In the recent student start-up contest StageTwo in Berlin, start-ups from NTNU went all the way to the top in strong competition from other start-ups from all over Europe.
By Torgeir Aadland, Co-director Engage and Associate Professor, NTNU
Aviant won the prestigious Best Business Innovation, awarding them € 200k in funding. Another start-up from NTNU, Enernite, won the audience award and € 5k. Both start-ups also won awards in the Accelerate category. More than 60 start-ups from 30 universities in 18 countries participated, so how come this great performance from NTNU?
Give students space at campus
One important factor contributing to the development of excellent start-ups is the long-term development of our entrepreneurial ecosystem. NTNU has developed its student-centred entrepreneurial ecosystem extensively in the last ten years, where actors focusing on entrepreneurship, innovation and sustainable development have emerged. Examples here are Spark*, Fram, Driv and Gründerbrakka (alumni-led incubator). The organisations have been given space at campus, and a few weeks ago, the university opened Gruva, the last addition to the innovation hub at NTNU. This space is a test centre for student entrepreneurship and innovation. By giving the students a space where they could meet, collaborate and develop ideas among their peers, the environment has been able to foster.
Faculty as door-opener
The organisations mentioned above are made by students for students, however, they have at the same time received vital support from the university’s faculty and administration. The organisations have been aided by senior faculty and managers through the maze a university’s organisation might be. They have received funding and resources to test their ideas and evolve into attractive organisations, which in some cases have been adapted into other universities. The faculty has therefore been a vital door-opener, but the students have walked through on their own.
Let students have the ownership
While such an ecosystem is many administrations and faculties’ ambition and goal, NTNU has to a little extent shaped the design of the ecosystem. The support has mainly focused on helping the students financially to start a sustainable, long-term and independent organisation, event or initiative. As such, the ownership of the initiatives lies with the students, not the faculty. The activity and content of the organisations are thereby shaped by the interests, needs and wants among the students. The faculty supplies the material, the construction is the students’.
Although numerous other factors are influencing the performance of start-ups by students, the active ecosystem, supporting faculty and ownership of the activity with the students, all stand as vital in the development of excellence among our start-ups. It is therefore difficult to develop the ecosystem as a manager or faculty. It needs support, but at the same time autonomy and ownership among the students. You cannot decide when the flower will bloom, but you can facilitate the blossom.