Opinion: Why universities hold entrepreneurial key to stimulate economic growth

Wednesday 04 January 2023

Chris Moule
In Simon Sinek’s best-selling book ‘Start With Why’, he explains the framework that organisations need to consider to move beyond knowing what they do and how they do it but rather get to the why – specifically why they exist and why they matter.

I’ve worked in higher education in Scotland for the past 20 years and upon entering the industry I initially had a good idea of what universities did in the area of economic development and entrepreneurship, and how they went about it, but it wasn’t until I was immersed in it that I gained a deeper understanding of ‘the why’ and the critical importance of it.

Against a backdrop of fiscal pressure, Brexit and a post-pandemic recovery, entrepreneurship is a key pillar in the Scottish Government’s National Strategy for Economic Transformation and universities now need to double-down in providing the necessary space in their strategies, budgets, and workload while investing in the people and resources to drive them forward. They also need to be expansive and inclusive in reach and depth when delivering entrepreneurial initiatives and develop pedagogy that produces enterprising graduates.

At Robert Gordon University (RGU) we continue to embed a culture of creativity and curiosity on campus and across the North East having successfully delivered four startup programmes creating 96 businesses - the most recent a Regional Accelerator for 36 teams in partnership with Opportunity North East and funded by the Scottish Government’s North East Economic and Skills Recovery Fund. Moreover, our Women in Business and RGU Sustainable Futures programmes, in partnership with Aberdeenshire Council, support budding innovators and SMEs across the region to be sustainable, resilient and forward-thinking.

Working with stakeholders across their eco-system, each university has a responsibility to make a positive contribution to the region’s economic, social, and cultural prosperity. In Aberdeen, as we navigate the energy transition journey and diversify into areas like life science and adventure tourism, new thinking, new ventures and entrepreneurial mindsets will be vital.

It’s with this mindset that universities, like RGU, can make a major impact in three significant ways.  Firstly, entrepreneurial universities provide graduates that are equipped with a growth-mindset to deal with a complex world and help them cope with change, adversity, and uncertainty. At RGU we deliver an ‘Innovation Award’, a micro-credential across all subjects that seeks to evidence their entrepreneurial and innovation skills and mindsets that employers value.

Secondly, they also address industry problems and provide extensive opportunities for innovation through university spins outs, Help To Grow: Management, upskilling, licensing IP, Knowledge Transfer Partnerships, contract research, consultancy and much more.

And thirdly, entrepreneurial graduates create new ventures, products and markets that create employment opportunities and competitive environments which boost productivity as efficiency and effectiveness are raised to compete.

The ongoing commitment of universities to provide the right skills, conditions and partnerships which foster the emergence of entrepreneurial talent and innovative mindsets is both paramount and necessary, having a hugely positive impact on our economy and wider society. And that, ultimately, is the why.

This opinion piece from Chris Moule, Head of Entrepreneurship & Innovation at Robert Gordon University, was published in the Press & Journal.

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