What is the real role of the entrepreneurial university?

Teesside University has taken a different approach as an entrepreneurial university, says Professor Jane Turner OBE, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Enterprise and Business Engagement at Teesside University

The rise of the entrepreneurial university has been much discussed in the HE sector. Ever since the Lambert review of business-university collaboration 15 years ago, which set out a series of recommendations aimed at smoothing the path for knowledge transfer between academic communities and industry, universities have sought to gain competitive ground on this agenda. For some, this has become a major point of differentiation; for others, an attempt to become distinctive in a crowded marketplace.

However, with domestic and international uncertainty, this agenda has moved up to another level as universities revisit their civil responsibilities and seek to make a fundamental difference to the towns and cities they operate in. Teesside University is one of those institutions that has been admired, long before I joined the university three years ago, for its approach to enterprise and business engagement. But economic developments in our town, and the wider Tees Valley region, mean that we have needed to take a different approach within our role as an entrepreneurial university.

The loss of traditional industry, high unemployment, low skills, the lack of leadership and management expertise to tackle the productivity gap, the draining of the working-age population and the decline of the high street – these are just some of the major issues facing the Tees Valley. In response, we have taken on the mantle of an anchor institution, which is fundamental to supporting the economic recovery of the town and its community. All universities have a vital role to play in their local economies and in the national economy – it is essential that institutions engage with businesses and their communities to make the most of their knowledge and expertise.

Enterprise and entrepreneurship activity is a major component of our response to the local need. In fact, our corporate strategy places enterprise firmly at the centre of its mission; all the more important given our anchor institution role in the Tees Valley, where the sustainable growth of innovative new companies and long-standing businesses is central to economic prosperity. There are many initiatives driving our unwavering ambition to becoming known and respected for being the UK’s entrepreneurial university, but there are three in particular that summarise the role of HE in wealth creation.

Professor Jane Turner

Launchpad is our exceptional enterprise engine for students, pre-starts and companies. It offers an inclusive community of entrepreneurs; mentoring, coaching and workshops from partners; and grant funding and access to finance. Together with a suite of step-change interventions, this has captured the engagement of academic schools and entrepreneurs alike, transforming curricula, sparking enterprise ventures campus-wide, and forming a key strand of our Student Futures Strategy. Launchpad has made an impact on the regional business community, contributing an annual GVA of £23.9m in the last academic year and strategic start-up projects aligned with Tees Valley Combined Authority.

LEAP 50 is a programme for CEOs and businesses with strong ambitions and growth potential. It is led by the university and Tees Valley Combined Authority, in partnership with Tees Valley Business Compass. The programme is a direct response to a report from the ScaleUp Institute, which recognised that Tees Valley had a higher than average proportion of scale-up businesses – companies with more than 10 employees and average annual growth of 20% or more in employees or turnover – but they were not capitalising on the opportunity to grow further. Our work supports the scale-up movement.

Thirdly, the National Horizons Centre, which will open next year on Darlington’s Central Park, is a £22m state-of-the-art bioscience education, training, research and innovation facility that directly addresses the growth potential of the UK bioeconomy. It will specialise in providing the full range of skills for the biosciences sector and in applying digital technologies to improve performance and productivity and foster breakthrough ideas, bringing major growth opportunities for local businesses.

As a university, we have big plans for expanding our enterprise and entrepreneurship provision, driven by our role as an anchor institution. We have a seat at the top table in the development of the Tees Valley’s Local Industrial Strategy, which will have a big push on overcoming local barriers to productivity and will be published next May. The next step is to take a convening role in the development of an entrepreneurial ecosystem for the region, involving government and non-government institutions, support professions, and other education institutions, with business at the heart of it.