I have just spent an incredible week attending the Santander Universities Academic Entrepreneurs programme at Babson College in Boston. Babson College is regarded as the global leader in entrepreneurship education and so I felt very lucky to be one of 7 UK enterprise educators to be selected among a group of 31 representatives from across the extensive global Santander Universities network including colleagues from Spain, Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, Chile and Uruguay.
The goal of the programme is to develop a community of professionals who can effectively educate, skilfully navigate, and thrive in the University-based entrepreneurship ecosystem, and to nurture and launch the next generation of entrepreneurs. From my perspective it was an opportunity to see behind the curtain, to evaluate the work that we are doing at BRT and to see if I could bring some of the Babson magic back home. What I found was a dedicated group of entrepreneurial thinkers and actors, some inspiration, validation and a group of fantastic new friends who welcomed me into their networks.
Assessing and building networks was a crucial part of the week, as was absorbing the Babson model of Entrepreneurial Thought & Action. We shared our best practice in terms of learning and teaching as well as coaching and mentoring and talked about Corporate Entrepreneurship as well as Start Up and Scale Up.
The programme was hosted at the incredible Babson Executive Education Conference Center and led by Heidi Neck and Candy Brush who wrote the book on Entrepreneurship Education. It was a privilege to see them in action and to meet so many of the players in the Babson ecosystem including academics, students, entrepreneurs and angel investors. They run a pretty slick operation and I picked up a lot of interesting ideas which will help us to further develop our own entrepreneurship ecosystem. Look out for new BRT activity in the near future!
What else? There was a tour of their amazing campus facilities including the Arthur Blank Center where they incubate student start-ups and the Weissman Foundry where they provide workshop space and prototyping resources for aspiring product design entrepreneurs.
We also went off-campus to visit the Mass Challenge in Central Boston which has an incredible reputation for accelerating start-ups from around the world over the last 10 years. After meeting some of the aspiring entrepreneurs on campus we visited Innercity Weightlifting, a Babson social enterprise success story, where they work with local gang leaders to help them stay out of the prison system by training them to become personal trainers at their 3 gyms across the city. This was a genuinely inspiring experience to see the impact and hear the trials and tribulations of the founders and the communities they were working in.
The week was intense with early starts and lots of interactivity in the classroom. Fortunately our hosts looked after us well with giant American breakfasts to set us up each day and a beer in the Babson bar to help us, ahem, build our networks. Each session involved us doing an activity. Entrepreneurs learn by doing and they made us work hard. We played hard too and the traditional Boston Clambake on the last night was a great way to celebrate the end of the week.
So what does this mean for Edinburgh Napier? Well hopefully we can bring some of the ideas into our own practice but we can also be confident in our own methods and ecosystem. Each of the participants had to share a best practice from home. I chose to talk about the BRT Freelance Academy and was subsequently approached by the programme leaders to ask if they could adopt our framework to fold into their existing programmes. Special kudos goes to my BRT colleagues, and Pete McLean and Cilla Richards in particular, for developing the Freelance Academy and keeping us at the sharp end of entrepreneurial education practice!
Thanks goes to Heidi and Candy and to programme co-ordinators, Paul Sluk and Elizabeth Kim, for their incredible hospitality. Thanks also to Lindsey McArthur and her colleagues at Santander Universities for the opportunity to participate in such an amazing programme.