‘Entrepreneurship is part of the university Cobbenhagen had in mind’

Entrepreneurship in education, entrepreneurship in science. The university seems to have taken a new direction in recent years. This leads to concern among a number of Tilburg researchers: Are we moving away from the academic path? There is absolutely no reason for that, say Jeroen Kuilman and Edward van de Pol. It is not a new course, but an interpretation of the social orientation that the university already had. “That was what Cobbenhagen had in mind.”

‘Entrepreneurship is part of the university Cobbenhagen had in mind’
Jeroen Kuilman. Photo: Dolph Cantrijn

With the inclusion of entrepreneurship in the education profile and the start of the bachelor’s education in entrepreneurship, we have embraced entrepreneurship, the university proudly announces in Tilburg University Magazine. In this way, the university is in line with the spirit of the times and the needs of the students, ‘this is evident from the enormous interest in the new bachelor’s program’.

But not everyone is happy with all this attention paid to entrepreneurship. Does business logic win over academic values ​​here? Professor Juliette Schaafsma, for example, wrote in an opinion piece in Univers at the end of last year: “Better than embracing entrepreneurship, the university can naturally reflect critically and independently on such a development and, where necessary, offer a counterweight to it. understanding society. ”

Neoliberal ideas

According to Jeroen Kuilman, vice dean for education at the Faculty of Economics and Edward van de Pol, director of the Knowledge Transfer Office, a misunderstanding has occurred. Embracing entrepreneurship does not mean that the neoliberal ideology of the market and the pursuit of profit has been adopted by the university as the norm of things.

Kuilman: “The source of the confusion is the definition of what entrepreneurship is. It is seen as pure profit, only to have an eye for commercial interests. It is a very limited view of entrepreneurship. We focus on entrepreneurship in the broadest sense. It is also reflected in Tilburg Education Profile, which tells about knowledge, skills and character that can be expressed in entrepreneurship. ”

“We do not expect all our students to start their own businesses, but we do expect them to be enterprising. It can be done in many ways. Already within their studies, for example by doing a board year, going on an exchange or by being involved in Tjen Byen. The students who do it are very enterprising, and we strongly encourage that, which suits this university very well. ”


The university’s motto is To understand society, but if you do, what do you do with it, argues Edward van de Pol. Entrepreneurship can, according to him, be a means of doing something with social engagement. “I feel that this is what the students want. Involvement and entrepreneurship, I think you can give direction to that in the education. Young people are super adaptable and have good feelings about what society finds important. Bachelor students have different ambitions than previous entrepreneurs, which is reflected in their startup companies. ”

Edward vanderpol. Photo: Dolph Cantrijn

“Today, successful entrepreneurs keep an eye on all aspects of their business operations. Eye for the environment, eye for people. This is typical of the Tilburg profile. For more and more students, this is a reason to start startups, to make an impact. Not for pure profit. Social entrepreneurship, power-driven entrepreneurship, that’s the future. This is reflected in the young people, and this must be supported. Business where society benefits, that’s the benefit of IQONIC (the incubator at Tilburg University, ed.), That’s why we do it. ”


According to both of them, the focus on entrepreneurship does not change the ideals of the university and the course to implement them. Entrepreneurship is not the goal, but above all the means. Kuilman: “This university started as a business school with a focus on social orientation. That approach is something that belongs to Tilburg and what Cobbenhagen had in mind. We are a very enterprising university, which applies to both students and academic staff. Take, for example, Hein Fleuren’s Zero Hunger Lab. He is therefore also an enterprising scientist who has set up something new. He has gathered people and approached organizations for this. Not for profit, but to work for a better world. I think it’s very exemplary for this university. “

Van de Pol: “The university’s three core tasks are education and research and making it meaningful for society. An example of this is the app against needlepoint anxiety by researcher Elisabeth Huis in ‘t Veld. She first saw the problem when she examined the blood bank. Some people who received regular injections had a reflex that they would faint and therefore stopped donating blood. She started thinking about how to approach this and came up with an AI solution with neurofeedback. It was a great way to keep blood donors. And then came corona with one of the biggest vaccination programs in history. The importance of a solution to needlepoint anxiety became even more relevant and with it the idea of ​​starting a business. That way, she can reach out and help a lot of people with her knowledge and model. ”

Growth strategy

Jeroen Kuilman: “Due to the growth in the number of students in recent years, there are some who have the idea that the university is still following a growth strategy. That we want as many students in as possible for financial reasons. But it’s different. It is first and foremost about quality. More and more is not our driving force. ”

“We did not create the Entrepreneurship Bachelor’s program because we want to grow as quickly as possible with our faculty, but because it belongs in our portfolio. We initially thought the program would have been a success if we could attract fifty students. We were quickly overtaken by reality. In the first year we already had three hundred and this year too. It is actually a bigger success than we had expected. “

‘Not everyone wants to start their own business and they do not have to’

“Of these students, about fifty were already working on their own small business. They have often been involved in it since high school. Young people are now starting to do this much earlier. Not everyone will necessarily start their own business and it needs to “They do not: Employers also need people who can think innovatively and are creative. We especially try to cultivate the innovative and creative thinking of our students. Companies and governments can also benefit from this.”


Edward van de Pol: “Tilburg University wants to be an attractive university for students and scientists. Entrepreneurship really plays a big role in that. In Brabant we work with Fontys, JADS, Avans, Eindhoven University of Technology, Breda University of Applied Sciences and HAS Hogeschool, for example with the annual Entrepreneurship Symposium The Road for students and entrepreneurs in the Academic Business Club and the monthly recurring event Venture Visionaries.

“We support students and researchers. The starting point is that they have to do it themselves. They get the facilities, people who can help, a valuable network. We do not take any work from you, but we have a mentoring program that guides them through pitfalls. We provide a safe environment where they can try things and fail. We help them avoid major problems so that no major accidents occur. ”

Kuilman: “Ultimately, it’s about the problem you solve. That is the premise of what we teach students. You want to develop the solution, you want to test it, you want to adjust it. It is a competence that companies and organizations find very important and which can lead to social impact. ”


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