UIIN – Lehigh University Iacocca Scholars Lynn Brownell and Taylor Pistone recently had the opportunity to meet with Ingrid Wakkee, Professor of Entrepreneurship at Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences to discuss her perspectives on the Amsterdam entrepreneurial ecosystem and the impact of her university on the city. Prof. Wakkee’s research focuses on entrepreneurial failures, and how the future business owners can learn from the mistakes of the other entrepreneurs.
TP: What is your take on the ecosystem within the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences?
IW: Our internal ecosystem is still growing and developing. We have a rather long tradition of teaching entrepreneurship across different faculties, but it was mainly focused on creating awareness and enthusiasm in our students. I think only in the last few years we’re moving towards a more conscious approach towards entrepreneurship and more involving students from different disciplines in entrepreneurship education. In other area of studies, we have ten or twelve years of research but entrepreneurship was really a new chair for my university. With the research you can start to develop your curriculum, make it more evidence-based and more grounded in current topics, trends, and developments.
Besides the research, we added an entrepreneurship support program where we offer students from across the university access to inspiration, ideation, and impact program, the 10K incubator. This support also includes facilities ranging from flexible office space to special arrangement for students who are willing to combine their studies with their own ventures. A lot of support is being offered in the external ecosystem, so we try to make conscious choices of what we should do ourselves, and what we get from the environment. Internally we see what is not available in the ecosystem with an emphasis on our target groups who are very young student entrepreneurs, bachelor-degree level with a lot of ideas and motivation and ambition but lack experience and networks with a sense of reality. A lot of the existing programs in the external community are focused a bit more on experience people, so this has become our niche.
LB: Are there any other strengths you feel the university brings to the ecosystem?
IW: Not everyone may agree with me, but I think it is a great strength that we decided everything we do should be grounded in the science of entrepreneurship education. This means we do not just follow a guru-style approach, or go with the latest hype. If people say they want to present a topic, I ask them to give me the evidence that it is working. Bringing this to the table and constantly questioning what we are doing is the best way to move forward.
TP: Where do you think the university has room to grow?
IW: We have room to grow with raising the bar in terms of level of ambition. For a long time it was enough to say we want to raise the awareness of entrepreneurship in students. This has resulted in massive educational programs where students fulfill entrepreneurship minors, however, they come out with businesses that may not be applicable to society. The educators say it is a way for them to get some experience, but I feel like we can challenge our students from the beginning. Show them where the biggest societal challenges are; not just useful for society but in entrepreneurial terms, these are big growth markets.
LB: What do you think has been the impact on the local community of Amsterdam?
IW: There have been a few impacts. As a result of fifteen years of entrepreneurship education, people are developing startups and our students are working for them. Slowly we are seeing that this is recognized and that other people recognize what we do. When I started to work in Amsterdam fifteen years ago, I was missing out on the companies. There were only big corporate and legal offices, but that has changed with the efforts of the municipalities and the science park. In addition, the higher education facilities and the increased attention on entrepreneurship from the media helped to bring in businesses to Amsterdam. It is a joint effort and things are moving in a certain direction, so we do what we can.
TP: How do you see the growth of entrepreneurial ecosystem in Amsterdam within the next ten years?
IW: I hope there will be further professionalization. In the sense that companies start to grow organically and more realistic on what can be achieved. I hope we can continue this innovation-driven entrepreneurship and that the economy is moving forward to be more sustainable in the long run. Already you see some trends, but we are still confronted with local SMEs who are more concerned with how much to park a car instead of creating more sustainable parking spaces.
Images credit: Harriët Robijn