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University of Copenhagen
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What economic crisis? More student start-ups

Data shows that students are using the recession as an opportunity. More are starting businesses

The spirit has not been driven out of budding student entrepreneurs. Not according to Denmark’s National Bureau of Statistics [Danmarks Statistik, ed.] which shows more and more students at the University of
Copenhagen going solo with their own business idea. According to a data set from the statistics bureau, 130 companies were started up by students from the University of Copenhagen in 2009, the latest reported year, up from 91 in 2005.

And the numbers are not a fluke, nor are just a University of Copenhagen start-ups a phenomenon, according to the experts. The trend is confirmed by the Danish young enterprise consultancy FFE-YE, which reports an increase in the numbers of students enrolled in business start-up courses.

»Students have always had entrepreneurial spirit, but the crisis has ignited and supported innovative initiatives. Since the crisis broke, there has been more political and public awareness of the need for entrepreneurs. This has resulted in more supportive initiatives from the University of Copenhagen, which has in turn increased student interest for entrepreneurship,« says Anna Haldrup, director of Research and Innovation at University of Copenhagen, to the University Post.

And entrepreneurship may indeed be needed. The latest Eurostat numbers show a record high unemployment rate among youth in Europe. In Denmark, which has been hit relatively mildly by the crisis, unemployment for under 25’s grew to 14.7 per cent in 2012. This, of course, is nothing compared to countries like Spain and Greece which had youth unemployment rates of just over 50 per cent.

New uni strategy

Before the financial crash in 2008, the University of Copenhagen had two centres that supported student entrepreneurship. Katapult for students from the Faculty of Science, Life Sciences, Health Sciences and Pharmaceutical Sciences and Katalyst for students from the Faculty of Humanities. The two student growth houses worked independently of the overall university strategy.

This changed with the University of Copenhagen launch of the Next Generation and Ciel initiatives, which help student entrepreneurs and try to spread entrepreneurship throughout the University of

»The financial crisis has meant that the University of Copenhagen has incorporated entrepreneurship into our overall strategy and gathered the independent initiatives such as Katapult and Katalyst,« explains Anna Haldrup.

Humanities the most start-ups

For the first time ever, the University of Copenhagen strategy includes student entrepreneurship targets.

»On average 120 companies a year were started by University of Copenhagen students and recent graduates between 2005 and 2009. Our goal for 2012 is a 10 per cent increase in this number,« Haldrup explains.

When looking at the average numbers for the period 2005 – 2009, students from the Faculty of Humanities started the most companies, followed by students from the Faculty of Science.

While the numbers of new companies started by students are on the rise, it seems like the University of Copenhagen is lagging far behind in the number of courses about ‘entrepreneurship’ compared to Aarhus University, Copenhagen Business School and Technical University of Denmark DTU. But this is an illusion, according to Anna Haldrup.

»Most of the measures of entrepreneurship courses look at the titles. And, true enough we have few courses that have entrepreneurship or innovation in the title. This is because our strategy is at integrating innovative mindset into the regular courses. We educate our professors at thinking their subject in terms of entrepreneurship and usability,« Anna Haldrup explains.

Nina Gade, project manager of the Next Generation initiative says that they are redefining the discourse on entrepreneurship.

»Most students think it is only about starting your own business. But it is a much broader definition. It is about thinking innovatively and being able to apply theory to practical problems.«

International students have the advantage

The financial crisis has meant more student interest and applicants for initiatives like Katapult and Next
Generation, according to Nina Gade. This is confirmed by Peter Conrad Ottesen, head of daily operations at Katapult.

»The financial crisis makes students think in new ways and change their focus. They wonder whether they have other options than becoming an employee or scientist,« Peter explains. He adds that Katapult »has a lot of interest from international students. Around 25 per cent of interest is from internationals.«

International students stand at an advantage, according to Nina Gade of Next Generation.

»From the very start they can analyze the Danish market and see what it is lacking because they have experienced other markets. They have a global mindset and international ambitions. And they speak English – the language of entrepreneurship.«

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