Accelerate Future HEI: Reflecting on Year One for Entrepreneurial Transformation in Higher Education Institutions

Accelerate Future HEI: Reflecting on Year One for Entrepreneurial Transformation in Higher Education Institutions

The first year of the project Accelerate Future HEI has just ended and it is time to summarize the results of first year and outline the tasks and challenges of the next stages. The main goal of the project is to develop and test acceleration services, to equip Higher Education institutions (HEIs) with the skills and capacity to drive the institutional transformation towards becoming more entrepreneurial and- innovative institutions. At the same time, there are several other sub-goals subordinated to the main goal. For capacity building of the participating HE institutions comprehensive skills development program implementation will be very important, as well as evaluation mechanism what can monitor progress of the HEIs in the implementation of chosen areas from the transformation agenda. Also for a wider possibility of transformations important is generation police feedback to the European Commission and Member States. Being one of the partners of Accelerate Future HEI, Vidzeme University of Applied Sciences also can share valuable knowledge with partners and gain new experience that will be useful for the university, the region and the country.

At the very beginning of the project it was very important to ask ourselves some questions – what do we want to achieve as an institution? What is our vision for entrepreneurial and innovative transformation? What are our key resources, strengths, and also weaknesses? Are people ready to engage in transformative changes and which of our staff could be as a driving force in the process of change? To get answers to these questions, we collected all internal and external assets in different categories - for example, Policies, Structures, Talent Capital, Research Potential, Networks etc. (as Internal assets), and also Physical, Intellectual assets, Human, Financial etc. resources (as External assets). By collecting both internal and external resources, we were able to see the potential of both already known and yet unseen cooperation partners, people and institutions much more widely. Consequently, we were able to see the strengths of the organization much better: 
1) Our university is a relatively small, but ambitious and dynamic organization, what is flexible, with short decision-making “chain” and able to quickly make change and adapt to different changes; 
2) We have lot of External Assets (for example, Open Innovation Hub, Business Incubator, Valmiera ce-creation workshop space, Valmiera Development Agency etc.), and these networks could allow us to be open to many new ideas;
 3) Active scientific activity and different projects in regional, national and international levels strengths not our scientific potential, but also entrepreneurial activities, networking and promotion to digital transformation and innovation
Focus group activity (supported by Accelerate Future HEI organizational team) brought together both internal, across different parts of the ViA, and external stakeholders to discuss and collaboratively envisage the desired future state and goals for institutional transformation, vision and direction of change as well as talk about our ambition to become a more entrepreneurial and innovative university. Role of regional University as a major actor in the regional ecosystem, focusing on achieving an institutional restructuring to encourage and cultivate more innovation on education were found as key factors for achieving transformation. Also, participants of focus group mentioned that:
 1) for providing incentives for entrepreneurship, the university’s leadership should clearly show value of participation in entrepreneurial activities, revise and create clear rules on intellectual property and shared ownership of joint projects, provide clear guidelines and information on available funding options for external collaborations.
 2) for providing recognition for entrepreneurship, the university can provide public recognition of student and academic’s contribution to research and industry, show more good practices of engagement and valorization and successful collaboration and give entrepreneurial roles and incentives to research institute’ directors. 
Academics and Students Survey, that was organized in summer of 2023, was focused on exploring respondents view about engagement in entrepreneurial activities in ViA, entrepreneurial perceptions, attitudes, and intentions as well as main challenges of their work in undertaking these activities. Student’s results confirmed different possibilities to engage in entrepreneurial activities during the school time, involving in challenge - based learning participation in internship, but on the other hand, most of students created no start-up or entrepreneurial ventures, but at least most respondents know someone who personally started business or is in the thinking or planning process of starting a business. Nonetheless, more than half of students expect to start a business within the next three years.
Academics were also asked about vision for entrepreneurial and innovative transformation of ViA. Respondents reflect that they face four main challenges which hinder them from undertaking entrepreneurial and innovation activities- first, they notice workload allocation as a challenge for engagement, secondly, the lack of incentives and rewards was mentioned as challenge. Also lack of administrative support and financial support, structures and mechanisms were highlighted in findings of survey. Academics responders also were asked about their vision of innovative and entrepreneurial transformation, and answers can be divided into three main categories of focus for the university: 
1) mission-oriented education and research (for example, innovative lectures labs, an openness for not absolute entrepreneurial transformation, increasing the number of participants in innovation programs etc.); 
2) active participation in ecosystem (for example, green business incentives, connection with existing entrepreneurial challenges in the region, attraction of professional from industry, creation of one-step agency etc.); 
3) institutional support (set quality instead of quantity as a priority, support human capital, better communication inside organization etc.). 
To continue the discussion of organizational change a joint work seminar of all university employees was held, and employees of all university levels worked in groups on the most important strategic transformation areas (Excellence and cooperation in research; Lifelong education; Promotion of innovations for the national economy; The potential of digital transformation; Quality infrastructure/real estate). Some of the outcomes and conclusions from the employees were:
-    The values included in the university's strategy must also be discussed and included in our daily work. 
-    Creativity, cooperation, entrepreneurship, respect and responsibility, sustainability, and academic freedom. Employees can help ensure that the university's vision and strategy align with its core values and culture. This alignment is crucial for maintaining consistency and integrity throughout the university.
-    The development of the university goes hand in hand with the development of personnel, the creation of a lifelong learning offer, the creation of a student attraction strategy, the creation of modern teaching methods, etc.
-    EUDRES's partnership allows us to see different development models of higher education institutions and it is necessary to continue gaining valuable experience.
-    The development of innovations in the university is closely related to digitalization, commercialization, and valorization of products, as well as a common understanding of the inevitability of innovations, technology transfer, thus raising capacity at different levels of the university.
One of the biggest challenges of the project was to choose the direction of the transformation, considering all the previous activities and findings. To focus further transformation activities, the working group of the university staff worked in a joint “Roadmap” workshop and proposed the following future directions of action. Institutional commitment for proactively initiating innovation projects, also in regions is very necessary for clear plan making and structure of innovation. Support and establish partnerships with external could create bridges with local and international learning enterprises and drive the regional innovation eco-system in new quality. Also, excellence in research and education was put forward as one of the directions. There many activities are possible to develop- prototyping and iterative presses as part of educational curriculum, identification of success stories to enable for proactive valorization doers, providing more ECTS for innovation and entrepreneurship courses, providing research, data analysis for future needs etc. For all these activities engaged, supporting and aware leadership should take innovative approaches to accelerate transformation. One of the core transformation branches should be also digital transformation in all levels- in educational and academical activities, administrative functions, communication processes, digital competencies promotion.  Some other perspective directions and activities were mentioned- organize problem-solving classes, hackathons to tap on current and future student’s educational needs, support meaningful and applicable research, create an Idea Bank to collect initiative drafts with innovative and entrepreneurial potential etc. 
As main next step for the projects is framing and defining next ITAPS (The Institutional Transformation Action Plan), what outline the main projects or initiatives each HEI. These must be focus or key areas for the HEI where they are facing challenges or need extra support to implement. Each partner will selects focus areas or initiatives for implementation, and it will be both possibility and big challenge to work on implementation of activities. There may be overlap in people involved but it is important that the ITAP has a clear leader and internal stakeholders who will be responsible for driving and implementing ITAPs. 


Vidzeme University of Applied Sciences

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