Realising entrepreneurial potential
A new MSc focuses on how to create business start-ups and help existing ones to grow new lines of business
“Every new business needs to offer a solution to an unsolved problem,” says Dr Bruce Martin
Ireland has made great strides in recent years in increasing the number of graduates qualifying in the broad science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) field. These graduates are in high demand by both inward investment companies as well as indigenous industry and their continuing availability is seen as a crucial element of future economic growth.
But it is not all about simply supplying labour and intellectual heft to employers; it’s also about creating new business start-ups and helping existing ones to grow new lines of business. That’s the issue that the new MSc in Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Design from the UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School is aiming to address.
The two-year, part-time course, which starts in September, aims to give Stem graduates both practical and theoretical expertise in innovation, entrepreneurship and new venture creation. This will enhance their technical skills and expertise with business knowledge.
“Every new business needs to offer a solution to an unsolved problem,” says course creator and director Dr Bruce Martin. “But there are not enough Stem graduates with business knowledge to meet demand at present. The number one constraint on start-up businesses is not money – it’s a shortage of people with Stem experience.
“At the same time, the support ecosystem for start-ups is very strong and well developed. The need is for people with Stem expertise and the knowledge to turn their skills into new ventures. This is also very important for companies which want to compete globally; they need people who can innovate and create new lines of business within the firm – intrapreneurship.”
The new course is unique in the way it brings innovation, entrepreneurship and design together while combining the academic rigour and theoretical grounding of a traditional master’s with extensive practical experience involving the creation of actual new ventures.
It will achieve this through a unique collaboration between three leading Irish institutions: the Smurfit school’s strength in core business and innovation management is combined with the National College of Art and Design’s industrial design expertise while experts from NovaUCD bring their experience of nurturing knowledge based start-up businesses.
Course participants will learn the theory and practice of innovation and entrepreneurship including competencies in creating and leading teams that can design and develop successful new lines of business inside current firms as well as new stand-alone ventures.
They will also gain insights into the repeatable processes that can be employed to identify, develop and validate new business ideas as well as acquire a comprehensive understanding of entrepreneurial logic, business model design, and a design thinking approach to new product and service creation in knowledge-based businesses.
Design thinking is a critical element of the course, according to Martin. “We use the term design in its broadest sense but not loosely, if that doesn’t sound contradictory,” he says.
“The first and most basic aspect of design thinking is a customer-led approach to developing new products, services and businesses. The focus is on developing empathy with customers to understand their needs and then developing solutions to meet those needs. We will also focus on product design and the strength of NCAD’s industrial design faculty will support that.”
Designing businesses and business models is also a key element of the course. “These are subject to the same dynamics as product design thinking. What’s disruptive about many disruptive businesses is their business model rather than their products. Take Uber of Hailo, for example. They are not offering a new product but they do have a new model. They have developed new models which meet customers’ needs.”
Industrial design is also important, of course. “When we think of Apple, we think of the great design of its products. What’s interesting is that Steve Jobs didn’t spend a lot of time interacting with customers and understanding their needs – he had great people around him like Jony Ives to design great products.”
Entrepreneurial logic is markedly different to standard business or management logic, according to Martin. In the latter case it’s about the usual things like setting targets and goals and planning how to achieve them. Entrepreneurial logic is altogether different, however.
“It’s a very different approach. The focus is much more on the means rather than the ends – what can I do with what I have or resources I can easily get? Entrepreneurs do things with what they have, go on to do something more, and so on.”
This in turn links back to design thinking. Martin cites studies into traits shared by successful entrepreneurs which show the link with design. “They use things like empathy and creative thinking to come up with ideas and then act on them. They don’t set long-term goals or sales targets, they are focused on designing solutions to problems. We want to give course participants the insights which will help them become more entrepreneurial and innovative and be able to start their own business or create something new in an existing business.”
The part-time nature of the course is strategically important, he says. “In future we will try to look at a way of doing it full time but the part-time course allows enough time to do the practicum,” Martin says.
“The practical element of the course is key. If you want to start a business you will increase your chances of success if you don’t try to do everything at once. You need time to search and discover problems that need solutions, learn about them, and develop a solution.
“The course will allow for a problem-focused approach where participants can delve into areas that interest them, look at problems which aren’t being solved, get assistance from experts in the field, and look at how solutions to those problems can be turned into a business.”
The emphasis is very much on high value knowledge-intensive businesses.
Applications are currently being accepted. For further information go to smurfitschool.ie/ourcourses/part-timemasters/mscininnovationentrepreneurshipdesign