Author Admir Salihagić, Startup Incubator Manager, International Burch University, Bosnia & Herzegovina.
Keywords: Entrepreneurial university, entrepreneurial ecosystems, student career paths, startup incubator, mentoring, risk taking.
Even though the most valuable entrepreneurial ecosystems around the world have stemmed around strong entrepreneurial universities, in Western Balkans region, universities are still mostly slow in playing an active role in their ecosystems. This leaves significant gaps in the ecosystem building.
In 2015, International Burch University made a strategic decision to transform into an entrepreneurial university, the first one in Bosnia Herzegovina. Our first mission was to spread awareness on the entrepreneurship career path and establish programs that will nurture entrepreneurial mindset traits among the students. Here’s what we learned what that means in the context of our region.
Nexus of highly ambitious creators In post socialist Western Balkan communities, entrepreneurship is still not so desirable career path and culturally, entrepreneurial mindset is not cultivated through family upbringing. The same goes for the formal education system. Thus, young people with entrepreneurial ambitions and capacity are usually lonely in their micro-environments (family, class, school, group of friends) and as such, tend to dim their ambitions and conform to more mainstream career paths or leave the country to pursue their goals. University campuses which position themselves as entrepreneurial, become gathering points of these entrepreneurial outcasts and help them mingle with likeminded people, coming up with amazing ideas and innovations. Opening up the possibility to achieve more and make an impact without having to leave the country also helps tackle the brain drain problem which is so acute in the region.
Part of coursework Having entrepreneurship integrated as a mandatory course in all majors helps students to acquire basic entrepreneurial skills and tools but also helps them approach their core educational field through the lens of opportunity focus and commercialization.
Startup your passion Setting up campus life in a way that students passionate about certain fields or crafts gather in student clubs and directing part of their activities towards creation of monetizable solutions to the problems of that field results in highly motivated interdisciplinary teams. This approach helps students to recognize opportunities in their fields of interest. Startups often fail because the founding team was not a good fit or was not diverse enough. Universities which foster interdisciplinary approach and structure campus life in a way that students from different majors engage together in extracurricular activities helps young founders understand the necessity of building a team of people of complementary backgrounds and skill sets.
"There’s no better motivation for a young founder than a success story of a colleague who is just a few years older than them." Admir Salihagić
Picture Credit: International Burch University
Any person you need to reach is at worst a 2nd degree connection Faculty of entrepreneurial universities have strong connections with industry or faculty themselves are also entrepreneurs. Thus, students of such universities have good access to a network of mentors or other types of support. With a little guidance, students quickly acknowledge the importance of purposeful networking and network leveraging - making them more resourceful in this regard.
Failing safer, learning more, building resilience Fear of failing is one of the major reasons why young people try to play more safer looking career paths. University campuses where trying out new ideas, experimenting, failing, trying again is common culture, and analyzing and interpreting the learnings from the failures is guided and systematic, helps young entrepreneurs to be less risk averse, more prone to taking initiative and more resilient to failure.
Someone to look up to The most difficult step in setting up a student incubator in a country where it is not a common thing was demonstrating that student startup is something that can happen. Putting up the first student company sign somewhere on campus breaks the ice. There’s no better motivation for a young founder than a success story of a colleague who is just a few years older than them.
Giving back successful alumni of entrepreneurial programs or university in general, understand well the value of early stage support and are more than willing to engage with young founders and help them out in terms of mentoring, piloting or investment. This is what in the end draws the full circle of a self sustainable ecosystem.
While there are many other roles universities do have and may have within the ecosystems, in countries where low entrepreneurial mindset is a problem, educational institutions must take on the role of building the entrepreneurs of the future. Otherwise, the number of people who have what it takes to be an aspiring entrepreneur will remain low, regardless how favorable other conditions are. ◼️
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