Chapter 5. Preparing and supporting entrepreneurs in Poland’s higher education institutions

This chapter assesses support provided by Polish higher education institutions (HEIs) to students and academic staff in business creation. It provides an overview of the main structures that are currently in place to support business start-up by students and academic staff, including academic incubators, business accelerators and technology transfer offices. Based on case studies of seven universities in Warsaw, Gdansk, Elblag and Lublin, including a student survey, as well as a national HEI leaders’ survey, the analysis contained in this chapter identifies the strengths of the start-up support system and areas for improvement. Recommendations are made for both the Ministry of Science and Higher Education and the HEIs on how to bolster business start-up support for students and academic staff.


5.1. Introduction

A critical element of being an entrepreneurial university is to offer pathways for potential entrepreneurs (staff and students) to take entrepreneurial ideas to market, and to support them in this process. This is not just a process internal to the university but one where a pluralistic approach is necessary to provide access to internal and external opportunities and expertise. A key success factor in providing quality support for entrepreneurs is partnerships with the business community in the design and delivery of start-up support.

Preparing and supporting entrepreneurs entails targeted actions to assist students in the process of setting up a business. Business start-up education is needed to help students and staff acquire entrepreneurship skills that will help them successfully launch and grow businesses. This can be provided as an entrepreneurship training element within broader entrepreneurship education offers in the HEI curriculum, or through specific extra-curricular entrepreneurship training or other learning opportunities such as business plan competitions, business simulations and opportunities to learn from business experience.

Entrepreneurial universities also provide business start-up and development support for staff and students to convert their entrepreneurial ideas into action. This includes coaching and mentoring, access to university facilities, temporary business premises, support in developing networks and facilitation of access to financing for start-up. Universities can provide this support directly themselves with on-campus offerings, or by referring potential entrepreneurs to specialised start-up support services that are off-campus within the local community.

Higher education institutions (HEIs) generally face several challenges in preparing and supporting entrepreneurs. This includes the internal organisational structure of institutions. Faculties and departments often work separately and there are often obstacles, such as a rigid curriculum structure, that impede inter-disciplinary approaches and prevent students from taking entrepreneurship training courses when they are offered outside of their faculty. Another challenge is the inexperience in providing entrepreneurship training among teaching staff and business support staff. There can also be a problem of incentives to university teachers and researchers for supporting entrepreneurs or starting entrepreneurial ventures themselves, given the importance placed on research and publications in career reward systems. Furthermore, one of the most-often cited challenges of starting and scaling-up entrepreneurship programmes is funding. Many universities have difficulty funding entrepreneurship support initiatives and thus tend to rely on public financing. This however is a temporary solution as public funding may not be a sustainable source of financing.

5.2. Current approaches to preparing and supporting entrepreneurs

Components of the start-up support system

Poland has a comprehensive business start-up infrastructure, consisting of a wide range of institutions such as science and technology parks, technology incubators, academic and entrepreneurship incubators and technology transfer centres. These institutions are managed and operated by various public and private actors.

However, in recent years, there has been a reduction in the number of business start-up support institutions. In particular, the number of technology parks decreased from 54 in 2012 to 42 in 2014 and similarly the number of technology incubators decreased from 29 to 23 over the same period (PARP, 2014). This reduction is due to funding pressures.

Academic Incubators of Entrepreneurship

The principal structure for supporting students in business creation is the network of Academic Incubators of Entrepreneurship (AIP). This network consists of incubators that are situated within, or occasionally near, HEIs. They provide various services to student entrepreneurs, including training, legal advice, accounting services and premises. These offerings greatly vary from one centre to another. Students can operate their businesses without officially registering them; the businesses operate under the umbrella of AIP. One of the main advantages of this approach is that the businesses are not required to pay social security contributions.

The network of AIP incubators is operated by the Foundation of Academic Incubators of Entrepreneurship (see Box 5.1). It works with HEIs through formal agreements that allow AIPs to be set up on campus and the HEIs provide some promotion and funding. In 2015, there were 56 AIP incubators. Since their creation in 2004, AIP has led to the creation of 12 000 companies.

