Münster (upm/kk)
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"The universities of Twente and Münster complement each other perfectly"

Start-up culture, entrepreneurship: Both universities want to collaborate closely - a double interview

The universities in Twente and Münster have maintained a close partnership for many years. Both universities work together in numerous areas. In addition to research cooperation and joint study programs, both universities also offer regular exchanges for students and staff. The two university managements are now going one step further: they want to deepen their strategic partnership and identify further cooperation and strengthen the existing research alliances.

In the coming weeks, the Communication and Public Relations Office of the University of Münster will publish a three-part series highlights special features of this cooperation and provide insights into the areas of research, teaching, and transfer activities.

Part I: Strategy meeting of the universities of Münster and Twente

Part II: Start-up culture and entrepreneurship

Part III: Research cooperation and “collaboration grants”

In an interview with Kathrin Kottke, Prof Thorsten Wiesel from the Marketing Center Münster of the University of Münster and Prof Theo Toonen and Dr. Rainer Harms from the Faculty of Behavioral, Management and Social Sciences at the University of Twente talk about the role and importance of entrepreneurship at the two universities.


Interview with Thorsten Wiesel

How do you classify the start-up culture at Münster University, and how has it changed over the last five to ten years?

Prof Thorsten Wiesel<address>© TENSE/IWM</address>
Prof Thorsten Wiesel
There have been very positive developments in recent years, but there is still great potential at the University of Münster. Understandably, many academics and students at the WWU focus on research and education rather than founding a company. That might be different, for example, for colleagues and students at Münster University of Applied Sciences, which might be due to the different positioning in the academic market.

What role will the “Exzellenz Start-up Center” play in this area in the future – for Münster University and beyond?

The focus on excellent academic research and teaching at WWU is key! However, if one or the other, in addition to scientific publication or a career in established companies, thinks about what he or she can do with, for example, their research results in terms of starting up their own company, we have enormous potential simply because of the size of the WWU. It is the aim of the Start-up Centre, together with our partners from Münster University of Applied Sciences, Digital Hub münsterLAND, and the University of Twente, to tap this potential – not only for the WWU but for the entire German-Dutch EUREGIO region.

What are the demands of the economy and companies on science and a business incubator?

It seems that we have stung into a wasps' nest. In a very short time, many companies and other players supported the initiative. It seemed like they have been waiting for the WWU to wake up concerning this topic. Now it is up to all of us to take the EUREGIO ecosystem together to the next level.

Which research fields are you currently working on, and which should play a role in the “Exzellenz Start-up Center” in the future?

At the Institute for Value-Based Marketing, we have two major research areas that we are currently focusing on. The first is the question of what the future of sustainable nutrition and the way we shop for groceries looks like. The second is how to manage and evaluate a company in a customer-oriented manner. Both topics have the potential to lead to spin-offs. Also, the second topic, in particular, can help future EUREGIO spin-offs with financing and management issues. This is because metrics such as customer lifetime value, customer retention, or acquisition costs are becoming increasingly important for both managing and valuating companies.

What can we learn from the Dutch in the field of start-up culture?

A lot! In particular, we can learn a lot from the University of Twente as "The most entrepreneurial university of the Netherlands," as processes and structures for start-up support have been established there for quite a long time. I am particularly looking forward to the first cooperation within the framework of the Summerschool CuriousU - the course program will provide us with numerous impressions and inspiration for the expansion of the teaching offered here.


Interview with Theo Toonen and Rainer Harms

The University of Twente is one of the pioneers when it comes to entrepreneurship and corporate culture. What characterizes the University of Twente in this field?

Theo Toonen: The founding mission of the University of Twente incorporated the valorization of research from the start. From there on, the University played a key role in developing the regional entrepreneurial ecosystem. We are now in the fortunate position that students and staff seek out the University of Twente because of its entrepreneurial flavor. Self-selection of entrepreneurial university members perpetuates the entrepreneurial spirit and actions at the UTwente.

