Chapter 3. Enhancing leadership and governance in Poland’s higher education institutions

This chapter provides an in-depth discussion of leadership and governance in higher education institutions in Poland related to promoting and supporting the entrepreneurial university. This includes highlighting good practice leadership and governance examples and models in Poland, as well as the key leadership and governance barriers to strengthening entrepreneurship support. It also provides recommendations for higher education institutions and for public policy.


3.1. Introduction

Strong leadership and governance are critical to the creation and development of “entrepreneurial universities” by providing support and incentives for entrepreneurship and innovation activities and ensuring that such activities are undertaken in a structured and systemic manner, rather than being sporadic or relying too heavily upon the personal initiative of any set of individuals. Leadership and governance is one of the main pillars of the HEInnovate framework. This framework identifies and number of good practices in the area of leadership and governance of higher education institutions (HEIs), supported by recent research (e.g. Graham, 2014) that assesses how leading “entrepreneurial universities” manage their ambitions, activities and results in this area. Common features of these higher education institutions (HEIs) include:

  • Well-connected networks of entrepreneurship champions;

  • Public endorsements by senior management;

  • A supportive context provided by regional and national governments;

  • Strong relationships built on trust with the regional entrepreneurship and innovation community;

  • An active student entrepreneurial movement; and

  • The ability to create a market for university entrepreneurship.

Recent reforms in the Polish higher education system have strengthened many of these features of HEIs in Poland. These reforms include the 2011 and 2014 changes in the Law on Higher Education. Combined, they attempt to radically change the model of higher education with new objectives and activities, such as: i) raising external revenues for HEIs; ii) increasing the participation of external stakeholders in HEIs’ activities and curriculum development; iii) providing incentives for academic staff to create spinoffs; iv) increasing the commercialisation of research results; v) including entrepreneurship skills in the National Qualifications Framework for Higher Education; vi) adjusting education programmes and courses to the social and economic needs of Poland; vii) increasing the impact of higher education and HEIs on the social, economic and international environment; viii) providing additional public funding for HEIs that demonstrate strong links with the social and economic environment; and ix) tracking alumni and graduates’ employment levels.

These reforms are largely government-driven, demonstrating leadership for a move towards a more entrepreneurial and innovative higher education sector. The changes provide HEIs with the potential to adopt new models for HEI leadership appointments (e.g. to enable candidates from outside the respective university to apply for rector posts, or to have external stakeholders participate in the election process, as is the case in other countries), or create specific qualified offices to lead innovation and entrepreneurship initiatives, including exposure for some of their staff to international best practices (e.g. Top 500 Innovators programme). HEIs are also increasingly encouraged and expected to demonstrate leadership in their communities.

The Polish higher education system is quite heterogeneous, with a large number and wide variety of more than 400 HEIs, with different natures, scopes and surrounding environments. Regardless of their nature, all HEIs can be entrepreneurial and make contributions to their communities. While HEIs can have a common roadmap of possibilities in this area, there is not, and neither should there be, a “one size fits all” response for the way each particular HEI positions itself, sets priorities and defines how it wants to be entrepreneurial.

3.2. Analysis and findings

Many actors at the national level create opportunities but also co-ordination challenges

Any choices regarding leadership and governance models need to take into account the existing actors that have a role in the creation of entrepreneurial HEIs in Poland. At the national level, there are many stakeholders in the higher education system. Table 3.1 presents a list of stakeholders that are engaged with HEIs in activities related to innovation and entrepreneurship in Poland. Having a broad view of the key actors helps in the construction of entrepreneurial and innovative HEIs, since effective interactions will need an appropriate governance model with proper interfaces.

Table 3.1. The main national stakeholders for entrepreneurial HEIs

Academic Network of Entrepreneurship Educators


Association of HEI Career Offices

Association of HEI Industrial Property Offices

Association of HEI Technology Transfer Offices

Business Angels

Central Statistical Office of Poland

Companies with Large R&D Activities

Company Accelerators

Conference of Rectors of Academic Schools in Poland

Conference of Rectors of Vocational Schools in Poland

Conference of Vice-Rectors for Innovation and Entrepreneurship

Entrepreneurs (including young entrepreneurs, science-based entrepreneurs, social entrepreneurs and serial entrepreneurs)

Foundation for Polish Science

Foundation of Academic Incubators of Entrepreneurship

Gazelle Companies

General Council of Science and Higher Education

High Growth Companies

Innovative and Entrepreneurial Academic Staff Members

Inventors and Patent Holders


National Centre for Research and Development

National Science Centre

Network of HEI Special Vehicle Companies for Supporting Spinoff Creation and Development

NGO with Relevant Activities in the areas of Innovation and Entrepreneurship

Other Incubators or Co-work Facilities

Parliament of the Students of the Republic of Poland

PhD students union representative

Polish Accreditation Committee (PKA)

Polish Agency for Enterprise Development

Polish Business Innovation Centres Association

Polish Information and Foreign Investment Agency

Polish Patent Office

Polish Rectors Foundation

Prime-Minister, Minister of Science and Higher Education and Other Ministries (e.g education, employment, economy, regional development, finances)

Provinces (Government at the Voivodship-level)

Schools and Teachers from other Levels of Education

Science-based Incubators

Science Parks


Spinoff Companies

Start-up Poland Foundation

Student Research Societies Representative

Venture Capitalists

That so many useful players have been identified is a positive sign about the present dynamics and interested parties that can have a role in building a more entrepreneurial higher education system. Some of these actors are dispersed across Poland and its regions, although with different levels of performance, maturity and activities. They do provide a good underlying organisational infrastructure for Polish HEIs to rely on to accomplish their entrepreneurial ambitions. They are potential partners that, with proper choices and adaptations, may be asked to provide support to the HEIs’ entrepreneurial agendas. They may also be called on to participate in the governance models of HEIs. Given the specific mission and surrounding environment of any specific HEI, an appropriate group of selected stakeholders, reflecting some of the types of players identified above, can be invited to participate in the HEIs’ leadership and governance models.

