What is an ecosystem within the innovation environment?

Earlier in May, we invited students and educators to the seminar: “Student-driven ecosystems for innovation and entrepreneurship”. This was an academic seminar where we explored the question: “How can we best utilize ecosystems for student innovation in formal entrepreneurship education?” The day was filled with lectures, discussions, and group work.

By Pernille Svartveit Osmundsen

The event was a success involving great conversations, lots of inspiration and presentations of new opportunities for many outside NTNU. There were several who came from far distances to participate and get inspired so that they can take this experience with them to their own universities. One of them was Ingvild Åmås Høiby, working with the “Studentinkubator” (student incubator) at the University of Stavanger (UiS). Among several other things, their work involves providing students a safe environment to develop innovation and helping them connect with an innovation ecosystem. She goes into how an ecosystem is important for learning how others have done it, knowing what works, creating a network, and getting to know others who might become part of your team. In the context of an ecosystem, according to Høiby, it is important that it is safe and that you can get to know others who are interested in the same thing. This seminar has given her inspiration for how she can work with the ecosystem at UiS where they want to get more students involved.

Throughout the day, the participants were given several opportunities to share valuable insights with each other.

Marie Levin Matre, Joakim Marthinsen, and Manuel Alfaro are three students from Norges Idrettshøyskole (NIH) who are studying a bachelor’s degree in training, health, and performance. They came to the seminar because they have experienced, both during practice and bachelor’s work, that they could be useful for companies and have something to contribute. During their studies they have experienced that students feel a lack of clear connection to working life, and they want to do something about this. Alfaro says that it is a real problem that people don’t understand what they study and what they become. He further explains their vision, which is a student lab where companies can come up with products, applications, and everything within sports technology, and students can help solve real problems and help them develop their products.

The participants working together in groups.

When asked what they associated with the ecosystem, Alfaro said an ecosystem is a collaboration involving several parties. Ragnhild Nordeng Fauchald, who is a scholarship holder at NTNU in her third year and is researching in her doctorate how students learn from engaging in an innovation ecosystem, says the same thing, stating that it is a collaboration. More specifically, she describes this ecosystem as all the activity taking place both in specific activities, but also between actors within the ecosystem generating a form of commitment. She has heard that what this ecosystem is built on is clearer to the employees at NTNU and less clear to others. This is because what happens at other universities is less developed, and then there is less awareness of how one can work with other partners because the values one can provide across different players in the ecosystem are not as visible.

Fauchald further explains that it is equally important for the companies contributing money that they get something in return from the students. An ecosystem is continuous, just like in biology; the death of a species affects the entire ecosystem. It is vulnerable, being worked on and further developed at all times. This is something corresponding with the vision of the students from NIH. Matre talked about the benefits the student lab will generate for both students and companies. Students get work experience and the opportunity to get in contact with companies, while the companies become more familiar with the fields of study and what the students can provide them through the practise of real-life problem-solving.

Furthermore, the students talked about how this seminar has given them inspiration, motivation, and introduced them to a network. They have observed how others have succeeded and been shown how to start up and the process from an early idea to being placed into a system. Matre, Marthinsen, and Alfaro said that they are in the starting phase of the innovation environment NTNU has built up over several years, and therefore it was educational to hear from people who have succeeded and how they managed to do so.

Ken Singer, from the University of California, Berkeley, sharing his knowledge and insights with the audience.

Moreover, we were lucky enough to have Ken Singer with us at The Mine (Gruva), the Managing Director and Chief Learning Officer of the Sutardja Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology at the University of California, Berkeley. With his unique expertise and strong professional background in entrepreneurship and innovation, he shared some of his knowledge and insights on the topic: “Entrepreneurial Mindset and Culture: A Silicon Valley Perspective”. Additionally, he addressed the topic: “Shift Happens: Innovating in a Time of Crisis”, and held an interactive talk providing tips to students about how to be an entrepreneur in the US. We are very grateful for Ken’s motivating and inspiring lectures.

To address the question of how to utilize ecosystems for student innovation in formal entrepreneurship education, the seminar successfully connected students and educators from across Norway, fostering inspiration, networking, and knowledge-sharing, thereby facilitating mutual learning and contributing to the growth of the ecosystem.