Box 5.1. Foundation of Academic Incubators of Entrepreneurship

The Foundation of Academic Incubators of Entrepreneurship operates the network of Academic Incubators of Entrepreneurship (AIPs) under agreements with HEIs. The Foundation is headquartered in Warsaw and represents the legal entity for each of the individual centres. It provides financial and administrative services for the AIP incubators in the network and their projects.

The Foundation of Academic Incubators of Entrepreneurship also operates “Business Links”, which is a network of five locations that provide a virtual address, co-working space, technical and organisational support, networking and pro-innovative services, to entrepreneurs and their companies during the pre-incubation and incubation phases. These centres differ from AIPs in that they offer space for student entrepreneurs to operate their business.

The AIP Foundation offers seed capital to companies operating in the AIP Business Link network. AIP Seed Capital offers PLN 100 000 (approximately EUR 22 750) in exchange for a 15% stake in the company. Calls are open monthly for companies seeking seed capital. Companies that receive seed funding may also be eligible for a second round of investment to grow their business internationally.

Student research circles

Another resource for supporting student entrepreneurs in Polish HEIs is student research circles, which are student clubs. These clubs have a sponsor from the university, who is typically a professor in the relevant field. The clubs are operated by students but the professors provide mentorship and advice when needed. Clubs focus on specific themes and most focus on scientific research or innovative technologies. However, there are a number that focus on business start-up (Box 5.2).

Box 5.2. Examples of student research circles supporting entrepreneurship at SGH Warsaw School of Economics

Start-ups and Innovations Student’s Science Club (SKN Start-upów Innowacjii)

The goal of this club is to promote entrepreneurship, focusing on eco-innovation, social innovation, and business creative solutions. The club was established in November 2015 and has a number of activities, including setting up opportunities for students to shadow start-ups in Warsaw to gain experience with business creation and management. One of its key projects for this academic year is to prepare a series of interactive workshops for students to meet and learn from entrepreneurs. The club currently has 21 members.

Students’ Business Club

This club actively promotes entrepreneurship and business education through a number of events such as “Let’s StartUp!”, Dragon’s Den, Tech Expo and Start-up Bridge. One of its best-known projects is “3-Day Startup”, which is an international event that is organised in co-operation with several large multi-national corporations such as Microsoft, Deloitte, P&G, and more. It is one of the largest clubs at the university, with more than 170 current members and alumni.

Consulting Club (SKN KONSULTINGU, Szkoła Główna Handlowa)

The goal of the consulting club is to help members acquire and improve their business management and soft skills. The club was established in 1998 and co-operates with Institute of Risk Management. Members have weekly meetings and can work on organisational projects. It also offers consulting services to companies operating in Warsaw. The club has 80 active members and has an alumni network for more than 200 people.

Project Management Business Club (Studenckie Koła Naukowe Zarządzania Projektami SGH)

This club aims to promote innovative solutions and best practice project management standards in the academic and business environments. It is an interdisciplinary club that has two main projects. First, “Project Management Days” is a 3-day event of lectures and workshops led by project management specialists. Last year there were 25 lectures on project management basics, soft skills, project management tools and projects in lines of business, and 200 participants. The event was prepared by a team of 20 club members. The second project helps the technical robomatic club at the WUT Warsaw University of Technology to manage its project to build a solar powered boat for an international competition in Monaco. The club has 60 active members.

Business accelerators

Business accelerators typically offer a short boot camp for entrepreneurs with high potential ideas to help them learn about product and customer development, and to build networks. Most incubators in Poland are funded by private foundations or major telecommunication companies. Business accelerators are not common at Polish HEIs, but KU Kozminski University has recently launched GrowPoint (Box 5.3) and the AIP Foundation operates a small network of accelerators called Business Link.

Box 5.3. GrowPoint, KU Kozminski University

GrowPoint is a new acceleration programme for students and alumni of KU Kozminski University. It offers a three month acceleration programme to projects that are related to new technologies. The support includes training, workshops and mentorship. Nearly 50 experts and practitioners have been enlisted to provide the support, which will be organised according to the needs of individuals and their projects.

Applications for the first cohort of participants were received as of March 2016 and ten projects were selected. The first programme ended in June 2016 with presentations of the proposed business ventures to potential investors, strategic partners and media.

In addition, GrowPoint will also hold a series of events organised at KU Kozminski University to inspire the student body to build skills, knowledge and experience in entrepreneurship and innovation.

