Mondragon University promotes innovation in its area by using a model for transferring results of university training projects to companies. Students participate in idea competitions, and later, selected ideas are turned into products and presented to companies. Companies can sponsor prototype development. The aim is to make new business but there are some challenges in transferring the ideas and prototypes from university to companies. Read further to find out more about the case.
Objectives of the case
Transfering R&D results of innovative, regular training projects from the university to industry and society. In particular to
- Accelerate knowledge transfer from university to business, and
- Promote entrepreneurship among students by collecting ideas for the creation of new enterprises (spin-offs, start-ups) or business models.
Mondragon University, together with different agents from Mondragon Corporation organizes student competitions that involve private and public collaboration. The competitions are idea contests driven by the Engineering, Business and Humanities faculties of Mondragon Unibertsitatea (MU) with the sponsorship of Mondragon Corporation, Saiolan entrepreneurship development centre, Debagoiena commercial development centre, Gazteempresa foundation and Athlon enterprise. The objective of the contests is to promote entrepreneurship among students by collecting their ideas on the creation of new enterprises or business models. Ideas have been collected using the Innowave tool since 2010. Each year, there are three main topics for competition: rural development, youth-leisure-sports and enterprise innovation. A campaign is launched for each main topic. Later, selected ideas are turned into prototypes and exhibited to companies. Companies can sponsor the prototypes they like.
The following methodologies were used with students to support the innovation acceleration:
- Business Model Innovation
- Business Plan Canvas
- Nine Roles of Innovation
- User Driven Innovation
Innowave, an Idea Management Systems was used as the collaboration platform. Innowave provides tools for each of idea management stage (idea creation, analysis, enrichment, and selection) and allows launching campaigns and contents. The platform is flexible enough to accommodate different types of innovation campaign or waves simultaneously: open innovation, firm-centric innovation process or crowd sourcing contest with hundreds of participants. Innowave prepares information with semantic meaning, which helps in exploiting results later.
Findings and lessons learnt
- The approach is well designed and results improve year by year:
- The numbers of ideas, promoted ideas and spin-offs have increased.
- Contests continue with higher participation.
- Stronger networks are needed:
- “Strong” ecosystem is essential (company and public administration involvement/participation). Cooperation between the University and Business Cooperation is essential. Involving University researchers and research groups in the early stages during ideation and the involvement of company /public administration recruitment /involvement are very important. A new collaboration line has been opened within the Saiolan Entrepreneurship Centre.
- Opportunities to involve lead users need to be explored.
- Using social networks for sharing and opening up to other stakeholders for market phase need to be explored.
- Many ideas are repetitive year after year, so we need to utilise old ideas/prototypes more and merge them with new ones to take them further. For example, we could try creating “Idea Markets” where previous ideas are “sold” to companies and new “ideators”. Use acceleration tools like Deckmind.
- Still more co-operation with companies is needed:
- Companies need to be involved in prototyping and in developing the product or service.
- Companies are not always open to new ideas:
- Companies are focused on their current business, and dedicate few resources for new business development. It is necessary to make agreements and find funds to support companies in this task. Crowdfunding strategies are one option to explore to find funding. Agreements are needed to clarify the intellectual property of the ideas/prototypes.
- Many companies do not see the opportunities opened by these approaches.
- Students need entrepreneurial attitude and skills:
- A lack of entrepreneurship culture and other business skills among students has been detected, especially in technological degrees. Formative sessions during the different stages of the process are necessary to boost entrepreneurship among students. An entrepreneurship itinerary for Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees has been created. University context is essential to acquire key competences related to entrepreneurship.
- Final year projects are a good mechanism to continue working on prototypes and to launch an idea as a new business.
- Interdisciplinary projects where students from different specialties work together in the same project, is another possibility worth exploring. This is a good option for Master's degree students.
- Additional financing opportunities need to be explored:
- Economic factors affect the number of ideas turned into new products and spin-offs. New financial mechanisms need to be explored. For example, offering grants for the projects until the end of studies, final year projects and even after completing the degree.
The main challenges can be summaries as follows:
- Lack of innovation culture: Transferring an idea to a company is not easy. Research groups in companies do not have the competence/time.
- Lack of maturity of prototype: Companies are interested but keep on adding new requirements or changing requirements. The development work takes a lot of time, which may mean that the team must be reconstructed, and new people (students) need to acquire new skills.
- Lack of business plan: No business model was identified: A company does not envisage or foresee new business models. This does not encourage continuing with the project, and the development lands in stand-by.
- Lack of sponsorship: There is no company that wants to get involved in developing the idea. Need to find better ways to reach companies.
- Lack of innovation culture: Creating spin-offs is one opportunity, but students cannot do it by themselves, instead they need support to create their company.