The most enterprising university seeks opportunities beyond traditional tasks

On the occasion of the celebration of its 60th anniversary, the University of Twente has once again emphasized its ambitions as an entrepreneurial stronghold. The institution, which for years has been recognized as the “most entrepreneurial university in the Netherlands”, is looking for ways to expand this character further. The honorary doctorate for Prince Constantijn is an example of this ambition, but the university management is aiming for much more.

For Vinod Subramaniam, chairman of the university’s executive board, the institution’s core task is quite clear: “It is about educating young people. If we lost focus on that task, we’d better stop and go home. “But that does not mean that research and valorisation (entrepreneurship), the other two spearheads, are less relevant to the University of Twente, he concluded at the end of a conversation. at Novel-T’s headquarters. “On the contrary. As an institute, we should provide more support for this. Less bureaucracy and more opportunities for colleagues who want to take a step outside of their work as a researcher or teacher. Over time, including the possibility of a possible return to their old duties. ”

Prince Constantine as host

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For the (postponed) celebration of the university’s Dies Natalis, Novel-T had invited Prince Constantijn to host a debate on the importance of valorisation, promoting an entrepreneurial mindset and an atmosphere that stimulates commercial spin-offs of academic knowledge. Constantijn has made a valuable contribution to this field, especially in his role as Special Envoy at In the debate with four UT representatives, he tried to find out about the state of entrepreneurship at the university.

Associate Professor Rebecca Saive proved to be the example Constantijn wants to see more of. Early in her career, she combined her academic work with building a start-up. “What really helped was the time difference between the US, where my start-up was founded, and the Netherlands. That, of course, meant insane working hours, but I could handle two tasks at once. Some colleagues were constantly wondering how I handled all that entrepreneurial work when I was also their colleague. Well, I did not, they were mostly parallel worlds. ” Saive has seen how difficult it can be to be an entrepreneurial researcher. She has experienced how the label ‘applied research’ – as opposed to basic research – can actually lead to a certain amount of contempt. “The notion of not being a real scientist is directly linked to that.” Saive is convinced that the University of Twente could do more to create an entrepreneurial mindset among its employees. “It really should not be a problem to follow his passion in his work. Be free to choose between research and entrepreneurship. ”

real science

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For nanobiophysics professor Mireille Claessens, the choice would be easy. “Entrepreneurship can be important, but real science always comes first, that’s what makes us strong. I will never make promises that cannot be backed up by my academic research; the scientist in me is too strong to prioritize commercial success. ”

Her colleague Tom Kamperman, founder of UT spin-off IAMFluidics, chose the opposite direction. He says the inspiration from “real-life examples of scientific entrepreneurs” led him to become an entrepreneur himself. But the path he took was not easy: “Time management makes it difficult. If you want to be a great researcher, it takes 200% of your time. The same is true if you want to be a successful entrepreneur. But everyone can understand that twice 200% is quite a lot. That is the big dilemma for all of us: the choice between entrepreneurship and research. ”

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be supportive

And it does not even talk about a scientist’s teaching assignments. Jennifer Herek, dean of the Faculty of Science and Technology, is well aware of the dilemma. That is why it is so important to support the personal passions and reward them accordingly. The academic world has a lot to gain there; the bureaucracy holds back new initiatives, for example through a reward system based on scientific and educational goals. Especially in Twente, we need to find ways to reward entrepreneurship. ”

Herek wants to change things through ‘constructive involvement’. Rebecca Saive is already looking forward to the results. “You know, even without our entrepreneurial ambitions, we already have a lot of administrative tasks. I should not judge each student’s exam, it’s my time too precious. If an assistant could help me there, I could be much more productive for UT. “

The four panelists completely agree on one point: it is impossible to do everything successfully. No one can be a researcher, teacher and entrepreneur at the same time. And even for the most enterprising university in the country, this aspect can be made much more visible. There is a clear task for Novel-T to make students aware of the possibilities, says Saive. And the curriculum also needs to change in that direction, Kamperman adds. “The importance of education and research is clearly visible, but entrepreneurship and management are not standard components in our educations. We have to include it in the curriculum. ”

The team level

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So yes, the choice between education, research and entrepreneurship may be very personal, but the university should do more to create the conditions where knowledge can also lead to commercial ventures. “And do not forget that you can also look at it at team level,” concludes Vinod Subramaniam. “Some people on your team are more capable of entrepreneurship than others. At the individual level, it is impossible to keep juggling education, science and entrepreneurship, but at the team level it is possible.”

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