For more information, please see:

Technology Transfer Offices

Technology Transfer Offices (TTOs) are a common approach to support university spin-outs in Poland. Their role typically includes the provision of legal advice and information to academic staff, and support for the protection of intellectual property. Target clients are almost exclusively academic staff, doctoral students and students. While these offices usually function within a university, they may correspond also to a separate legal entity.

Special purpose vehicles

The Law on Higher Education allows for the creation of “special-purpose vehicles” (SPVs) to commercialise research. These limited liability or joint-stock companies must be formed by the rector with the consent of the senate to manage intellectual property and income generated from commercial activities.

Technology incubators

Technology incubators are one of the older forms of start-up support in Poland, first appearing in 1990. These incubators target new innovative companies and offer premises for business activity, common areas for networking, office support services, accounting services, business counselling, training and information services, assistance accessing capital and help with technology transfer. Some technology incubators also provide pre-incubation services that provide basic start-up training and help potential entrepreneurs become “investor ready”. Technology incubators are typically developed with support from public funds, notably from the European Union.

Students, doctoral students and university researchers operate approximately 40% of the start-ups in Technology Incubators.

Technology parks

Technology parks aim to build co-operative relationships between the business and scientific communities, support the creation of new technology companies and develop local business networks and clusters. They provide entrepreneurs with premises as well as access to technical infrastructure. This includes access to technology incubators at two‐thirds of technology parks and access to science laboratories in nearly half of technology parks. In addition, business development services are provided, including business counselling, technology transfer support and support with network building. Co‐operation between technology parks and financers such as venture capitalists, business angels and other investors is growing, but these partnerships are in an early stage of development.

Technology park residents are comprised nearly entirely of small and medium-sized enterprises. University spin-offs and spin-outs account for slightly more than 10% of residents.

Technology parks in Poland are financed largely from grants and subsidies. Municipal authorities and academic institutions are the biggest investors in the partnership enterprises which govern the parks. For example, the Lublin Science and Technology Park (Box 5.4) was jointly established by the regional government and an HEI.

Box 5.4. The Lublin Science and Technology Park

The Lublin Science and Technology Park contributes to the Lublin Region Development Strategy by promoting innovation and supporting the launch of new technologies, and by strengthening the linkages between universities and business entities in the region.

It was established in 2005 by the Lublin regional government and the University of Life Sciences in Lublin to help transfer knowledge from researchers to entrepreneurs. It has a multi-function facility that provides workspace for entrepreneurs and scientists, as well as common areas for networking events. The science park also provides training courses for entrepreneurs and researchers and undertakes research activities within joint research centres hosted at the participating organisations (e.g. the Biotechnology Centre; the Electronics, Optical Electronics and Teleinformatics Research Centre; the Research Centre for Environmental Protection; and the Nanotechnology Centre).

The Lublin Science and Technology Park is member of IASP (International Association of Science Parks and Areas of Innovation).

For more information, please see:

Access to finance

Various sources of financing are available to graduate start-ups, including public subsidies, bank credits, seed capital, business angels and venture capital funds. One of the key publicly-supported access to finance measures is the AIP Seed Capital Programme. This provides start-up companies within AIPs with investments in the amount of PLN 100 000 (approximately EUR 23 600), in exchange for a 15% stake in the start-up. The AIP Foundation also introduces graduate entrepreneurs to potential investors.

In addition, business start-up grants for youth entrepreneurs are financed from the Labour Fund or the European Social Fund. Grants offered from the Labour Fund are typically intended for unemployed people who are registered with the district labour office or graduates of social integration centres or social integration clubs. Entrepreneurs starting from unemployment can receive up to 600% of the national average monthly salary. The applicant is required to run the business for at least 12 months, otherwise the grant must be repaid. Youth are able to access these grants.

Regional Operational Programmes for 2014-2020 offer grants and loans for start-ups under the following Priority Axes: Labour Market, Regional Labour Market, Employment. Youth and graduates under 25 years old are eligible for such programmes in eight regions. Regional Operational Programmes have been approved by the European Commission for the current programming period (2014-20) and need to be developed further and implemented.

