Impact through engagement | 6 minute read

Crafting careers beyond the classroom: SDU’s entrepreneurship path

Elena Galán-Muros
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For this week’s episode, we have invited Søren Land, Head of Incubation and Enterprising at Southern Denmark University, to discuss about the university’s entrepreneurship program and its unique approach and focus on employability. We will learn how they shape students’ entrepreneurial mindset, highlighting the importance of resilience, skills development, and community building.

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

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Todd Davey:
I would be really interested in hearing about the vision that SDU’s incubator program has.

Søren Land:
You could say the main objective is to enhance the employability of students across all faculties.

Todd Davey:
Now that’s a real difference with other programs. Usually, the first thing that you hear out of someone who is responsible for start-ups and incubation is that they have to create start-ups and incubation.

Søren Land:
And we do, that is why we have teams: Careers and Employability, where you’ll find what you would call the standard and the basic career counselling towards students, and we also have the team Incubation and Enterprising, which I’m heading. We take care of bringing in the outside world into the educations at the university and incubation heading up and driving, running our incubator, SDU Start-up Station.

These two teams have the common objectives of enhancing student employability. As most people know, if students go out into unemployment, the programs won’t last very long because there’ll be a political focus saying: “Are they really relevant if no one cares to hire the students after they graduated?”

Now, what is employability? To many people, employability is about getting the first job, but this is only a small part of it. It is also about being able to maintain your value in an ever-changing labour market.

When we look at future generations, some experts have the prognosis that they will change their job 17 times during their career and between different business verticals. That will place a demand for agility and agile behaviour from future generations, and that is why we are also so focused in creating the entrepreneurial mindset.

We create value for students who touch upon incubation or tries out what it is to work with start-ups, to create their own company. But the interesting part is that we will be able to create, hopefully, the entrepreneurial mindset for students who succeed and develop their sustainable business, but also create it with those students who fail but still have to come out as winners.

Todd Davey:
If you had to compare with other programs that are more focused on just student start-ups, how do you think having a vision for employability creates a different type of experience for students and a different result for the university?

Søren Land:
Many start-up incubators focus on the creation of unicorns, and that’s great. We have that as well and we are so proud when our start-ups prove themselves valuable and will be sustainable businesses in the future.

We celebrate these start-ups. I would never say anything different, but we feel this obligation to the large group of young entrepreneurs, also students who do not succeed, because it would be such a shame to spend so much time and efforts in supporting them, trying to equip them with the entrepreneurial mindset and then simply just leaving them because they did not succeed after maybe having to pivot once, twice or three times even.

What do we do with the rest of the young people who do not succeed? How do we make them winners so we can tell the story that SDU Start-up Station is a win situation? We need to take care of them.

A colleague of mine brought forward this image saying that what we do when we celebrate the winners and the sustainable start-ups, we are basically peacocking. This is the front side. It’s so beautiful, but there’s also a backside to the peacock. It’s not as beautiful, but when you look at the feathers, you can see the strength in the entire foundation of the bird. And that is what we provide. All the young entrepreneurs who might not succeed, but they have still gained these skills and abilities.

Now we’re trying to set up the format where we make sure that they reflect on what they learned, even though they didn’t succeed, because in not succeeding, there’s also a learning.

When someone enters our program, no matter what they end up doing here, they will succeed, because they will gain valuable skills that will help them maintain their value when they leave”.

Todd Davey:
What do you think is the future for start-ups and incubation programs at universities?

Søren Land:
If we look at our incubator, we’re in an ecosystem that has proven extremely valuable for the community around here in the region. Odense, where I’m located, is very strong within robotics and drones. We’re among the seven strongest clusters within the world when it comes to what is called collaborative robotics. And this creates focus from the municipality, national government and national and international investors on everything that is going on within business development and new businesses coming out of this ecosystem.

I think incubation will play an important role in the future because society has acknowledged that they constantly need to be on the move for developing new business areas and new business verticals”.

I think the incubators within the university have an excellent position to contribute into this development because what we do is bringing out start-ups here and some of them will turn out to be successful companies creating jobs, taxpayers, and welfare. And then you have the wheel go around.

And on the other side, the people who do not succeed or do not end up with their own sustainable business, will be valuable as entrepreneurs within these business in the ecosystem who are really looking for competent, potential employees.

To put it short, I think incubators at university can be part of the future for creating growth, wealth and welfare for sure.

Interested in more insights like this?

You can listen now to Sandra Marin Ruiz, (Assistant VP for Innovation and Business Development at FAU) talk about their pivotal role in connecting academia with regional economic developers to drive innovation and support small businesses in Florida in our episode The power of Innovation Districts: How to build stronger communities. You can also learn more about the multifaceted dimensions of university impact and how to measure it in our article How can we measure the true impact of universities?.

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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