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NSM Focus | First Innovation & Entrepreneurship anniversary: “We are creating a big talent pool”

Date of news: 22 February 2022

More and more companies are finding out about the relevance of innovation and entrepreneurship and the complexity of the relationship between the two. There is a huge demand for consultants and innovation process facilitators in companies. The Innovation & Entrepreneurship (I&E) Master’s specialisation has become popular amongst students, too. In May, lecturers, students and alumni will celebrate its first anniversary.

A few years ago, Assistant Professors Robert Kok (Innovation) and Caroline Essers (Entrepreneurship and Leadership) noticed a growing interest among students for courses on innovation in organisations. Essers: “More students enrolled for the courses on entrepreneurship from social and cultural perspectives, which I have been teaching for ten years, as well. Those courses were offered at Bachelor’s level, but it became clear that it was time to set up an in-depth Master’s specialisation in Innovation and Entrepreneurship.”

Major challenges

Kok: “Companies face a number of major challenges that require organisational, technical, cultural, psychological and economic adjustments. Think, for example, about sustainability and digitalisation with the possibility of big data analysis. But the knowledge and expertise required for keeping up with the rapid developments in these areas and to make these innovative changes is not always available within the company’s own ranks. It follows that companies need people who understand how to foster innovation in organisations. You also see this in consultancy firms; more and more firms have innovation advice branches.”

Broad perspective

The study programme’s focus is broad, and the content is multidisciplinary. Essers: “We are diving into the ecosystem. So we do not just look at companies themselves, but also take into consideration their whole context: economic, financial, technological, social, cultural and psychological factors of influence. We analyse entrepreneurs’ networks – producers, suppliers, employees, stakeholders, customers, end users, competitors – and we always link innovation and entrepreneurship to overarching themes, such as sustainability and social responsibility. We also consider entrepreneurs’ identities. How do characteristics like gender, ethnicity, religion and class affect entrepreneurship?”

Students with experience

Creativity is also important in the curriculum. “Creativity is the link between innovation and entrepreneurship,” says Essers. “Coming up with original solutions, breaking new ground, exploring uncharted territory. This sounds easier than it actually is: entrepreneurs have to distinguish themselves whilst simultaneously conforming with the entrepreneurial environment. After all, to be successful, you need to be both recognised and acknowledged.”
This is not to say that the programme coordinators only focus on producing as many entrepreneurs as possible. Kok estimates that 20% of students either have or want to set up their own businesses. “This is a positive thing, because individuals who have their own businesses bring relevant, practical experience that other students can learn from. But our students are also excellent innovation consultants and managers, precisely because they can unravel the processes that can hamper and encourage innovation and growth within a company.”

Room for growth

Is the Nijmegen region a suitable base for innovative entrepreneurs and enterprising innovators? “Of course, the Randstad attracts some of our alumni. But some fantastic developments are taking place in and around Nijmegen,” says Kok. “The CWZ and Radboud university medical center are major employers where innovation is high up on the agenda. A number of students find their way there after graduating. We have also seen that great strides have been made in supporting new and innovative companies in recent years. The Health and Innovation Labs at Radboud university medical center drive healthcare innovation, for example, and Mercator Launch, part of Radboud University, supports students, alumni and researchers in conceiving of and setting up their own innovative businesses.” “The developments are happening quickly,” agrees Essers. “Collaboration with other universities and institutions is going well, the enthusiasm is great and, not unimportantly, there is still room for growth in this area.”

Time to celebrate

So there is plenty of cause to celebrate the first anniversary of the I&E Master’s specialisation. The programme of the day has not been finalised yet, but lecturers, students and alumni can count on it being an enjoyable event with interactive lectures, celebratory drinks and plenty of opportunities for catching up and sharing experiences. Essers: “I am looking forward to it tremendously. I know that many students have started and blossomed brilliant businesses or found fascinating positions in established companies. For example, one alumnus ran a cocktail catering and hospitality consultancy programme during his Master’s degree and is now a sales manager at a major distiller of cocktail liqueurs. Another alumnus and former refugee has an interesting business development position with an innovative app developer. When I think of names, I think we can safely say that we have created a big pool of talent, right, Robert?” “Yes, I think so. With a lot of help from our wonderful colleagues too. We have a fun, enthusiastic and creative team, which has been an important part of I&E’s success.”