Equity finance instruments remain under-developed in Poland relative to other European Union countries. Venture capital investments as a percentage of GDP, for example, were only one-tenth of the EU28 average in 2015, both because equity financing is not widely available and because Polish SMEs have a lower preference for equity-type financial instruments than their peers in other EU countries (ECB, 2016). However, the Polish government has recently taken action to address these issues. The Polish Growth Fund of Funds was established in 2013 to stimulate equity investments into growth-focused enterprises, and the National Capital Fund is being refocused on venture capital funds supporting the start-up phase of innovative SMEs. In addition, NewConnect, the specialised platform for SME listings, which is part of the Warsaw Stock Exchange, benefits from a regulatory architecture designed for smaller enterprises. In addition, the 2016 draft “Plan for Responsible Development” aims to foster business investment and innovation by reforming public aid for firms, creating a Polish Development Fund, merging the state-owned development bank and other public institutions to support entrepreneurship and SMEs, promoting efficient use of EU funds and encouraging savings and employee equity ownership plans. Graduates and staff with appropriate projects will be able to benefit from these measures.

5.3. Analysis and findings

HEIs offer a broad range of start-up support services

A wide variety of start-up supports are available at Polish HEIs through various actors within the HEI, notably career offices and AIP incubators (Figure 5.1). Overall the offering is quite comprehensive. Mentoring support is not widely available, however, especially from mentors who are from the business community. Another area where support could be strengthened is in the provision of business development services. Very little is currently available.

Figure 5.1. Start-up supports offered
“What special support measures are currently offered at your HEI?”

Note: Total number of respondents was 14, of which 12 were public HEIs, 2 were non-public HEIs; 4 were case study HEIs and 10 were not case study HEIs.

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

There is a noticeable gap between the support offerings of non-public HEIs and public HEIs. Non-public HEIs tend to offer a much more complete suite of supports than public HEIs and tend to have stronger links with the business community. The non-public KU Kozminski University, for example, was able to demonstrate a deep integration with off-campus business support providers.

Awareness of start-up support among students is low

Despite the larger number of organisations in Poland to support students in business start-up, awareness about these supports appears to be quite low among students. Results from the HEInnovate Student Survey indicate that only 37% of students who responded (n = 1 963) are aware of a contact point at their HEI who they could go to for information and support on starting a business. This number is much lower than expected given that all of the HEIs have career offices that are active in this area and most have AIP incubators and professors who teach relevant courses.

It should be recognised that many of these activities are relatively new and HEIs are working to address the information gap. All HEIs that responded to the HEI Leader Survey indicated that they are working to increase the capacity of their start-up supports, as well as student participation rates. However, results from the HEI Leader Survey (Figure 5.2) also suggest that the HEIs are using passive methods to reach students. Most communication methods are online (e.g. websites, Facebook, mailing lists) or are events (Figure 5.3), which all require students to be already looking for the information. The majority of HEIs also try to promote their entrepreneurship support activities through their related course offerings. This is an effective method but the reach will be limited to those already interested in the topic. More active promotion, such as joint projects with industry, can be undertaken by most faculties and courses but less than half of the HEIs do so. Very few HEIs attempt to make linkages between thesis projects with industry and their start-ups supports.

Figure 5.2. Promotion of entrepreneurship supports
“What measures does your HEI implement to increase participation rates in entrepreneurship support activities?”

Note: Total number of respondents was 21, of which 16 were public HEIs, 5 were non-public HEIs; 7 were case study HEIs and 14 were not case study HEIs.

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

Figure 5.3. Advertising entrepreneurship supports
“How does your HEI advertise the entrepreneurship support activities that are organised outside study curricula/programmes or open across faculties?”

Note: Total number of respondents was 21, of which 16 were public HEIs, 5 were non-public HEIs; 7 were case study HEIs and 14 were not case study HEIs.

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

The infrastructure to support academic staff is strong

Academic staff are an important target group of start-up support in Polish HEIs. The HEI Leader Survey indicates that approximately half of Polish HEIs view researchers, professors and other staff as a primary target group for start-up support services (Figure 5.4).

Figure 5.4. Targets groups of start-up support
“Are the following target groups of start-up support activities?”

Note: Total number of respondents was 15, of which 13 were public HEIs, 2 were non-public HEIs; 5 were case study HEIs and 10 were not case study HEIs.