At the same time, the large number of stakeholders creates a need for careful management since there is great potential for duplication of efforts. Such duplication was observed on several occasions during the study visits and some of the ongoing initiatives were not aware of each other.

There is therefore a need to ensure a multi-level and multi-perspective co-ordination of existing actors and initiatives, combining both top-down and bottom-up contributions. The objective should be to create synergies and consolidated learning communities with high degrees of interaction while avoiding duplications. It is important to create a system where objectives are shared across stakeholders to create a consistency of purpose. A good example of such a multi-level view and implementation involves the multiple contributions and interactions surrounding the UMCS Maria Curie-Sklodowska University (Box 3.1).

Box 3.1. Multi-level innovation, UMCS Maria Curie-Sklodowska University

The UMCS Maria Curie-Sklodowska University, in Lublin, provides an example of a coherent innovation strategy linked with other regional actors, and defined and managed under a multi-level approach, going all the way from the region to the individual activities of any particular UMCS Faculty, but always with strong UMCS participation.

The Lubelskie region developed its Regional Innovation Strategy for Smart Specialisation (RIS3) considering national policies and the strengths of the region’s HEIs, including UMCS. Taking into account available resources and assumed priorities, the strategy points to four areas of smart specialisation (which are also highlighted in the UMCS strategy): i) bioeconomy; ii) medicine and health; iii) information technology and automation; and iv) low-carbon emission energy production. Through the strategy, the region aims to improve its regional innovation performance, and also to: i) effectively use its endogenous potential; ii) create high added value products and services; iii) be open to innovation; and iv) co‐operate and link with the outside world economically and scientifically. For that to happen, the following objectives are considered: i) developing territorial capital, especially in the areas of smart specialisation; ii) strengthening the regional research and innovation system to be based on the quadruple helix that joins together all stakeholders interested in the co-operation; iii) incorporating the region into the national as well as international chain of innovation and co-operation network; iv) developing effective instruments to support innovation and competitiveness of the regional economy; and v) stimulating dynamic advantages of the location. With clear targets and well-defined programmes to implement it, this strategy relies a lot upon the 97 research institutions located in the region, with UMCS being one of the strongest contributors. To support the implementation of this strategy, a governance model was adopted that comprises the Board of the Region, a Council for Innovation, and a Managing Authority.

At the city level, Lublin identifies itself as being a “City of Inspiration”, with nine HEIs and significant involvement from UMCS. Even within its municipality organisational structure, the city has a Strategy and Investor Relations Department to support innovation. It has the following divisions: i) investor relations; ii) academic relations; iii) entrepreneurship support and co-operation with business; iv) strategy and socio-economic analysis; and v) marketing.

Another important actor in Lublin is the Lublin Science and Technology Park, which has a variety of functions, including; i) incubation of nearly 20 start-ups; ii) company related laboratories; iii) co-working spaces; and iv) training and conference halls, space for exhibits and events.

It is under the scope of such a multi-level innovation environment that UMCS undertakes a wide range of innovation and entrepreneurship activities to meet the specific goals and priorities contained in its own strategic development plans. The university goals and plans recognise the importance of relationships with the regional economy, including: i) providing information about the UMCS activities; ii) building a positive image about UMCS; iii) using the potential of the UMCS to promote the regional economy; iv) creating a consistent scientific research agenda; and v) receiving valuable inputs for the development of curricula. Among the many entrepreneurial activities carried out by UMCS and its Faculties, the following may be mentioned as examples: i) creation of spinoff companies; ii) patent registration; iii) collaborations with SME and large companies; iv) international activities, including academic units that specialise in studying and promoting the culture of given countries, such as China or Portugal; v) existence of a media and art incubator, as well as important participation in Lublin cultural activities; vi) regular collaboration with public administration at different levels and working for a wide variety of entities; and vii) support to entrepreneurs and their projects, as well as free services provided to low income students.

To implement this entrepreneurial agenda, UMCS counts on a number of different units and consortia, including; i) a decisive role played by its own Centre for Innovation and Commercialisation of Research, whose mission is to promote “knowledge exchange and co-operation with socio-economic environment”; ii) collaboration with other organisations, such as the Foundation for Lubelskie Development, which includes a Cluster of Business Support with 17 institutions that create joint projects, provide training and coaching, as well as business angels investments; iii) creation of consortia, addressing large scale and multidisciplinary issues, such as the recently launched Ecotech-Complex; and iv) active participation in 14 clusters, including information and communication technologies, Lublin Econ-Energy/Medicine/Business Environment Institutions, Advanced Air Technology, Biotechnology, Design and Fashion, Eastern Poland Geo-information, and Photonics and Optical Fibres.

A recent example of this approach is the Ecotech-Complex, which promotes interdisciplinary research for advanced environmental friendly technologies, involving UMCS but also a number of other partners. With an investment of approximately EUR 40 million, it is expected to have over 100 people working there, spread over 20 different laboratories, addressing challenges such as: i) eco-materials and technologies; ii) novel bio-fuels and bio‐fertilisers; iii) waste management and sustainable solutions; and iv) new environmental hazards management approaches. Amongst other advanced research equipment, it will have seven Tesla Magnetic Resonance unit available for clinical research (there are only about 50 of these facilities in the world).

HEIs typically have strong leadership but leadership continuity is a concern

HEIs have different degrees of ambition and participation in the entrepreneurial agenda. This is true across all countries. In Poland, there are examples of HEIs where leaders have largely reacted to new challenges raised by national policies, but others that have carried out substantial changes on their own initiative. By realising the relevance of third mission goals and activities they can create additional benefits for the economy and society. A good example is the PWSZ State University of Applied Science in Elblag, which has a high level of interaction with its community (Box 3.2).

Box 3.2. A strong local innovation ecosystem driver, The PWSZ State University of Applied Science in Elblag

Under the strong leadership of its Rector, the PWSZ State University of Applied Science in Elblag, has been successful in promoting and actively contributing to the local innovation ecosystem in Elblag.

