by Manuel Au-Yong-Oliveira, João José Pinto Ferreira, Qing Ye and Marina van Geenhuizen

The “Spin-Up” project investigated what sort of entrepreneurship training and coaching program will contribute to the development of key entrepreneurial skills.

Entrepreneurial endeavours with roots in academia, also known as University spin-off firms (USOs), tend to have slow growth rates compared to corporate spin-offs and other high-technology start-ups. The project, called “Spin-Up” - reflecting its aim to improve the growth (or “spin upwards”) of USOs - addressed the question: “What sort of entrepreneurship training and coaching program will contribute to the development of key entrepreneurial skills, both technical and behavioural, essential to enable and leverage university spin-off growth?” “Spin-Up” involved a European Consortium of organizations, comprising: Advancis Business Services and INESC TEC (both in Portugal), Leaders2Be and the Technical University of Delft (the Netherlands), and the Lappeenranta University of Technology (Finland). The University of Porto and the Technology Transfer Centre at the University of Lodz also participated. The main findings of the project were presented [1] at the European Conference on Entrepreneurship and Innovation (ECIE) 2013, in Brussels.

The research, which took place between 2011 and 2013, was funded by the European Commission – Lifelong Learning / Erasmus Program (Enterprise and University cooperation). Ninety-nine USO firms from four countries (Finland, Poland, Portugal and the Netherlands) made up the sample of firms from which in-depth data was gathered, in face-to-face interviews or via questionnaires answered electronically. This data was then processed and the results published in Van Geenhuizen and Ye’s Spin-Up Research Report [2], this report thus representing the main thrust of the research effort, which revealed that USOs’ growth is hampered by missing entrepreneurial skills, such as skills in innovation, marketing, sales, strategy, internationalization, leadership, human resource management, financial literacy and gaining financial capital. These areas were thus the focus of the pilot training course, which was supported by training manuals and case studies developed by the consortium partners, and which tested the Spin-Up training approach and course content in three countries – Finland, Portugal, and the Netherlands.

Notably, work was divided amongst the consortium members according to expertise and knowledge. Van Geenhuizen and Ye [2] produced the following spider diagrams illustrating the research findings on the entrepreneurial skills (Figure 1a-d – for the Netherlands, Finland, Poland and Portugal)

Figure 1a-d: Entrepreneurial skills map of spin-off firms in four countries (reproduced from [2])

Figure 1a-d: Entrepreneurial skills map of spin-off firms in four countries (reproduced from [2])

Figure 1a-d show that trends differed among the four countries included in the research. Specific areas requiring improvement include: financial management (particularly in Poland and the Netherlands) and gaining financial capital (Portugal, and to a lesser extent, Poland and Finland); human resource management (Poland) and intellectual ownership (Netherlands, Poland and Portugal). For all countries involved, stronger areas included technology management and product/process innovation. Leadership skills were similarly strong in all four countries, though managers in the Netherlands tended to provide more opportunities to collaborators, while also giving more information to employees.

The pilot training program revealed that in addition to the need for basic entrepreneurial skills, entrepreneurs would benefit from customized, problem-oriented and interactive coaching or training. The involvement of specialists, such as a venture capitalist and a business angel, in the program, was greatly appreciated. In terms of organization, a modular structure was preferred, allowing USOs to participate per block, and participants expressed a preference for blocks to be scheduled outside of working hours.

The Spin-Up project enhanced the sharing of knowledge between project partners and with USOs, and longer term benefits will doubtless be observed as a consequence. Further work in this area is needed – in Europe as well as between Europe and other continents.

Link: http://www.spin-up.eu

References:
[1] M.A. Oliveira et al.: “Spin-Up: A Comprehensive Program Aimed to Accelerate University Spin-Off Growth”, in proc. of ECIE 2013, vol. 1, pp.34-44, Brussels, Belgium
[2] M. Van Geenhuizen, Q. Ye: “Spin-Up Research Report”, final version – July 2012.

Please contact:
Manuel Au-Yong-Oliveira, INESC TEC, University of Porto, and University of Aveiro, Portugal
E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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