Beyond Incubation: Universities as agents of startup development

(From left to right) Mustafa Mousa, Ahmad Dehwah and Edward Canepa, all KAUST students who founded startup Sadeem at the University. Image courtesy of KAUST

Shaimaa El Nazer • 04 June, 2020
In the 1990s, professors Henry Etzkowitz and Loet Leydesdorff, put forward the idea of the Triple Helix framework, which highlighted academia alongside corporates and government as key pillars of innovation in a knowledge-based society.

The role of universities remains as critical as ever when it comes to fostering an environment that supports and nurtures entrepreneurship. As the Coronavirus pandemic has put many out of work and is proving to be the catalyst for people to start their own business, students who are eager to tackle some of society’s most urgent and present problems, are also increasingly looking to enter the startup world ahead of pursuing traditional employment.

With giants like Google, Tesla and Apple no longer requiring employees to hold university degrees, universities are under pressure to adapt to this changing world and enable an environment of innovation from within.

This then creates an opportunity for universities to extend their support to entrepreneurship beyond academia and instead become agents of economic development by supporting venture creation and commercialising the outcomes of research.

Over the past few years, several universities across the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) have incorporated entrepreneurship and innovation into their curricula in the form of credit courses and degree programmes. Yet as with so much in academia, the focus can often become the grade, rather than truly learning and mastering the skills needed for setting up a successful business.

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Author: Shaimaa El Nazer

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