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

The supports offered to academic staff and researchers are comprehensive. All of the visited HEIs had centres that were designed to support staff in taking research to market, including Technology Transfer Offices and special purpose vehicles that are set-up for specific projects. Support services available include legal advice, support with intellectual property management and some match-making with industry and assistance with seeking investors. While the support services are generally high quality, take-up is low among researchers. At most of the HEIs visited, only one to three projects are patented and taken to market each year. One of the most substantial challenges is the opportunity cost of time for academic staff. Many are focussed on their academic career and spending time on commercialising research projects may result in some financial gain but takes away from their ability to publish academic work, which may end up hurting their career.

A second challenge is resources. The support offered by HEIs is typically delivered by a small team who are faced with substantial limits in their time and financial resources. For example, several of the HEIs visited noted that they only have enough resources to protect intellectual property within Poland as they cannot afford to file international patents. This is a disincentive for researchers to try to commercialise their work.

Despite these challenges, there are examples of successful projects that have been taken to market, such as C-Eye at the GUT Gdansk University of Technology (Box 5.5). Most of the HEIs visited are trying to scale-up activities in these areas. For example, the WUT Warsaw University of Technology recently opened the Centre for Innovation and Technology Transfer Management to provide more and higher quality support for researchers and to strengthen linkages between academic researchers and industry (Box 5.6). These types of efforts can be supported by the European Union’s new Smart Specialisation funds that require industry to partner with HEIs.

Start-up support for students could be more sophisticated and of higher quality

The start-up support offered by Polish HEIs tends to be quite basic and the student survey suggests that students are generally not satisfied with most of the supports offered. For most types of support, more students reported that improvement was needed than those who indicated that the current offerings were sufficient. This is especially true for more intensive forms of support (e.g. prototype development, mentoring) and with business development and growth support (e.g. post start-up support, assistance with internationalisation). Students were more satisfied with access to infrastructure, access to research results and support with intellectual property management (Figure 5.5).

At the same time, HEIs report that students are increasingly demanding more intensive support, notably assistance with business plans and business competitions, access to support infrastructure and mentoring support (Figure 5.6). This is especially true at non-public HEIs where half of HEI leaders reported an increase in demand for support with business plans and competitions and all reported an increase in demand for mentoring.

Box 5.5. Example of commercialisation, Cyber Eye at GUT Gdansk University of Technology

The C-Eye System is a commercial result of the CyberEye project. It is a tool that assists in the evaluation of neurorehabilitation by stimulating senses and cognitive performance of patients suffering from neurological disorders. Diagnosis relies on eye tracking technology that was developed by the research project. The evaluation consists of reactions and tasks association with multimedia content (e.g. graphics, photographs, text). The patient’s nervous system is stimulated and evaluated through eye tracking technology that was developed by the CyberEye project. The tool can also be used for communication and entertainment purposes.

In March 2013, the CyberEye System was awarded “Polish Invention of 2013” by viewers of the Polish Public Television.

Box 5.6. The Centre for Innovation and Technology Transfer Management of WUT Warsaw University of Technology

The Centre for Innovation and Technology Transfer Management of WUT Warsaw University of Technology (CZIiTT PW) supports academic entrepreneurship in Warsaw by linking research and scientific work, and stimulating co-operation between the scientific community and the business community. The Centre’s motto is: “For innovativeness of WUT Warsaw University of Technology, Warsaw and Masovia.”

Key activities of the Centre include:

  • Create a strong research centre and infrastructure to support entrepreneurship, technology transfer, and innovation- and entrepreneurship-oriented education;

  • Undertake entrepreneurship- and innovation-oriented research and science;

  • Monitor technology markets in the Technology Observatory;

  • Offer business support and a location for co-operation for the business community, local authorities and researchers; and

  • Strengthen the WUT Warsaw University of Technology’s technology transfer and commercialisation activities, taking into account effective use of the potential of the student community.

The Centre opened in late 2015. Its building has six floors and a total area of 13 270.94 m2. The total value of the project was PLN 74.73 (approximately EUR 17 million). It is co-funded from the EU Regional Development Fund as part of the Regional Operational Programme for the Masovia Voivodship 2007-13 at the level of PLN 59.5 million (approximately EUR 13.5 million).

Figure 5.5. Student assessment of start-up support
“How would you rate the overall quality of following start-up support measures?”

Note: 1 205 students responded to this question.