Co-operation with external companies is very intensive. This includes the participation of companies in teaching activities and agreements with important local companies (e.g. ALSTOM, METROTEST, MAAG Zamach, OpenGieka, METRAL-EXPERT, PARTEX) to make their laboratories available for hosting classes, enabling students from various courses to learn in real world application environments.

External organisations are represented on the university’s advisory board, which is composed of 20 people and chaired by a successful alumnus and entrepreneur. It meets on a regular basis (at least every three months), providing feedback and suggestions to the Rector and his team. This advice is well-received and used by the university’s leadership.

There are easy triple helix collaborations between the university and a wide range of relevant stakeholders (e.g. the local authority, science park, companies, clusters and NGOs mostly involving alumni). Strong institutional collaboration has also been established with Regional Labour Offices, including full access to their databases and knowledge on job market needs and trends, thus contributing to high employment levels for graduates.

There are easy triple helix collaborations between the university and a wide range of relevant stakeholders (e.g. the local authority, science park, companies, clusters and NGOs mostly involving alumni. Strong institutional collaboration has also been established with Regional Labour Offices, including full access to their databases and knowledge on job market needs and trends, thus contributing to high employment levels for graduates.

The role the university plays in local economic development is highlighted by the indicators in the international Multirank platform. For example, over 74% of student internships are in the region, there are more than one thousand active agreements and contracts with external entities, and at least 50% of the university’s academic staff has practical professional experience in corresponding fields of expertise (over 30% have part-time working affiliations outside of the university).

Entrepreneurship skills are promoted and have been translated into the creation of start-ups by alumni, including entrepreneurship courses offered for certain sectors in which students have established businesses (e.g. IT, new kindergartens, security related activities).

At the same time, there are challenges in ensuring that this leadership is institutionalised. There is a need to ensure that regardless of possible changes of individual leaders (e.g. rectors, deans, agency presidents, and mayors) there are structured and systemic approaches to maintain the initiatives and linkages that are forged by HEI leaders. This likely requires professional offices to carry out collaboration on an ongoing basis so that evolutions and progress become sustained and sustainable, and irreversible.

Public HEIs have less involvement with external stakeholders than non-public HEIs

There is scope to increase the involvement of external stakeholders supporting the entrepreneurial agenda of HEIs. As shown in Figure 3.1, non-public HEIs in Poland tend to have stronger ties with external stakeholders and the business community than public HEIs.

Figure 3.1. Stakeholder participation in HEI governing bodies
“Are external stakeholders members of your HEI’s governing bodies?”

Note: Total number of respondents was 28, of which 22 were public HEIs, 6 were non-public HEIs; 7 were case study HEIs and 21 were not case study HEIs.

Source: OECD (2016), OECD HEI Leader Survey Poland.

It is also important to unify internal stakeholders so that they work together towards a common set of objectives. The entrepreneurial vision at most HEIs tends to focus on key target groups such as academic staff and researchers but sometimes overlooks other important actors, such as career offices.

Moreover, it is also crucial to mobilise students, who are often quite active in activities outside of their courses, including research, entrepreneurship and community engagement. The SGH Warsaw School of Economics provides a good example of student participation in the HEI’s entrepreneurial agenda (Box 3.3).

Box 3.3. The role of students, SGH Warsaw School of Economics

Entrepreneurial universities depend, among other factors, upon sound contributions and engagement from entrepreneurial students. As identified by Graham (2014), student-led entrepreneurship and innovation activity has been critical in leading entrepreneurial universities internationally, with “an empowered, cohesive, inventive, bold and well‐connected student led entrepreneurial community, benefitting from sustained low‐level funding, seasoned entrepreneurial mentors and direct connections to university senior management”.

This principle is followed at the SGH Warsaw School of Economics, where there is a considerable number of approaches to creating a “student-centred” environment. This is also reflected in the unique way in which SGH is organised, leading to deep research-based teaching. Its organisational structure includes five colleges, together with the corresponding deans. In addition, bachelor and master’s education is supervised by two additional deans. Student representatives, including PhD students, are present not only at the senate level, but also in the colleges.

The community of 13 000 students, including 800 international students from 60 countries, contribute to a variety of initiatives, including: i) Student Research Societies focused on innovation and entrepreneurship related projects; ii) the creation of several start-ups by recent alumni that hire SGH students; iii) support to the Corporate Partners Club, which includes 19 major companies with ties to SGH and its students; iv) regular promotion of events and job fairs; v) creation of new facilities with student participation and company sponsoring (e.g. Proctor&Gamble co-working space, OSTC Trading Lab); vi) fund raising campaigns; vii) master’s and doctoral theses conducted in strong collaboration with companies, as well as the participation of BSc students in the solution of practical real world company problems; ix) organisation of social events, such as the SGH charity run; and x) student cultural groups.

All these activities are aligned with the SGH mission, which promotes an “educational culture where employers and university work with their students very early and intensively”. This has led to a wide variety of positive results. For example, SGH students are highly sought after on the job market and have also achieved international recognition (e.g. as winners of the Google Online Marketing Challenge in 2012 and 2014).

The HEIs’ governance models contribute to student participation. In addition to student representatives in the colleges and senate, student involvement is promoted by: i) a student self-governance council, with 27 members, a management board and its president, that receives funding from SGH but is free to make its own decisions; ii) a network of 78 student organisations, including 54 student research societies (some of which carry out activities mostly related to innovation and entrepreneurship) and international student organisations; and iii) a Corporate Centre promotes collaborations with companies and supports “the exchange of ideas and experience between students, alumni, business and scientific experts”. Some of the student research societies more directly related to the entrepreneurial agenda, together with some of their flagship initiatives, are the following: i) the Student’s Business Club (organising several entrepreneurship promotion events, including Let’s Start Up!, with over 2 000 participants, and the High School Business Challenge); ii) Project Management (including PMDAYS, with over 200 participants, and the Solar Boat competition, in collaboration with students from the WUT Warsaw University of Technology); and iii) the Consulting Club (which organises a Marathon of Consulting Companies, with 120 participants, or Casemania).

