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How to Create a Mindset and Build up a Powerful Team to Foster an Entrepreneurial-Minded Organization?

Alexandra Zinovyeva

The Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts (LUASA) consists of six different departments – Business, Engineering & Architecture, Information Technology, Social Work, Art and Design, and Music located at different campuses around Lucerne. More than 6,200 students completed their Bachelor or Master degree in 2017.

In 2012, the university management decided to launch a project to increase entrepreneurial thinking and acting among the entire university, covering all departments and study programs, including employees and fostering spin-offs. A strategic analysis and the support of key stakeholder convinced the University to investigate about the options. Therefore, an interdisciplinary project team was nominated and an interdisciplinary program called “Smart-up” was launched in 2012.

The challenges faced were manifold: Finding a common language and understanding the differences concerning entrepreneurial support between the different players, and convincing the key players and study program directors that entrepreneurial thinking is important for their students, and that brings in an added value. Since at the beginning not all department heads could be convinced to support the initiative, the program was initiated as a pilot in two departments, Business and Engineering & Architecture. This gave the possibility to experience and test different formats at a smaller scale with less cultural differences. Starting 2016, the program was enrolled in all six departments, including Information Technology, Social Work, Art and Design and Music, and the process of understanding the differences in the needs, finding a common mindset and building adapted initiatives continued. This requires willingness of all parties accepting the differences, building bridges and finding the balance between a joint approach and taking the differences into account. This new initiative has been increasingly successful, as can be confirmed through more than 160 ventures that have been created by students or employees of the university.

The Start-up support program was treated as a start-up itself and a “Lean Start-up mindset” was followed. We started as a small independent unit and grew the program from there. It is important to act lean and entrepreneurial and to build up a strong committed team.

The dimensions of the institutional transformation at LUASA

The entrepreneurial change process the university has gone through can be explained via reflections on the three dimensions of strategy and vision, structure, and the entrepreneurial mindset.

The strategy and vision has remained more of less the same over the last years. The target and purpose is to foster entrepreneurial thinking and acting among the students and the organization. All students of the LUASA can work on their own projects and get credit points for that. In addition, a wide range of events is offered by ourselves or by partners to create an entrepreneurial culture. We continue to build and enlarge the ecosystem based on trust and create win-win-situations between the partners. The university management is informed on a quarterly basis. Besides the key figures and the project reporting, special emphasis is given to interesting start-up stories and success stories. Therefore, the top management commitment is kept.

The structure started from a very lean and flexible project structure without a clear localization in the university organization. We aim to create beachheads in all department and study programs and bring added value to the lecturer and help them to transform modules and courses. At the start of the project in 2012, the core team consisted of four persons. Now, with the enrollment into all six departments, the core team is formed by 12 persons. We aim for a self-organization around changing sub-projects and topics and try to limit the meetings and coordination time by using electronic communication tools like Slack for the inner core team communication.

The organizational connection to the university structure was very weak at the beginning. The project was free-floating, could grow fast and make different connection to the University structure and processes where needed. Over time, a process-related and organizational connection becomes more important. The notion should move from a project to a program. However, special attention was given to ensure that the program is not assigned to a specific department or institute, but remains free and close to the management of the university as a whole. The interdisciplinary character and flexibility shall be assured.

The key role of the right mindset and entrepreneurial culture

Much more central than the structure is the right mindset. It is important that any organization or company define their own value system and their target culture, which suit their situation and industry. The mindset shall serve as a basis to create a positive and tolerant culture characterized by curiosity.. Also important is confidence in one’s own feelings, optimism, openness to new ideas or other opinions, and empathy with potential users and customers at all levels.

The mindset and entrepreneurial culture shall be long-lived in the team and within the student projects. Like everywhere else, culture has to be exemplified and not just told. We are using and living the mindset of Lean Start-up and Design Thinking. Design Thinking, Lean and Agile share the same fundamental assumptions, e.g. user and customer orientation, many fast iterations including experimentation and testing with the user.

The Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts (LUASA) offers a wide range of Entrepreneurship and Design Thinking modules to foster this mindset, including advanced education programs.

Sharing experiences and tools via “The Design Thinking Playbook”

The “Problem to Growth and Scale Framework” show how those approaches are interlinked and can be combined. Thereby it is important to combine those approaches with other, more traditional and analytical methods. We made good experiences by combining Design Thinking and System Thinking or Design Thinking and Data Analytics. The key is to combine intuition/emotion (right half of the brain) with rationality/logic (left half of the brain) and Use “both-brains” in marketing and innovation to balance creativity and analytics. As mentioned, at the core is the right mindset. The Design Thinking Mindset as described in the “The Design Thinking Playbook” covers the following aspects (Lewrick et al 2018):

  1. Focused on the people – driven by curiosity
    2. Develop process awareness
    3. Working together in interdisciplinary teams
    4. Experimentally iterate with prototypes
    5. Visualize and show ideas
    6. Accept complexity and uncertainty
    7. Varying mental states, co-create, grow and scale
    8. Reflect the actions and acting

The Design Thinking Playbook” not only describe the used framework, how Design Thinking, Lean Start-up and Agile Development can be combined, but also include more than 50 practical tools, what can be used by students in a university context but also by corporates in their innovation projects. One of the most important tool is the Smart-up Lean Canvas. We have added the customer profile (B) and the experiment reports (C) to the original Lean Canvas (A) from Ash Maurya.

Source: Lewrick (2018) et al: The Design Thinking Playbook, page 225

We believe the methodology and tools we include in our book would be useful for innovation enthusiasts, makers & shakers, aspiring entrepreneurs & future business leaders. If you are interested, please have a look at our content overview and the first chapter in the links below, and when purchasing use our special UIIN readers promotion code DTP30 (valid until 31.12.2018), to benefit from special discount of 30% when ordering the Playbook directly at Wiley.

Images credit: Patrick Link 

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