Source: OECD (2016b), OECD HEInnovate Student Survey Poland.

Figure 5.6. Start-up supports that are increasingly demanded
“Which have been the three most demanded special support measures over the last two years?”

Note: Total number of respondents was 15, of which 13 were public HEIs, 2 were non-public HEIs; 5 were case study HEIs and 10 were not case study HEIs.

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

There is potential to strengthen linkages with other actors in the entrepreneurship support system

Only approximately 18% of respondents to the student survey indicated that their HEI adequately makes referrals to external business support organisations. This can leave gaps in the support that student entrepreneurs can make use of. The support system within HEIs tends to focus on the very early stages of business development. External providers could be very complementary for later stages of business development. However, HEIs are not playing as strong a role as they could in co-ordinating access of students to this support.

Career offices have an important function in disseminating information about start-up supports and resources to students. In most HEIs, career office staff provide information in both ad hoc ways (i.e. when students request it) and through regularly organised events and workshops. However, established linkages to external business support organisations are relatively rare, and HEIs often are not taking a leadership role in linking to the external business support system.

Local governments can also play a key role in supporting the development of a business support system and connecting-in HEIs. For example, the City of Warsaw established an innovation council in 2012 that led to the development of an innovation strategy for the city. As part of this strategy, the city has funds to support start-ups with grants and to provide training sessions. The city is currently working on a proposal for entrepreneurship education. A strong start-up support infrastructure exists, including a city-operated incubator and a support centre for the creative sector (a second is planned). The city also promotes relationships with several HEIs but noted that they tend to work with individual professors rather than institutions because these relationships are easier to set up and maintain.

5.4. Conclusions and recommendations

Increase mentoring capacity for student entrepreneurs

While some mentoring support is available from professors and to a lesser extent, entrepreneurs, this is not a strong element of the business start-up support provided by HEIs in Poland. Mentoring is important for student entrepreneurs for many reasons. It provides knowledge transfer assistance in a personal manner that is tailored to the needs of the student. It is also important because it can help expand a young entrepreneur’s network which can be important for finding partners and future customers. Often the most valuable support and advice an entrepreneur can receive is the knowledge of whom to go to in order to gain further resources to develop the business.

Delivering mentoring support is a challenge for many HEIs in the European Union because it falls outside of traditional learning activities. An approach used by successful “entrepreneurial” HEIs is to engage alumni who are active in the business community. Although HEIs in Poland have not invested strongly in building and maintaining relationships with their alumni, many of the HEIs have recently been investing in career offices and alumni associations to maintain a link with graduates.

Alumni should be an attractive resource for HEIs to support student entrepreneurs because many of them would likely agree to voluntarily mentor students. The will and urge to “give back” to the university (and society) from experienced business people is a way to create relations and secure knowledge sharing that is not biased by any organisation’s or governmental point of view. Alumni can be an invaluable resource, especially in a context where financial resources are limited. A model of how entrepreneurship support can be built up with alumni and few resources can be found at the University of Strathclyde in Scotland (Box 5.7).

Box 5.7. Entrepreneurship support at the University of Strathclyde, Scotland: its evolution and involvement of alumni


The University of Strathclyde is based in Glasgow in the West of Scotland, a region that relied on heavy industry from the Industrial Revolution until rapid de-industrialisation in the 1980s. The University was a pioneer in encouraging university spin-outs and cross-faculty entrepreneurship education and opened one of the UK’s first university business incubators in the 1990s. It has since developed a wide range of services for start-up entrepreneurs funded from a mix of internal, public and private sources. Typically, small-scale internally funded initiatives have been expanded with long-term “equity” funding from alumni and finance houses and limited life “grant” funding from regional, national and EU government agency programmes. As pump-priming grants end, the University has reverted to in-house funding at sustainable (often lower) levels, supplemented by voluntary work of students and alumni. New activities are continually being piloted.

The university provides a full range of “soft” to “hard” start-up support activities for staff, students and alumni entrepreneurs. These range from for-credit entrepreneurship education at one end through enterprise training, mentoring, networking and encouragement activities, to small grant schemes, significant equity investment funds, and in-house incubation facilities. These are delivered by a variety of service and academic departments, often working together to deliver activities. Co-ordination is provided by a monthly “Enterprise Forum” administration meeting under the chairmanship of the senior officer with responsibility for Knowledge Exchange.