From a strategic point of view and its practical implementation, students are a major driver in the creation of entrepreneurial environments and activities at SGH.

There are examples of clear HEI goals and objectives related to the entrepreneurial agenda

There is a need to ensure that proper goals are defined for the HEI entrepreneurial agenda, and the corresponding resources, rewards and incentives. This needs to be achieved at multiple levels ranging all the way from national targets to the individual evaluation that is made of academic staff. A good example of a Polish HEI with clear entrepreneurial strategic goals deployed across the HEI is the GUT Gdansk University of Technology (Box 3.4).

Box 3.4. Defining and implementing a strategy, GUT Gdansk University of Technology

The GUT Gdansk University of Technology makes entrepreneurship quite explicit in its strategy. Seeing itself as an “entrepreneurial university”, its mission definition puts education, research and innovation on equal ground. Its mission includes the objectives of “realising innovative undertakings to contribute to society”, in particular in science and technology, in line with its motto: “History is Wisdom – Future is Challenge”.

The third mission strategy has strong support from the Rector. In addition, GUT has a Vice-Rector in charge of Co-operation and Innovation, something that is quite unusual in the governance models adopted by Polish HEIs. It also relies on the close collaboration of the Deans of the different Faculties, as well as a number of professional and fully dedicated units for innovation and entrepreneurship promotion. Since 2008 it has been managed with a matrix system, where a vertical hierarchical structure is crossed with horizontal processes. External contributions are provided by an Advisory Council that is comprised of 38 members.

This governance model offers a clearly defined, well-structured and systemic approach for the implementation of innovation and entrepreneurship activities. It outlines responsibilities and processes to be carried out (e.g. commissioned research, scientific industrial consortia, direct or indirect commercialisation of R&D results, including incubation, development and divestment stages), and also defines sets of key performance indicators.

GUT’s relationships with external companies have involved a number of different initiatives or units, such as: i) the centre for knowledge and entrepreneurship, coupled with EXCENTO, a special-purpose entity for supporting spin-off creation; ii) participation in several “districts of knowledge” in Pomerania and existing clusters, as well as contributions to the regional Research and Innovation Strategy for Smart Specialisation; iii) strong interactions with alumni; iv) 400 co-operation agreements with HEIs from nearly 40 different countries; and v) involvement in innoBaltica, a regional company aimed at promoting research and innovation.

An interactive knowledge portal has also been developed, enabling internal and external stakeholders to search for information on: i) scientific workers and their competencies; ii) scientific publications; iii) research projects; iv) laboratory infrastructures; v) patents; and vi) innovation projects.

Some of the corresponding activities and outcomes include the following: i) 300 inventions ready for implementation, annual revenues from patent licensing of the order of EUR 500 000, about new 20 agreements closed every year, and around 55 new patent applications filed; ii) 700 agreements established with entrepreneurs over the past three years; iii) several collaboration projects with Polish and international companies (e.g. Intel, Samsung, IBM, GE, Schlumberger, Airbus), for a yearly volume of contract research placed at approximately EUR 4 million coming from 300 projects, and 25 R&D consortia including companies; and iv) creation of over five science based spin-off companies since 2013.

Through these efforts, together with its laboratory facilities and human capital, GUT is making a positive contribution to the emerging concepts of “Innovation Valley” in Gdansk and the “Baltic Hub of Knowledge and Entrepreneurship” (innoBaltica).

3.3. Conclusions and recommendations

Reinforce co-ordination mechanisms and multi-level governance

The newly created Innovations Council has a broad mandate and potential to play a significant role in supporting the Polish higher education system in becoming more entrepreneurial and innovative. To promote this agenda, the Innovation Council could take the following steps: i) define and adjust the national strategy, goals and ambitions regarding innovation and entrepreneurship in Polish HEIs; ii) develop and discuss an annual report on progress made and performances achieved; iii) map existing initiatives, adjust them and create new initiatives, with identification of corresponding allocations of resources; iv) clarify the national roadmap for making higher education more entrepreneurial and innovative, providing information on “who is doing what” in this field; v) define incentives, rewards and awards to motivate and promote further participation in entrepreneurial and innovative higher education activities; and vi) ensure that there is a periodic and efficient use of the HEInnovate platform to support self-assessment and improvement of Polish HEIs in these areas. Similar councils could be defined at the regional level (e.g. in articulation with their Research and Innovation Strategies for Smart Specialisation [RIS3]), or at local level, with proper adaptations regarding membership and goals.

An example of how such councils and committees can play a role in building strong innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystems can be found in Hong Kong, which is making rapid advances in start-up support (Box 3.5).

Box 3.5. An emerging innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem, Hong Kong


The Government of Hong Kong is determined to develop Hong Kong into an innovation hub for technology. This effort is being led by a Secretary for Innovation and Technology, who supervises the activities of the Innovation and Technology Bureau (ITB). ITB is responsible for policy matters on the development of innovation and technology and information technology, with the aim “to create a vibrant ecosystem for the government, industry, academia and research sector to interact under a favourable environment with excellent software and hardware support for developing and applying innovation and technology”. It oversees the operation of the Innovation and Technology Commission and the Office of the Government Chief Information Officer. Public policies with funding and incentives in this area include: i) the innovation and technology fund; and ii) the R&D Cash Rebate Scheme, to promote company investments in research activities.

