“Startup Nation Luxembourg” – for several years, the Government, private actors and local communes have joined forces in an effort to make this label a reality. Entrepreneurs from inside and outside the country can now rely on various support structures to establish themselves on the Luxembourgish market. When the University of Luxembourg launched its Entrepreneurship Programme in September 2017 and created the University of Luxembourg Incubator, a fundamental component was added to the national ecosystem, supported by an FNR KITS grant.
Drawing from an academic environment burgeoning with innovative ideas
Entrepreneurship is an essential component in driving economic productivity and innovation: This is the conclusion of a recent OECD report, which further shows that technological breakthroughs are often the output of young innovative companies.1 For Luxembourg’s future economic development, the University and the public research institutions are important actors.
Promoting the innovation potential of the University’s staff, students and research staff was one aim of the University of Luxembourg when launching its Entrepreneurship Programme. Members of the Rectorate involved in managing the programme explain:
“The University is for me the one innovation driver for Luxembourg and so we have our role to play there,“ stresses Prof Romain Martin, Vice-Rector for Academic Affairs at the University.
Dr Erica Monfardini, Acting Director of Administration at the University, adds:
“It is absolutely pivotal to have such an initiative at the University, because the enormous potential of the Master Students, the PhD and the Bachelors is completely untapped. They are millennials, they are creative and they can really connect to the market. Equipped with an additional skillset they have acquired during the extra-curricular activities of the Entrepreneurship Programme, these people are the most skilled to start a company.”
Target users of the Entrepreneurship Programme include all students of the University of Luxembourg – regardless of their level of studies – as well as employees and alumni who completed their studies within the last two years.
Fostering entrepreneurial spirit to benefit Luxembourg’s economy and labour market
A working paper exploring new ways to support Luxembourg in perfecting its entrepreneurship ecosystem, published by the IDEA Fondation in July 20172, argues along similar lines. To foster academic entrepreneurship in Luxembourg, by increasing inter alia the number of university spin offs, IDEA suggests to establish a status of “young university enterprise” (jeune entreprise universitaire) or “academic entrepreneur” (chercheur entrepreneur).
In addition, the foundation identifies it as a shortcoming that compared to the European average, people in Luxembourg still perceive entrepreneurship as a less attractive career choice.
The initiatives rolled out in the framework of the University’s Entrepreneurship Programme aims to directly tackle this issue by raising awareness for entrepreneurship as a viable and exciting career path. Welcoming participants from all faculties and centres, the Entrepreneurship Programme encourages the development of entrepreneurial skills across various fields of studies. When it comes to the creation of student startups, it is hoped this will help Luxembourg to achieve a healthy ratio between its anchor industries, for example Fin- and MedTech and others in the long-term.
“I think the country has now really understood that for the future, to be on a good path, we have to diversify and to be more innovative in terms of ideas,” explains Prof Romain Martin.
Actively supporting idea generation among University members through various initiatives does however not mean striving to turn all of them into entrepreneurs:
“We try to awake entrepreneurial skills and competences in our students and employees. It’s not only about doing a business plan, it’s really about creativity, about problem solving, about connecting people, about convincing somebody else of your idea. All these are extremely valuable skills, even if the participants do not end up running their own businesses, but act as ‘intrapreneurs’ for a company.”
Support as varied as the needs of the participants shaping the programme’s initiatives
The Entrepreneurship Programme of the University of Luxembourg aims to instill a way of thinking, doing and being that creates value for society as well as personal growth, encourages self-expression and builds self-esteem. The programme initiatives cover three levels of entrepreneurship awareness participants may have when joining.
To inspire is the aim of the first level initiatives, designed to wake up dormant entrepreneurs. Besides the opportunity to talk with established entrepreneurs who share their personal journey of company creation, the Ideation Camp is one of these initiatives.
Participants in this 72-hour workshop collaborate to work on business ideas, supported by expert mentors from the Luxembourgish and non-Luxembourgish startup ecosystem. The event format has already given rise to several startups, some of which have since won prizes at pitching competitions on a national level (like Startup Weekend Luxembourg 2017 and Falling Walls Lab Luxembourg 2018).
The support of the FNR spans the initiatives on all three levels, but is not limited to the financial side covered by the KITS grant. Dr Andreea Monnat, Head of Innovation programmes at FNR, regularly provides ‘ideational’ support as part of the jury that evaluates the projects presented by the young entrepreneurs of the University.
This participative approach allows the FNR to closely monitor the impact of the Entrepreneurship Programme, as Andreea Monnat explains: “This programme I can get it hands on, I can see exactly how the students react, how the mentors are working and this direct feedback we can really appreciate it. It’s great!”
Immersion into the national entrepreneurship ecosystem
That the concept of the programme also works on the second level with focus on the development of business ideas, proved during the allocation of grants for the FNR JUMP call 2018-1. Two startup projects from Postdocs of the University of Luxembourg (Alberto Noronha/Ines Thiele and Khadidja Chaib Draa) were successful in their bid for funding to develop prototypes building on their excellent research. Both projects are supported in the process of company creation, from the first spark of an idea to the business plan, by the team of the University of Luxembourg Incubator.
The Incubator offers aspiring entrepreneurs a place where they can use office spaces to work on their projects, get support when it comes to registering their company in Luxembourg and immerse themselves into the national entrepreneurship ecosystem to get access to acceleration programmes, investors etc.
It provides visibility to the start-uppers’ projects by organising networking events, providing resources for congress participation and helping ensure media coverage. Startups hosted at the University of Luxembourg Incubator can additionally benefit from an initiative designed for the third awareness level covered by the Entrepreneurship Programme: the venture.
A Venture Mentoring Service (VMS), equally financed by an FNR KITS grant, provides the entrepreneurs with experienced mentors guiding them in their approach to the market. The VMS follows a proven mentoring concept developed by MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology).
Tangible involvement of the Luxembourgish entrepreneurship ecosystem
At the official Inauguration of the University of Luxembourg Incubator in the presence of Prime Minister Xavier Bettel on 6 March 2018, the support of the actors of the national startup scene clearly showed. The mentors, providing guidance during the Ideation Camp and in the framework of the Venture Mentoring Service, share their expertise and time benevolently. Luxembourgish institutions partnered to allow University students to attend the Viva Technology congress in Paris for free, national startup congresses granted the students free access, other Luxembourgish incubators opened their acceleration programmes to innovative University startups.
Supporting early stage ventures, the Incubator’s aim is to help its entrepreneurs mature to the stage where they need to integrate a specialised incubator in Luxembourg later on. The Technoport being one of those incubators, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed between both institutions to further strengthen their cooperation to support startups nationally.
Prof Tonie van Dam, Vice-Rector for Doctoral Education and Training, shares the plans of the University about unleashing entrepreneurial potential after this promising take off:
“The University of Luxembourg has adopted entrepreneurship as a priority for the Vision 2020. We have committed ourselves to promote entrepreneurship and related vocational skills across all facets of our education and research activities. Thanks to the experiences acquired during the first nine month of the Entrepreneurship Programme we are able to better understand the diverse needs across the University. These insights will be incorporated into a sound pan-University entrepreneurship training and support program that we are currently working on.”
1 OECD (2017) Business Dynamics and Productivity.
2 IDEA Fondation, Ruben Michel-Edouard: Start-up nation: vers un young business act! Document de travail n°7 – Juillet 2017