Ideation week - engaging university and industry by real world problem solving

Christoph Buck
University of Bayreuth

Josef Löffl
University of Applied Sciences and Arts Ostwestfalen-Lippe

For companies, organisations and communities in rural areas, Entrepreneurship Education represents a promising approach to in-depth interaction with universities. From this perspective, the underlying understanding of entrepreneurship is more broadly defined and aims at more outcome variables (Greene et al. 2018). These include goals such as developing personal innovation competencies, achieving job readiness and personality development for students. On the other hand, such courses must also actively contribute to the entrepreneurial ecosystem and pursue goals such as identifying cooperation potentials, development of multi-dimensional networking, building an entrepreneurial ecosystem, and company-attractiveness for students.

Universities in rural areas more and more are seen as a platform for innovation (or are required to be), as a driver for cooperation and as the nucleus of an innovation ecosystem. The fundamental challenge here are the diverging goals of the primary stakeholders: University, students and companies. While the university is responsible for conveying high-quality content, students strive for a high degree of studyability. Meanwhile, companies are generally interested in more tangible outcomes such as usable solutions and access to resources and (future) employees. While these interests are often seen as contradictory, the goal of regional innovation ecosystems is the development of integrated cooperation approaches. Classical teacher- or textbook-centred lectures generally do not fulfil this integrative character (Bureau 2018; Hägg 2018).

With the Ideation Week (ID), an integrative approach for a lecture has been developed that unites the divergent goals of the stakeholders. ID is based on the innovation method of Design Sprint (Knapp et al. 2016). Within this framework an integrated lecture was established to develop solutions for existing challenges, to prototype and test them with real customers within 4-5 days. The university collaborates with a company exclusively for an ID and develops a common challenge (preparation phase). Within one week, 25 students from different study fields (without previous knowledge) open up the problem area (day 1; with input from the company) and develop (in groups of 5 students) different approaches (day 2+3). The developed and prototypized solutions are evaluated in a hypothesis testing with real customers (day 4) and presented to the management of the participating company (day 5). During the five days a fine-tuned set of innovation methods with high quality is applied to ensure high quality of content delivery and the developed solutions. The lecturer's role in the ID increasingly shifts to facilitation, with the lecturer attaching great importance to attaining the required methodological competence in an experienced-based approach. A high quality of results can only be achieved by a methodically clean implementation of the innovation methods.

The ID has already been held four times at a medium-sized university (approx. 13,000 students) in a rural and structurally weak area in Germany and has been continuously further developed. The lecture has a very large impact on the regional innovation ecosystem and promotes interaction between the university and industry (high demand from regional companies, emergence of follow-up projects, increase in willingness to pay). ID is consistently very well evaluated by students (with an increasing application rate) and represents a course of the highest quality and methodologically. The goals of the university in terms of high quality teaching are consistently achieved. Despite an extremely high commitment of the students, the course enjoys a very high student demand. In addition, the interdisciplinarity of the participants promotes not only the development of new approaches through the combination of heterogeneous pattern imprints, but also a deeper understanding than a community (which leads to a higher degree of identification with the university).

The objectives of the participating companies are also consistently achieved. So far, all companies have received usable solutions for their challenges (which are further developed internally), have achieved a very high degree of recognition in the region and, through their active participation in the course, have achieved very good access to university resources and future employees. In order to ensure the success of the integrative course, however, it is necessary for all stakeholders to be more willing to make use of resources. The university must develop and implement a new form of course. Students must show a higher degree of motivation and the company must engage on a high level, both financially and in terms of employee commitment.

ID is a very successful tool for interaction between universities and companies. ID creates direct added value for stakeholders and future cooperation potential and is therefore often the first starting point for sustainable cooperation. In terms of developing an entrepreneurial ecosystem, ID fulfils important goals in terms of sustainability. A network of participating companies across industry boundaries is created because ID generates the basis for the necessary trust (Recommendations, exchange of experiences, door-opener for collaboration). This can lead to the self-conception of a company, especially in medium-sized enterprises, that it wants to see itself as a learning organisation (starting point to change the mindset).

In order to achieve these goals, however, the participants must engage in a new form of university cooperation. The development of a high quality course requires dedicated resources from all participants. The ID was already successfully exported to a second university (in a totally different environment). As it is at the presented university, impact-based and experience-based courses can thus be fundamental cornerstones of sustainable university-industry interactions.