Some other key actors regarding innovation and entrepreneurship promotion in Hong Kong are the following:

  1. Innovation and Technology Commission, launched in 2000, already mentioned above, with five core strategic objectives (provide world-class technology infrastructures for enterprises, research institutions and universities; offer financial support to develop and commercialise R&D results; nurture talent; strengthen collaboration with China Mainland and other economies; foster a culture of innovation). Among many other initiatives, it organises every year the “InnoTech Month”, with a variety of events aimed at fostering an innovation culture, namely across students, through competitions such as the Student Science Project, Joint School Science Exhibition or Innovation and Technology Scholarship awards;

  2. Five R&D centres, whose mission is to drive and co-ordinate applied R&D, were established in 2006, for strategic areas of development (automotive parts; ICT; logistics and supply chain management; nanotechnology and advanced materials; textiles and clothing);

  3. Advisory Committee on Innovation and Technology, under a new format established in 2015 and chaired by the Advisor to the Chief Executive on Innovation and Technology;

  4. The Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Corporation, established in 2001, provides an integrated portfolio of services, including support to start-ups, and the 22-hectare Hong Kong Science Park has several target sectors (electronics, IT, biotechnology, precision engineering and green technology), with access to common equipment and laboratories;

  5. The Hong Kong Applied Science and Technology Research Institute, created in 2000, conducts leading applied R&D to be transferred to companies and hosts new graduates from universities in such projects;

  6. The Hong Kong Productivity Council promotes productivity excellence across available value chains, in order to enhance regional competitiveness at the international level, through the adoption of innovative solutions.

A clear vision, together with well-defined strategic priorities and actions, and an integrated and aligned network of institutions, under a consistent organisational structure, contribute to the definition and implementation of ambitious innovation and entrepreneurship developments in Hong Kong. Most of them rely on Hong Kong universities becoming even better and more and more entrepreneurial.

These efforts are having positive results. For example, the latest COMPASS results (The Global Start-up Ecosystem Ranking 2015) indicate that Hong Kong has become one of the top emergent entrepreneurial ecosystems in the world (Top 25). Over 2 000 technology based start-ups have been created recently. Furthermore, younger generations are becoming less risk-averse.

As for priorities regarding further improvement of start-up creation and development in Hong Kong, the COMPASS report identifies the following issues: i) increase global know-how among entrepreneurs; ii) improve availability of top technical talent; iii) grow the Tech Angel investor community; iv) develop and execute sub-sector strategies; and v) continue to increase entrepreneurial activities.

Relevance to Poland

Hong Kong is not yet one of the top regions in the world in terms of start-up support environments, but is quickly approaching such a status, and therefore may provide inspiration for Poland or some of its regions, to adopt similar ambitions and consolidate existing environments, to support further growth of innovation and entrepreneurship activities and results.

This example may provide helpful insights to the Polish Government and its relevant public agencies, in coming up with potential improvements concerning setting the clear goal of entrepreneurship and innovation activities and consolidating existing networks and structures, including a clarification of the major roles to be played by each actor.

Existing or new Advisory Boards at the level of each HEI could play a similar role to the new Innovations Council at national level. The roles of such Advisory Boards in Polish HEIs have so far been mostly of consultation and providing non-binding opinions. However, at least for some HEIs, revamped Advisory Boards playing the role of a “Council for Innovation and Entrepreneurship” could also have some decision making duties, namely regarding the definition and approval of HEI strategies, plans of activities, or even definitions of targets to be achieved, and reviews of results from ongoing initiatives. This evolution, from a stricter advisory to a more shared decision making role, has been made in several countries, with positive results in terms of further contributions to the entrepreneurial and innovative HEI.

In order to define and implement HEI strategies regarding innovation and entrepreneurship with inputs received from such Boards, it is important that a senior manager (e.g. Rector or Vice-Rector, or Dean or Vice-Dean) is given responsibility for third mission activities. Such a person would be responsible for defining and implementing entrepreneurial activities. Their duties would include: i) defining and adjusting the HEI strategy, goals and ambitions regarding innovation and entrepreneurship, taking into account inputs coming from the national, regional and local levels (i.e. top-down) and from the Council for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, students, alumni, companies, academic and other staff, faculties, institutes or departments (i.e. bottom-up); ii) prepare and discuss an annual report on progress made and performance achieved; iii) map existing initiatives, adjusting them and creating possible new ones, with corresponding allocations of resources; iv) clarify the HEI roadmap, providing information on “who is doing what” in this field; v) define incentives, rewards and awards to motivate and promote further participation in entrepreneurial HEI related activities; vi) ensure that there is a periodic and efficient use of the HEInnovate platform to support self-assessment and improvement in the entrepreneurial and innovative HEI agenda; and vii) increase horizontal integration and interdisciplinary co‐operation across the HEI with regards to teaching and learning, and research activities.

At a more operational level, innovation and entrepreneurship activities can be boosted if they are promoted by and receive support from dedicated professional offices within the HEI, working in close co-operation with external stakeholders. The exact taxonomy of such services can vary, and there is a lot to gain if they collaborate and have co-ordinated efforts, something that can be more easily achieved if they fall under the leadership of a common Vice-Rector for innovation and entrepreneurship. Various combinations and roles for such supporting units were observed in the case study HEIs, but in general covering the following activities: i) career office; ii) technology transfer office; iii) industrial property management office; iv) special purpose vehicle company owned by HEI that promotes the creation of spinoff companies; v) science based incubator; vi) other incubation or co-working facilities; and vii) connections with Science Parks, business accelerators and investors.

It is also important to ensure that all relevant members of the HEI community have an active role and contribute actively to the HEI’s innovation and entrepreneurship activities. This may be achieved both by further involvement of such players in the governance models chosen, and by establishing appropriate communication channels to collect their opinions and suggestions on a regular basis. These relationships can benefit a lot from organisational structures that encourage interactions with: i) alumni; ii) students and student research societies; iii) PhD students; and iv) young professors and researchers. Those perspectives are generally found to be particularly helpful for strengthening the entrepreneurship and innovation agendas within the HEI community, but are not part of the usual HEI organisational and governance models.