The Hunter Centre for Entrepreneurship (HCE) currently has 12 full-time research faculty, including three full professors and 15 PhD students. The Technology Transfer Office (TTO) has a full-time spin-out manager, IP manager, enterprise advisor, and an administrator for the Strathclyde Entrepreneurial Network. An alumni events manager is shared between the TTO office and the Alumni and Development Office. There are 45 Enterprise Partners, who are experienced alumni volunteers that mentor younger entrepreneurs. Through the “Enterprise VIP”, MBA students, trained by the HCE, coach students, staff and alumni entrepreneurs who are developing and testing new enterprise ideas. The business incubator has three full-time staff and is based in a central campus building.

After having been runner-up as UK Entrepreneurial University of the Year in 2009, Strathclyde was awarded UK University of the Year 2012. Strathclyde was ranked 2nd in Scotland and 7th in the UK in terms of spin-out formation between 2001 and 2011. It has formed over 50 spin-out companies, of which around 40 are still trading in some form, with sales of approximately GBP 80 million per annum (approximately EUR 91 million) and employing around 700 people. All major initiatives are still operating after the ending of initial funding.

The following provides some highlights of the evolution of entrepreneurship support at the University of Strathclyde and indicates how different initiatives were funded. These initiatives were funded from a wide range of sources including government, private sector, other universities and internal funding.

  • 1990: Strathclyde opens Scotland’s first university incubator (Strathclyde University Incubator: SUI) with equal funding from the university, an enterprise agency, a bank and a venture capital house.

  • 1996: Strathclyde Entrepreneurship Initiative (SEI) opens with internal funding from the Principal’s Office to make entrepreneurship electives available to all students.

  • 1999: Technology Entrepreneurship for Postgraduates, an evening training programme, started at SEI, funded by a neighbouring university (in return for teaching provision), regional and city enterprise agencies, ERDF, and a private educational trust. Strathclyde with a neighbouring university were awarded GBP 3.3 million (approximately EUR 5.1 million) of government funding for a professionally managed seed capital fund (jointly funded with a Trust and a charitable foundation).

  • 2000: SEI was renamed the Hunter Centre for Entrepreneurship (HCE) following a GBP 5 million endowment from Sir Tom Hunter, alumnus, entrepreneur and philanthropist. A Business Plan Competition was launched, managed by an alumnus entrepreneur-in-residence with GBP 40 000 prize money (approximately EUR 64 000) from an enterprise agency and a bank. Strathclyde with four other Scottish universities were awarded GBP 4 million (approximately EUR 6.4 million) funding for the “Scottish Institute for Enterprise” (SIE) from UK Government “Science Enterprise Challenge” Fund, enabling student business advisors and an additional lecturer to be hired.

  • 2002: Annual day-long “Celebration of Entrepreneurship” was launched with events for students, staff, alumni and the community with funding from private sector sponsors.

  • 2003: Strathclyde 100 (S100) was launched, which is an exclusive invitation-only network of successful alumni and friends of the university that meets three or four times per year to listen and give feedback to new businesses started by students, staff and alumni. It is led and funded by Alumni and Development Office and S100 members volunteer to mentor early-stage entrepreneurs.

  • 2004: Strathclyde Entrepreneurial Network (SEN) was launched for entrepreneurial students and young alumni. It is a series of networking events run by TTO staff and a student champion funded by Scottish Institute for Enterprise (SIE).

  • 2005: GBP 950 000 SEEKIT funding (Scottish Government and ERDF) (approximately EUR 1.4 million) was secured by the TTO to grow services to young alumni entrepreneurs (e.g. advisors, events, networking) for three years and the funding was renewed for another three years in 2008.

  • 2008: A new fund for spin-outs was created with Braveheart, a Scottish venture capital company.

  • 2011: Strathclyde Academy of Distinguished Entrepreneurs (a Hall of Fame) launched as a low-cost reward system for alumni.

  • 2012: SUI launches Gabriel Investments, a business angel syndicate to channel start-up funds to high quality start-ups and a 6-week Enterprise Academy was launched for students, run by VIP students.

