| 5 minute read

Universities as drivers of entrepreneurial ecosystems

Elena Galán-Muros
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In this episode, we’re joined by Maria José Herrero Villa, head of the International Unit for Research and Knowledge Transfer at Carlos III University of Madrid. We explore topics like attracting and retaining talent, the challenges of open innovation, and the future of European universities. Join us as we uncover strategies for accelerating entrepreneurship and driving regional growth, setting the stage for the upcoming UIIN Conference in Madrid.

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

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Lauren Kroemer-Pope:
Can you tell us more about UC3M and how it became to be one of the most entrepreneurial and engaged universities in Spain?

Maria José Herrero:
Carlos III University of Madrid is a middle-sized, public and generalist university. We have about 2000 students in humanities, social sciences, and our polytechnic faculties, and we are about to launch a Life Sciences Faculty.

Being a public university makes quite a lot of difference in Madrid because when we started 35 years ago, our first key decision was to locate the university in a working-class area with an income per capita below average, while the rest of the universities were in the north of Madrid, with a higher income per capita. Our mission was to promote the area, and we needed to compete with seven other public universities, so we became very entrepreneurial ourselves and we were one of the first universities in Madrid to launch a Science Park.

That was 20 years ago, and we started creating relationships with the industry ecosystem, municipalities, citizens and other social agents and stakeholders which, at that time in Spain, was something that universities rejected to some extent. That is why we can say now that we are very well known for promoting entrepreneurship and for being an engaged university.

Lauren Kroemer-Pope:
Where would you say Madrid’s innovation ecosystem and UC3M as a university, where is it at today versus when you first joined in 2004?

Maria José Herrero:
When I first joined Carlos III University, the word entrepreneurship was not registered in the Spanish dictionaries.

20 years ago, you would walk into a business class and ask the students how many of them would like to be entrepreneurs and, if you were lucky, you might have gotten one or two people rising their hands.

Nowadays, many students and researchers do know about this and are willing to take part of this movement in different levels, of course. Not all researchers are willing to create a company as a spin-off, but they might be willing to advise their PhD or their master’s students in their ventures. We have moved forward quite a lot, but there is still a long way to go.

Lauren Kroemer-Pope:
One of the reasons we are together today, is because UC3M has been a UIIN member for many years, and you will be hosting the 2024 UIIN Conference in Madrid. Can you speak about some of the key topics that you plan to explore regarding the interplay between academia and regional innovation hubs?

Maria José Herrero:
I invite everyone to join the conference. I have been participating for many years now and I always left with new insights and new networks to work with. This year’s conference in Madrid will be focused in talent and innovation.

Talent is the new gold. There is no way to survive in the current knowledge economy if you don’t have access to talent.

But there is a shortage of talent, and if you take a look at the demographic pyramid, that will become an even bigger problem in the coming years.

On the one hand, we need to know how to attract, capture and retain talent. Understanding that talent is what makes the difference and what give us the innovative power to adapt and anticipate any sort of event. For example, deep tech needs talent by definition, and we need to create and to consolidate the deep tech economy in Europe.

Another topic that we would like to discuss is open innovation and what the standards and the way of doing things in open innovation should be. Up until a few years ago, a company would come to the university, a KTO, a researcher or a professor, and say: “I have this problem, help me out”, and they would start a strategic alliance regarding a challenge that the company had.

Right now, it’s not like that anymore. On the one hand, as a university, I need to work with the big corporations because those are the ones that can build a research strategy in the long run better than the SMEs.

On the other hand, these corporation are going to the start-ups and spin-offs, but they might not have the power or the capability to build long-run elements. So how can we establish a route that helps makes sense to all of us? That would be a great topic for a co-creation session.

Ready for more?

Learn all about how Florida Atlantic University plays a pivotal role in connecting academia with regional economic developers to drive innovation and support small businesses in their State in our episode The power of Innovation Districts: How to build stronger communities.

If you want to prepare for the UIIN Conference, learn more about open innovation with our article Open innovation at higher education institutions: A pathway to collaborative progress.

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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