Increase international participation and benchmarking

Relative to other countries, the Polish higher education system has a low level of international participation in terms of leadership, governance and benchmarking in the areas of innovation and entrepreneurship. There are several ways in which international perspectives can be deepened in the Polish higher education system. One possibility is to adopt International Advisory Boards within each HEI. These Boards would include a number of international members, as well as possibly Polish nationals who have been developing their careers abroad (in HEIs, leading companies or other organisations).

Given that more structured approaches to innovation and entrepreneurship management in the Polish higher education system are still somewhat young, it may be particularly helpful for people playing leading positions either at the top level (e.g. Rectors, Deans) or technical level (e.g. Technology Transfer, Career, Industrial Property Offices Directors), to have the chance of further learning opportunities, provided also through international collaborations.

One option that has obtained good results in other countries involves short training courses with the participation of international experts that are designed to be attended only by higher education and HEI leaders. Such courses could cover issues and best practices in the definition and implementation of the entrepreneurial and innovative HEI, including case studies from Poland and abroad. Other Polish initiatives that have had considerable success in the past and deserve consideration for continued use in the future are the Top 500 Innovators Programme and the Young Design Management Programme, which involved exchanges of key staff members and professors from HEIs, including international exchanges.

The potential could also be explored of having international experts and professors staying, as visiting fellows, at a given HEI for a certain period of time, focusing on innovation and entrepreneurship related activities, and bringing in their own experiences and knowledge to be shared in the context of the Polish higher education. A well-defined but small number of positions (including for instance specific Chairs dedicated to innovation and entrepreneurship) might be created, under attractive terms, in order for some international academic or other staff with relevant experience of HEI entrepreneurial and innovative activities, to remain in Poland. Their role would be to lead activities in this area during their stay, as well as to provide coaching, benchmarking and training to some key people in the definition and implementation of the Polish entrepreneurial and innovative HEI agenda.

From another perspective, learning opportunities can be created or strengthened at the national level but also in close collaboration with similar international experiences regarding the following communities of practice and learning: i) Vice-Rectors in charge of innovation and entrepreneurship; ii) technology transfer offices; iii) career offices; iv) patent offices; v) special purpose vehicle companies to support the creation of spinoffs; vi) entrepreneurship teaching and teachers; vii) science based incubators; viii) science parks; and ix) start-up accelerators. In a more formal way, regular meetings for exchanging knowledge and testimonies in these areas can take place, as well as the construction of IT-based platforms for promoting further interactions, sharing of practical case studies and knowledge. International experiences and knowledge can be brought in from similar initiatives in other countries or existing international networks in related areas (e.g. HEInnovate, CONEEECT, ASTPPROTON).

Develop more integrated entrepreneurship strategies and define targets

In order to support a strategy for moving towards more entrepreneurial and innovative HEIs in Poland, it will be useful to set targets for all the actors in the system, together with links that try to assure overall consistency and alignment.

Where possible, a common set of targets and indicators for the entrepreneurial and innovative HEI may be considered that can be applied by all HEIs. Such a set of metrics and indicators should be discussed between the Ministry of Science and Higher Education, HEIs, and the Innovation Council. The common indicators may be a more limited set of criteria than those used by some HEIs, but should provide wide coverage of the core innovation and entrepreneurship activities to be carried out across the system and their expected outcomes.

Some potential metrics could include the following: i) percentage of students that receive a coverage of core innovation and entrepreneurship concepts of at least three ECTS; ii) perceived “fear of failure” in the Polish population; iii) amounts of contract research, development and innovation activities with companies and other external non-academic organisations carried out by HEIs; iv) number of joint publications with authors from HEIs and companies or other organisations; v) HEI revenues from patent licensing agreements; vi) number of spin-off companies created; vii) number of gazelle companies created; viii) number of companies and other external organisations having regular collaborations with HEIs; ix) number of students that as alumni are working in the local or regional economy of the HEI; x) average wages of alumni; xi) number of jobs created at the local or regional level by companies and organisations related to the HEI, its staff or alumni; and xii) number of HEIs that are conducting HEInnovate self-assessments and improvements.

Collection of such a set of indicators should help ensure that strategies are properly defined, deployed and implemented, at different scales (national, regional, local, HEI, HEI faculties/institutes, or even Departments), and that the loop gets closed, with information and reporting being collected, so that periodic reviews can be made. An integrated periodic overall analysis could be conducted by the new Innovation Council or under the leadership of the Ministry of Science and Higher Education.

Within each HEI, leadership and governance model choices can be made in order to ensure that the agenda for the entrepreneurial and innovative HEI covers the whole spectrum of Faculties/Institutes/Departments, as two recent examples from MIT illustrate (Box 3.6).

Box 3.6. New University-Wide Initiatives at MIT, USA


Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is a well-known HEI, located in Cambridge, USA. It is particularly recognised for its achievements in the areas of innovation and entrepreneurship. Every five years, it assesses its impacts in these areas, the latest report having been released in December 2015. Some of the main results conveyed in this report show, amongst other outcomes, that: i) 25% of its alumni founded companies; ii) 31% of its alumni hold patents; iii) 55% of its alumni lead intrapreneurship and new product development projects; and iv) through its academic staff, students and alumni, over 30 000 active companies were created, employing approximately 4.6 million people and generating annual revenues of nearly USD 2 trillion (approximately EUR 1.8 trillion).

As an entrepreneurial and innovative HEI, MIT continually revisits its approaches to come up with improved solutions for becoming even more entrepreneurial. A major new programme called MIT Innovation Initiative (MITii) was launched at the end of 2013 as the result of a challenge originally placed by the MIT President who asked a 19-member Advisory Committee, including academic staff from all of its Schools, to define what should be done in this regard. In response, the Committee produced a report, “The MIT Innovation Initiative: Sustaining and Extending a Legacy of Innovation”, which defined the scope, activities and structure for the MITii, as it stands to this day.

