Academia reaches out into wider world
Problem-solving is a key part of innovation. Some of the most creative solutions are sparked in real contexts
Entrepreneurial outreach: Prof Suzi Jarvis outside the Clinton Building at UCD. photograph: eric luke
A university should be part of its broader community.
That conviction has led Prof Suzi Jarvis, head of UCD’s Innovation Academy, to launch a new Rural Entrepreneurship Programme aimed at helping those outside Ireland’s cities develop initiatives that can bring employment and sustainability to their locale.
In the UK, she notes, 31 per cent of farm enterprises have diversified into new areas, whereas only 2 per cent have in Ireland. And Ireland remains predominantly rural, with over 70 per cent of the population living in rural areas, compared to an EU average of 22 per cent, or just 7 per cent for Switzerland.
Given that this is the case, an obvious area for entrepreneurial outreach is rural Ireland – at least as important as developing international entrepreneurship programmes at a university, says Jarvis.
A leap from physics – Jarvis’s background – to rural entrepreneurship might seem quite a journey, but Jarvis sees it all as part of a multidisciplinary approach critical to entrepreneurial thinking.
Her expertise in building atomic force microscopes, which have an application in the biological sciences, led to her own research team crossing the boundaries of engineering, biology and medial science.
Such multidisciplinary interests led to her interest in the original proposal for the Innovation Academy, a programme within the academic Innovation Alliance between TCD, UCD and Queens announced in 2009. Each university has its own academy. Initially intended as a PhD programme for entrepreneurship, UCD’s branch of the Academy, located on the UCD campus in Belfield, has gradually expanded to include programmes for industry professionals, post-doctoral students, undergraduates and unemployed people involved with the national HEA-funded Springboard programme.
From early on in her role, Jarvis – who came to Ireland initially as a Science Foundation Ireland researcher – wondered “what should innovation and entrepreneurship look like in an academic setting”.
Study vs action
Her guiding motto has been that, “Study makes a scholar, action makes an entrepreneur.” She notes, “We steer clear of business skills, and have to highlight the difference between managerial and entrepreneurial thinking.”
To that end, she prefers to get Academy students away from PowerPoint presentations and out into the real world, tasked with accomplishing various one-day tasks as part of a group.
So is it like The Apprentice? She grimaces. Not quite that competitive and unpleasant, she says. The idea is to work productively and learn to think in fresh ways about a problem or an issue, ideally having some fun, too. And there’s no fear of getting axed at the end of the project.
“We try to get them outside their comfort zone,” Jarvis says.
One such project has teams scanning The Irish Times that morning for a topical issue, around which they must implement a business idea by the end of the day.