Enterprise activities fit the university’s mission as “the place of useful learning” and are encouraged because they contribute to the university’s “third mission” of knowledge exchange, to building long- term relationships with alumni, and to supporting the careers of faculty and alumni. Enterprise activities at Strathclyde rely on co-operation and co‐ordination between service and academic departments working together on many different projects and leveraging the goodwill and energy of students and alumni. There has been encouragement of innovation from below rather than central planning of an over-arching “enterprise strategy”, but senior officers play a vital co-ordinating role.

Relevance for Poland

This example illustrates how entrepreneurship support can be built with few resources. Although public investments were required at various points in time, the university was successful at building up a base of supporters who contributed funding and in-kind contributions. The approach to building an alumni network, in particular, could be applied in Poland. This approach also has the benefit of strengthening ties between the HEI and the community.

Source: OECD (2013), “Stimulating entrepreneurial mindsets and behaviours in east German higher education: State of play and inspiring practices”, available at:

Alternatively, professional coaches could be used to guide students in their projects, or to participate in entrepreneurship events.

Academic staff and PhD students could also be used as mentors, as is already happening in a number of Polish HEIs. These mentors could be further supported with training in communication and business development. Furthermore, they would also benefit from other supports and resources such as good practice exchange platforms and more comprehensive information on the start-up support infrastructure in the community.

Strengthen linkages between HEIs and the business community

Much has been done but more efforts are needed to open up universities, so that business is aware of the services that HEIs could provide (e.g. access to laboratories and instruments, consultations, expert opinions, conducting research). Programmes such as “Innovation Vouchers” (Box 5.8) are an innovative idea that could be very effective in building linkages by providing businesses with subsidies and contacts enabling and encouraging them to work with HEIs of their choice on innovation projects. If this approach shows signs of success, the programme should be scaled-up and expanded into other regions.

Box 5.8. Innovation vouchers, Poland

The Polish innovation voucher programme seeks to stimulate co-operation between entrepreneurs and scientific researchers by providing co-funding to entrepreneurs who work with scientists to develop products and services, as well as production techniques and technologies. The goal is to promote innovation and improve competitiveness among micro, small and medium-sized businesses.

Entrepreneurs who work alone or operate micro-enterprises are eligible to receive co‐funding of up to 80% of the value of projects between PLN 60 000 and PLN 400 000 (approximately EUR 13 600 to EUR 90 700). Medium-sized businesses can receive co‐funding of up to 70%.

The national programme is managed by the Polish Agency for Enterprise Development (PARP). It implements the innovation vouchers within three operational programmes (OPs): OP Smart Growth, OP Eastern Poland and OP Knowledge Education Development.

Over the 2016-20 programming period, it is expected that approximately 2 300 entrepreneurs will be supported in the development of innovative products, services and designs, while another 1 500 will be supported in the development of new production technologies and process innovations.

Source: PARP (2016), “Services for enterprises”,

In addition, investors should be encouraged to work more closely with HEIs to develop relationships with students and support the development of their entrepreneurial projects. Investors and HEIs could partner in organising business competitions for students that award prizes to fund start-up activities. HEIs should also explore the potential of receiving sponsorships from the financial industry to help fund entrepreneurship events and projects.

Develop more intensive support for high-potential graduate businesses

A more intensive strand of support would be warranted for the highest potential graduate businesses, particularly those with innovative ideas and ambitions to export. Since many of the high-potential businesses are likely to be commercialising university research, it is important to ensure strong linkages between HEI research and student and staff start-up activities. To facilitate this, a service could be introduced within incubators to help students, graduates and teachers at HEIs to think about the commercialisation potential of research or even master theses. Better integration of internal and external business support offers will also be particularly important for the highest-potential businesses, which are more likely to need the more intensive and specialised support available for larger businesses outside of the HEI. External support providers in particular could offer tailored training, coaching and mentoring support. High-potential graduate businesses are also more likely to need external financial support such as venture capital or business angels.


ECB (European Central Bank) (2016), Survey on the access to finance of small and medium-sized enterprises in the Euro area, June 2016.

OECD (2016), OECD HEI Leader Survey Poland.

OECD (2016b), OECD HEI Student Survey Poland.

OECD (2013), “Stimulating entrepreneurial mindsets and behaviours in East German higher Education: State of play and inspiring practices”, available at

PARP (2016), “Services for enterprises”,