MITii works with all five MIT Schools. It is led by two co-directors, one from the School of Management and the other from the School of Engineering (both being also Associate Deans for Innovation). They report to the Provost, a key position with close connections to all Deans. They also have strong support from the MIT President, who mentored the programme since its inception. MITii also receives contributions from a Faculty Advisory Committee (comprised of 19 academic staff coming from all Schools) and the Provost’s Innovation Leadership Group (made of nine well-known senior Professors, also from several Schools). This governance structure provides transversal involvement of all the MIT units into the project, defined as being “an Institute-wide agenda to educate the next generation of global innovators, preparing them to move ideas to impact more effectively throughout their lives by combining hands-on innovation practice opportunities for building expertise in the innovation process with insights developed from the evidence-based innovation science”.

The corresponding MITii activities are organised according to the following pillars: i) innovation practice programmes; ii) innovation science and policy; iii) innovation communities; and iv) innovation infrastructure. Some of the ongoing projects, that help to accomplish the MITii goals include: i) a laboratory for innovation science and policy, with people from all the Schools; ii) a wide variety of teaching offers in the areas of innovation and entrepreneurship; iii) translational fellows and impact programmes for postdocs; iv) an innovation diplomats programme for students; v) StartMIT, designed to inspire students of engineering to become entrepreneurs; vi) Catalyst, aimed to accelerate the impact of translational research; and viii) a number of programmes related to manufacturing, including the Advanced Functional Fabrics of America consortium, Manufacturing Innovation Institutes as new public-private partnerships, Advanced Manufacturing Partnership, Production in the Innovation Economy, Education and Workforce Training with Industry Partners, Manufacturing Technology Roadmaps and Strategies.

Under a similar type of arrangement, the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship provides “the expertise, support and connections MIT students need to become effective entrepreneurs”. It also serves the overall MIT community, across all Schools and disciplines, together with initiatives for high school students and entrepreneurship teachers. Its main activities correspond to five major axes of intervention: i) entrepreneurship courses; ii) professional advice and mentoring support; iii) a variety of competitions, prizes and entrepreneurship clubs; iv) ongoing promotion of relevant events; and v) global founders’ skills accelerator. Overall, there is offer each term, which corresponds to nearly 30 formal and for-credit courses on entrepreneurship, besides online learning opportunities, including “MIT Launch X”, conceived for secondary education students. These entrepreneurship courses cover: i) foundation subjects; ii) skill set electives; iii) industry focus electives; and iv) other electives. As for additional novelties, available to undergraduate MIT students from all backgrounds, a new class of “Venture Engineering” (jointly taught by two professors from the Engineering School and two others from the Sloan School of Management) was offered in the Spring of 2016 for the first time, and a minor in Innovation and Entrepreneurship is about to become available.

Founded in 1990, the Martin Trust Centre for MIT Entrepreneurship also provides in its facilities collaborative workspace, meeting rooms with IdeaPaint walls and mentoring support. It also offers intensive short programmes, of around one week duration. These activities are part of a global environment where, in a matrix way, several MIT units (e.g. Venture Mentoring Service, Martin Trust Center for Entrepreneurship, Legatum Center for Development and Entrepreneurship, Desphande Center for Technological Innovation, Technology Licensing Office, Media Lab Entrepreneurship Programme and Lemelson) cover different stages of the evolution and development of entrepreneurial projects (e.g. invention, business idea, validation, commercialisation, business plan, company formation, early stage, scaling and high growth), so that a full spectrum of support mechanisms is made available, without major redundancies.

Relevance to Poland

This example can inspire Polish HEIs to further promote entrepreneurial activities and define governance models where all the different faculties/institutes get deeply involved in the definition and implementation of the entrepreneurial agendas. These choices can help in removing possible barriers or walls between parts of the HEI, so that more integrated initiatives can be designed and implemented, with appropriate contributions and participations from all of the HEI community, regardless of any particular School, Department or Course specificities.

Proper resources, incentives and activities should also be put in place for technology commercialisation. This requires recognition of the number of steps and length of time involved in technology innovation processes (Saraiva, 2016), which range from research-related activities (e.g. ideation and ignition of science-based spin-offs) to activities that are closer to market or social applications (e.g. acceleration of already existing start-ups into international markets). The following sequence of maturity stages in technology development may each need to be supported in certain ways: i) basic principles observed; ii) technology concept formulated; iii) experimental proof of concept; iv) technology validated in lab; v) technology validated in relevant environment; vi) technology demonstrated in relevant environment; vii) system prototype demonstration in operational environment; viii) system complete and qualified; and ix) actual system proven in operational environment. No missing links should occur in this transformation process and appropriate responses, resources, decisions and incentives should be available, so that HEIs can move in the best possible way to next stage of development.

Strengthen incentives, awards and rewards

Proper incentive mechanisms are essential to support HEIs in their entrepreneurial agenda, and are strongly dependent upon the leadership and governance choices made. Strengthening incentives is one of the most powerful ways for getting on board not just a few academic staff who are strong supporters of entrepreneurial HEI activities, but a broader range of professors and researchers, as well as other members of the HEI community under a systemic and well-defined process. Expectations must nonetheless be set under realistic assumptions, since only a small percentage of academic staff are likely to get strongly involved in those activities, even in the most entrepreneurial HEI.

The criteria used for hiring, promoting or performance appraisals of academic staff is an area of concern for academic staff in Poland, but also in almost any other country. Typically these decisions end up being dominated by scientific related activities and results, with strong emphasis placed on the number of papers published and related bibliometric indicators (e.g. h-factor). Both at the national and the HEI levels, ways should be found to reinforce the role played by innovation and entrepreneurship related activities.

There is a range of possible mechanisms that can be used for providing incentives for entrepreneurship and innovation related activities, including: i) grants; ii) awards; iii) credits; iv) workload reductions in other areas for people conducting entrepreneurial activities; v) performance appraisals; vi) financial rewards; vii) tax reductions; viii) hiring and promotions; ix) recognition from leaders; and x) public and press recognitions.

