Spark* from home

Last time we had a look at how Start NTNU adapts to the coronavirus situation, but there are more organizations at NTNU that need adjustments to serve their purpose. Spark* NTNU usually offers free mentoring for students with ideas at NTNU, and hosts workshops and presentations, primarily at campus Gløshaugen where most of the innovation ecosystem is located.

With NTNU now closed for students for the majority of March and probably April, Spark* NTNU needed to activate their employees, who are also students, to make sure that the organization remains active and that students are still engaged, even in crisis mode. Spark* has turned fully digital and maintains business as usual, just without the events. Engage talked with Spark* NTNUs general manager and student at NTNU School of Entrepreneurship to hear what him and the rest of his organization has done to adapt to the situation.

– Right now we are doing everything we did before but on digital platforms. Except, of course, workshops and other events that are usually at campus. We are currently looking at workshops and other courses we can do digitally and researching what our users want. The most difficult thing about the situation is to make sure that the new personell that take over the reins of Spark* NTNU have the right competence. Myself and many others are finished as students at NTNU this spring which means that the majority of the positions at Spark* will be filled with new people. We have to maintain a good learning environment for the incoming people. One of the ways we do this is that new mentors now cooperate with their own mentor and another pair. One of the pairs provide guidance on a digital platform and the other one watches as a fly on the wall. This gives room for feedback and the pairs can talk amongst themselves about how to do their jobs better. When it comes to other positions, for instance in the promotion department, each position is responsible for teaching their replacement, Krogstad says.

Transitional phase

Every year the staff at Spark* NTNU changes. Most employees are 4th and 5th year students and with their master degrees in hand the 5th year students normally make their way into the workforce or as entrepreneurs when they are done. This means that each spring Spark* NTNU is expected to replace most of their people. With the situation ongoing Spark* NTNU has extended the contracts of their employees to maintain the standard of the organization. Digital platforms are still substitutes for the face to face learning students and new employees are familiar with and Spark* therefore anticipates that the knowledge transfer and transition will take some time.

– It will be exciting to see how we manage this situation. It is hard for the management group to keep track of the quality over time, but in theory we can keep doing Spark* digitally for a long time. We notice that people are more consistent with adding notes from meetings and other updates in our database with this situation and we have set a record in the amount of database inputs. It says something that our personel are breaking records in these challenging periods and we are very proud of everyone who steps us to meet the demands of the new situation. We have lots of data that we are gathering and we will keep on improving. 

Dealing with uncertainty

Being predictable in this period is one of the focuses of Spark* NTNU. All mentoring will be continued and projects that can be done online will be completed. .

– This month we will still take applications for our funding program, but we will only judge based on the written application rather than an oral presentation. We are looking at starting the presentations again in May, but digitally where all the relevant partners can be invited to share their thoughts and inputs. We will in other words maintain the same service for all our users through this period. We are even working on a part on our website where our startups can post job listings. This will work as a substitute for the network effects we see at campus and the mingling that goes on at our events. Hopefully this will be a successful part of Spark*s offer and we can maintain the service.

Dealing with uncertainty is also something that concerns the students working for Spark* NTNU who needs to know that they have jobs and hours they can fill to maintain their economy. Many people in Norway have been furloughed or lost their income in other ways, and if the students are sure they will keep their jobs this will help on morale and what work is done..


Vetle Krogstad runs Spark* NTNU

Long term

 Nobody really knows how long the situation with the coronavirus and the effects on society will last. Perhaps it will only be a couple of weeks, or more than a year. For Spark* NTNU it is all about adapting to the situation and maintaining a long term plan.

– When we are now making plans we are planning with the probability that we won’t be able to go back to campus before the summer. It is very important for Spark* and our results to keep a long term plan. We don’t want to be in a position where we are constantly postponing events and other happenings. It is better for us to have a clear plan from the fall semester start and if the situation is the same we will follow the same philosophy when changing plans then. We are a flexible bunch of people and we will see this through. We are getting more and more ideas from students every day which helps us improve every day. We are happy to meet the students with ideas at this moment and we hope people still use our service.