your future career.
- ‘Study and Startups: How to leverage both’ (Trinity College). Five student entrepreneurs discuss their companies and the challenges/opportunities of entrepreneurship.
The networking opportunities for students were everywhere for the industry-ready students. For more anxious students, organised meetups before events, walk-togethers and on-campus options helped them to feel comfortable. There were events related to immigrant, non-binary and disability entrepreneurship topics, social enterprise, non-profit and many others to suit all interests.
Within the teaching of enterprise and entrepreneurship education, the integration of industry engagement into the curriculum provides opportunities for students to gain a network, an authentic understanding of the world of work, and to develop their mastery of business concepts. The use of guest speakers and industry links develops entrepreneurial self-efficacy in students, a belief in ones’ own capability to act as an entrepreneur and attain success during the new venture creation. When students have the option to learn vicariously from industry leaders and entrepreneurs they get a sense of realism that is challenging to emulate in the classroom (‘you can’t be what you can’t see’).
The impact of this initiative was palpable during the week itself, and we’re continuing to see ripple effects. During the week itself a number of the LIFE students engaged in a social innovation hackathon and won first place. Others were offered mentorship and internships in the days following start-up networking events. Both collaborating entrepreneurship/start-up 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 have noted that entrepreneurship as a career or journey is less daunting due to watching so many engage with it (“they all seemed like just normal people”). Even watching the public attend sessions and take notes encouraged students to see the inherent value of the experiences before them. The reaction of the business community who engaged and interacted with the students were also extremely positive. Kevin Murphy, founder of 2GoCup who spoke at one of the student events during StartUpWeek, commented;
“Fantastic initiative to help show students the potential on acting on ideas and developing concept/theory into a reality. Should absolutely become part of the college courses available in the applicable school(s) in university”.
The initiative will be grown in scale and size next year with even more universities and colleges becoming involved, and potentially some second level institutes as well. A subcommittee is currently being formed and plans are underway to develop an app for students to register and ‘check in’ to events, share information and stay connected to the ecosystem.
We as educators cannot operate in a bubble in our institutions. Not only should we be encouraging our students into these communities, but our institutions should be steadfast and visible leaders in these initiatives. Entrepreneurship and innovation has permeated every village, town and city. Whilst many initiatives may not have the scale of Dublin StartUpWeek, they will still have enough to create a unique experience for class cohorts. All that is needed is some forward planning in modules, a considered effort to engage in the organising of one of these initiatives, and a receptive climate from industry and external community builders.
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