It is up to HEI leaders to establish proper incentives, rewards, awards, recognitions and appraisals, in a way that should be consistent with the overall strategy, targets and expected results. Rather than just speaking about the importance of “third mission” activities, these positive reinforcements are critical for people to realise how serious and coherent the objective of the entrepreneurial and innovative HEI is in Poland.

Incentives may also be developed for companies and external organisations, that may push HEIs into the entrepreneurial track, including: i) tax incentives for R&D or innovation activities carried out by companies with HEIs; ii) vouchers of public funding to SMEs that conduct projects with HEIs; iii) incentives for the recruitment of people with a PhD degree by SMEs; and iv) grants for PhD work conducted in close collaboration with companies or other types of organisations.

It is important to take into account that incentives may cover a wide variety of situations and scales, including as their beneficiaries, among others, under a multi-level perspective: i) regions; ii) cities; iii) HEIs; iv) faculties and institutes; v) departments and divisions; vi) individuals (students, academic and other staff).

In particular, the formula used for defining the public funding budget given to each HEI could give more weight to activities in the areas of entrepreneurship and innovation. A revision of the current system could be considered, so that good HEI performances on the entrepreneurial and innovative HEI agenda can attract additional funding in order to motivate and drive further achievements.

Such incentives can be complemented by competitions and awards (e.g. business ideas and business plan contests). This could be developed in a national framework and an annual schedule, so that the best applications would be first recognised at the HEI level, then at the regional level, and finally at the national level, ending up with an annual event (e.g. HEInnovate Gala), where the best projects in each of a set of selected themes would be recognised, thus generating wide public and press coverage.

Increase use of learning tools such as HEInnovate

HEInnovate is a guidance platform for the entrepreneurial and innovative HEI that has been used by several hundred HEIs for self-assessment, inspiration and learning purposes. Its application is still quite limited in Poland, but national and HEI leaderships may play an important role in encouraging a large number of Polish HEIs to make use of the knowledge available through this platform, as well as having the assessment tool regularly applied by many Polish HEIs as an input to developing regular participative action plans for reinforcing their ambitions, activities and performances as entrepreneurial and innovative HEIs. It is important for Polish HEIs to explore and make proper use of the HEInnovate platform as an important source of knowledge and a tool that can help them in the definition and implementation of entrepreneurial strategies and initiatives. At the same time that they may also share their own experiences with the HEInnovate national and international communities, by participating in HEInnovate events or offering their own materials for this platform.

Such a periodic usage of HEInnovate, with well-defined procedures for analysis and review of approaches and results, could build on and consolidate a wide range of initiatives in HEIs in Poland. The University of Twente in the Netherlands offers a model of how HEInnovate can be used to support the development of an entrepreneurial HEI (Box 3.7).

Box 3.7. Strong Leadership, Clear Priorities and Results, University of Twente, Netherlands


A structured approach to becoming an entrepreneurial HEI began at the University of Twente (UT) several decades ago, including the creation of a technology transfer office in 1979, and the deliberate choice of a broader entrepreneurial agenda since the 1980s, including teaching activities, the self-imposed obligation to pursuit research relevant for society, and continuous co-operation with external entities, namely companies, the local economy and its surrounding community. UT was a founding member of the European Consortium of Innovative Universities. Leadership played a key role in defining and deploying such a strategy at the UT.

The UT strategy adopted governance models that integrate this entrepreneurial agenda across all levels and units of the university. “Rendering research useful for society” is an explicit UT top strategic goal and a corresponding core value of UT as an entrepreneurial university. Entrepreneurship promotion is also included in all of the university’s strategy documents, which make it clear that “this entrepreneurial spirit is an integral part of UT”.

These choices were made at the highest leadership level, i.e. by the UT Executive Board, and supported by the UT Supervisory Board. One of the three members of the Executive Board is in charge of entrepreneurship and innovation activities. UT Presidents have also often played a major role in supporting the entrepreneurial university agenda, since many held senior management positions in private companies prior to becoming the President of the UT. Within UT, in addition to involvement of top management and Faculties involvement, each of the research institutes has a business director and business development teams. Furthermore, an innovation co-ordination unit was created at the level of UT management, including the Executive Board Member in charge of innovation, the head of entrepreneurship research and education, the technology transfer director, the Chief Executive Officer of Kennispark and research institutes business directors, meeting on a monthly basis.

As a structure to guide this agenda, Kennispark was established as an umbrella entity, comprising UT, but also the Saxion University of Applied Sciences and local and regional government authorities, in order to promote: i) entrepreneurship; ii) innovation; and iii) an appropriate local ecosystem for innovation and entrepreneurship. Collaborations with other universities in the Netherlands have also been promoted, including joint affiliations of professors in the area of entrepreneurship.

All these activities have also resulted in a number of external recognitions for the UT, including awards for: i) the most entrepreneurial scientist in Netherlands; ii) the science park; and iii) national finalists of the European Entrepreneurship Programme.

With strong top management support, an ambitious strategy and sound governance and organisational structure models, UT is a good example of how universities can be made entrepreneurial, with results that do pay off, particularly when: i) research is asked to become more relevant to society through strong links with companies, the local economy and community; ii) a clear strategy is developed and is translated into goals, plans, activities and appropriate organisational structures across the overall institution; iii) co-ordination, integration and consistency are created at all levels, both within UT and between UT and external partners or other actors; and iv) strong leadership, at all levels, paves the way in the entrepreneurial journey.

Relevance to Poland

This example shows how persistence and determined strategic choices produce results when a university decides to be strong in the entrepreneurship and innovation areas.


Graham, R. (2014), “Creating university-based entrepreneurial ecosystems – evidence from emerging world leaders”, MIT Skoltech Initiative, MIT (2014).

OECD (2016), OECD HEI Leader Survey Poland.

Saraiva, P. (2015), Empreendedorismo: Do conceito à aplicação, da ideia ao negócio, da tecnologia ao valor. (Entrepreneurship: From concept to application, from idea to business, from technology to value.), Coimbra University Press, 700 pages, third edition, Coimbra.