Prof Theo Toonen (left) and Dr. Rainer Harms<address>© privat</address>
Prof Theo Toonen (left) and Dr. Rainer Harms
© privat
Rainer Harms: We relentlessly develop our entrepreneurial action further. Further, in the sense that we also consider entrepreneurial action of SME and established companies, as well as social entrepreneurship. Also, further in the sense that we cooperate with innovative universities in Europe (ECIU, European Consortium of Entrepreneurial Universities) and with the other three Dutch Technical universities (together with the 4TU), also in entrepreneurship education and research. We are now looking forward to co-operating with the WWU as well.

What support do students and researchers at the University of Twente receive if they want to set up a start-up or launch transfer ideas and products on the market?

Rainer Harms: During the study program, for example, in the Bachelor's programs International Business, Creative Technology and Business Information Technology, the lecturers teach students entrepreneurial thinking and make entrepreneurship an integral part of teaching. Also, there are student-run and university-supported organizations for people thinking about starting a business. Organizations such as "Hive01" and "Hardstart" are among the first points of contact for developing ideas. The "DesignLab" helps students give shape to their products. The student-run incubator "Incubase" is a physical space on campus where teams can develop their ideas and start marketing them. Further offers for students are the regularly held "entrepreneurial-U-Summer-School" and the MOOC on Technologie-Entrepreneurship.

Theo Toonen: For scientists, NovelT's boot camp "The entrepreneurial researcher" is an excellent offer. Here, researchers can explore the entrepreneurial potential of their research in a short time. To encourage researchers on the subject of entrepreneurship before their research leads to commercially viable results, we are designing a workshop aimed at Ph.D. students from all technical universities in the Netherlands. Once established, the entrepreneurs will be able to interact with NovelT and the entire entrepreneurial ecosystem of Twente.

In which areas do you work with the University of Münster, or would you like to strengthen cooperation in the future?

Rainer Harms: For example, the faculty cluster "High Tech Business and Entrepreneurship" of the University of Twente and the Faculty of Economics of the EMU are working together on the intelligent implementation of Industry 4.0 business models. Another example would be health care. Our faculty runs the research topic "Health and Wellbeing," and the University of Twente has the TechMed Center. EMU offers a good complement with its Faculty of Medicine and the University Hospital Münster. Thirdly, EUREGO has a strong agricultural sector. Here, the Universities of Twente and Münster could work together on issues relating to the sustainability, resilience and adaptability of this sector.

Theo Toonen: Last but not least, Prof. Dr. Thorsten Wiesel's entrepreneurship initiative is a good addition to our entrepreneurship topics. We are willing to cooperate in entrepreneurship education, entrepreneurship research, and valorization. For technology-oriented entrepreneurship, the University of Münster is attractive because it has first-class faculties for business informatics and natural sciences. At the same time, Münster University also offers programs in the humanities to the extent that the University of Twente does not offer – a great supplement!

Do you work with companies in EUREGIO? What does this cooperation look like?

Rainer Harms: The EUREGIO is a European border region in which all aspects of society are cross-border and globally intertwined. We call this the "quadruple helix" of interactions between business, universities, governments and citizens. This is why we work together with all partners who deal with current challenges such as the Development Goals and the Grand Challenges for Engineering. To address these challenges from a focused but interdisciplinary perspective, we have bundled our research in the research cluster "High Tech Business and Entrepreneurship."

Theo Toonen: Particularly concerning our relationship with companies, a large part of our business research in general, and entrepreneurship research in particular, is shaped by engaged scholarship: companies provide us with unique questions and the associated access to data - sometimes also to financial resources. We develop solutions by applying scientific methods and theory. Cross-border cooperation works particularly well in the context of thesis projects and smaller-scale research. Here we are deeply embedded in the regional business ecosystem. For larger cross-border research, the instruments of research funding tend to remain within national boundaries. We, therefore, welcome the cooperation grants of the Universities of Münster and Twente as a means, the so-called "collaboration grants," to stimulate larger research projects, also involving corporate partners in the EUREGIO.

Further information