When Academia Meets Business: Part 1

13th July 2015

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Academia Meets Business

When I called, Michael Campion was just back from a trip to the University of Ulster, where three of his students had won a Merit award in the Enterprise Ireland Student Entrepreneurship Competition.

Words: Áilín Quinlan

Audrey Holland, Nichole Griffin and Katie Durcan had impressed the judging panel with their system for monitoring the symptoms of epilepsy.
 Campion was pleased – his whole focus as a lecturer at the Business School at National University of Ireland, Galway (NUIG), is to foster an entrepreneurial spirit in his students, whether or not they go on to establish their own companies.

Campion is just one of a growing number of business-minded teachers and mentors with a passion for helping graduates reach their full potential. 
“All graduates should be entrepreneurial in whatever role they take on in the future,” says Campion, adding that, for the NUIG Business School the emphasis is on putting in place the necessary structures to support those with the drive to set up in business.

To this end, Campion partners with businesses in the local industry who share his vision. James Murphy is one such individual. A graduate of NUIG , and CEO of Lifes2Good, a successful online beauty and healthcare retailer, Murphy has recently taken on a number of Campion’s students who have displayed an entrepreneurial flair.
 The idea, Campion explains, is to help foster the right sort of mindset. 
It’s all organised through a special programme which is part of the NUIG Bachelor of Commerce degree.


The Innovation, Creativity and Enterprise programme, NUIG

The Innovation, Creativity and Enterprise programme (ICE) is also offered to a number of engineering students, and in all, says Campion, there are about 330 students on the programme which constitutes a set of modules running right through the degree programme.
 As part of ICE, students are challenged to come together in small groups and develop a new product or service idea:
 “There’s a competitive element to ICE,” he explains.
“We run a competition and the winning groups are offered internships, incubation spaces and prize money. 
Hence the achievement of Holland, Griffin and Durcan – just some of the school’s business-students-turned-entrepreneurs whose project won them an incubation space with the company StartX6 to allow for further development of their business idea.


The Ryan Academy, DCU

Over at the Ryan Academy, which is part of Dublin City University (DCU), Chief Operating Officer Niamh Collins oversees a number of entrepreneur-incubator programmes.
 One of these is the Accelerator Programme, U Start, which is specifically geared at bright-eyed, business-minded DCU students.

The majority of them are still in college, and they have to come up with a viable business idea to qualify for inclusion on the 16-week programme which runs from June to October. 
Now entering its third year, U Start is basically an entrepreneur start-up competition open to both profit and non-for-profit ventures from all DCU students, including undergraduate, graduate, postdoctoral and part-time students enrolled in any DCU programme.

The Academy views this programme as an excellent route through which start-up teams can accelerate their business – it’s all done through a process of qualified access to the expertise and networks of experienced entrepreneurs and mentors.

There are nine companies with 21 participants on this summer’s programme, all of whom have either had to come up with viable business plans or who already have a business up and running. The programme focuses on the day-to-day running of a business, and includes modules on everything from business and financial modelling, customer validation, sales strategy to team-building, marketing, and pitching to investors.

Out of the 21 participants, 7 are female while women head 2 of the 9 companies. The reason for the disparity, believes Collins, has to do with a difference in mindset which needs to change:
 “Women generally won’t apply unless they feel they have a really good idea or have formed a business – but guys are more willing to just give it a go,” explains Collins. 


Ignite Programme, UCC

In Cork, Eamon Curtin oversees UCC’s highly successful Ignite Programme, which runs from October to June and is currently in its fifth year.
 “Primarily the remit of the programme is to encourage recent graduates to take a product or service and turn it into sustainable business,” explains Curtin. Course participants are generally people who have graduated in the last few years.
 “They may have come through a BA, an MA or a doctoral degree, in such areas of science, business, engineering or the Arts.”

The programme annually takes on about 10 businesses – participants are generally entrepreneurially-minded graduates who range in age from twenty-somethings to mature graduates in their mid-to-late thirties – but all have completed their last course of study very recently.
 The target of the course is to help students with a business idea to achieve “that first sale”.

To get to that point, Curtin says, course participants must understand issues such as company structure and taxation, develop the negotiating and pitching skills and learn how to create an effective marketing plan.
 Developing an entrepreneurial mindset is pivotal and to this end the programme offers a strong mix of workshops and talks in which entrepreneurs and business people share their experiences.

Recent graduates will generally have little experience in how to engage with customers, so the programme has forged links with established companies willing to give participants a valuable insight into how to sell into that sector. “We encourage students to develop connections. Students coming out of college are extremely limited in the business connections so a significant amount of ‘soft’ support would give them the skills to set up good business networks.”

About one-third of Ignite start-ups have been led by women in recent years, says Curtin, adding that the programme is particularly interested in technology- based businesses which are ‘scalable’ and geared towards export.
 The ambition: that every business is revenue-generating and/or has raised investment over the duration of the programme. And it does what it says on the tin:
 “We consider the course to be a support programme which gives participants those skills,” he declares.

It’s only a matter of time before these highly skilled graduates and budding entrepreneurs will make their mark in industry – a positive case of where Academia meets Business!