Entrepreneurship at universities | 6 minute read

Fostering the entrepreneurial mindset and student entrepreneurship in higher education

Elena Galán-Muros
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In this episode, we are joined by Jenny Mullery, the Community and Impact Manager at IdeasLab, the student innovation hub at the University of Galway. We will explore IdeasLab’s mission to help students accelerate into the startup ecosystem and develop an entrepreneurial mindset, the Create Her initiative that empowers female students in entrepreneurship, and the challenges and successes of incubating student ventures.

In this article, we summarise part of that conversation, but you can listen to the full interview in our podcast:

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Madeline Arkins:

To start us off, I would love to just hear a general introduction about Ideas Lab what they do, their mission and vision, and perhaps what brought you to the realm of student entrepreneurship.

Jenny Mullery:

I might start with myself: I am a former banker. I spent over 15 years working in financial services and I loved all things business and worked across many sectors, but I always wondered how I would weave my way back in to working with students. Then an opportunity came up to work in Ideas Lab at the University of Galway and the role that I’m in now really gave me the opportunity to pursue the 2 things that I love and work with students and business.

Ideas Lab is a space in the University of Galway that sits outside of the schools and colleges in the traditional sense, in that we are a unit open to all disciplines and all years of study. Our mission is to create a space where we can help students to accelerate into the start-up ecosystem within Ireland and beyond, but also to help them develop skills that the industry is looking for.

Entrepreneurial mindset and thinking are equally relevant in industry and not just for people who want to go out and work on their own ideas, so we really focus on that area.

We also create a community of students, entrepreneurs, enterprise partners, community and social partners and I’m creating a hub where people can connect, learn, and support each other.

Madeline Arkins:

Start100 is University of Galway’s incubator program run by IdeasLab, what are the main activities that go down during this six-week course?

Jenny Mullery:

We focus on underpinning our programs with the design thinking and problem-solving approach. These six weeks are comprised of workshops in certain skills that they might want to do

We do a lot of peer-to-peer learning in terms of getting them to talk to each other and network. We also get in entrepreneurs who have travelled the journey and we bring in speakers from all different steps in that process: people who have just started it, people who are very experienced and have maybe gone on and sold their business or whatever their end game might have been.

Furthermore, we connect the students to the ecosystem: to our local enterprise board, funders, investors, or other accelerator programs, which might be their next step. It is quite intense in terms of the information that they receive. We try to be holistic and give them all of the tools and skills that they need to make an informed decision as to what their next step might be.

And then, since all of the teams are on very different paths in terms of where they are in their journey and what they are working on, we align them with an industry-specific mentor. We assign one per team at the start and they have one-hour-per-week sessions.

We also bring different people in as and when they need it. It’s very hands on, and we do encourage the students to be present: We give them a shared workspace for the duration of the six weeks that they can use to go on the journey together and develop those strong relationships that will hopefully last long beyond Start 100.

Madeline Arkins:

Why is it important to instil this entrepreneurial mindset in students of all disciplines, even those outside of business?

Jenny Mullery:

I think it’s so important because it’s more reflective of what the real world is. If they are trying to create something that has an impact, they are having it on more than 1 person and more than 1 type of person generally.

One of the big types of feedback we get from IdeasLab is: “I loved working with engineers, I had never spoken to them”, or “I love working with somebody in drama, I had never have gone over to the arts centre before”. Magic happens, people think in different ways, learn in different ways and solve problems in different ways.

When you bring those teams together, they open up their minds and the solutions just come in ways that we – and they – never thought of. It makes them realise the benefits of being open to everybody in society as well, and I think that’s an important life skill to have.

Our aim is to foster creativity and innovation across disciplines, and when you are in a room and those scenes come together and you hear them laughing, building on each other’s ideas and supporting each other – with people that otherwise they would have never spoken to… There’s something special there.

 And I think the results we have seen in other programs and in Start100 are much more holistic ideas. We do live in a multidisciplinary world, so you can’t close yourself off to anybody.

Interested in more insights like this?

You can listen now to Melora Sundt (Chief Academic Officer for Noodle Partners) discuss about how universities can adapt to the changing needs of students, embrace agile campus models, and deliver exceptional learning experiences in a digital era in our episode The Dilemma: Academic Freedom vs. Generating Revenue, or you can read about how universities should prioritize interdisciplinary approaches, experiential learning, and technology-driven solutions, while also bridging the gap between the skills they offer and employers’ needs, head now to our article Bridging the Gap: Reimagining Higher Education for 21st Century Skills.

Stay tuned for the next episode on this series and don’t forget to follow us on your preferred podcast platform!

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