Several British universities have recently established centres of scientific enterprise excellence to develop the entrepreneurial talents of scientists with commercial leanings. Undergraduate and postgraduate students will have the opportunity to learn entrepreneurship skills alongside traditional coursework and research activity. And the hope is that postdocs and lecturers will also be infected with the enterprise culture as part of a government drive to increase commercial awareness in the academic community.

In 1998 the government announced a £25 million Science Enterprise Challenge competition to establish eight centres of enterprise in U.K. universities. Universities were invited to submit proposals for establishing world-class centres charged with fostering the commercialisation of research and new ideas, stimulating scientific entrepreneurialism, and incorporating the teaching of enterprise into the science and engineering curricula. The eight winning universities were announced in September 1999, and in June this year another four centres were funded (see table). A further £15 million for Science Enterprise Centres was promised in the recent Government White Paper and will be handed out in one final round of the Science Enterprise Challenge competition.

SCIENCE ENTERPRISE CENTRES FUNDED TO DATE

Lead University

Partners

Bristol

Cambridge

Glasgow

Dundee, Edinburgh, Heriot-Watt, Strathclyde

Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine

London Business School

University College London

UMIST

Manchester, Manchester Metropolitan, Salford

Nottingham Business School

Sheffield

Leeds, York

Durham

Newcastle upon Tyne, Northumbria, Sunderland, Teeside

Warwick

Birmingham

Ulster

Queen's University Belfast

Oxford

Some of the universities involved already have a good track record in teaching and fostering entrepreneurship. Sue Birley is professor of entrepreneurship and director of research at the Imperial College Management School. She says, "Imperial College has been teaching entrepreneurship successfully as part of the MBA course for the last 10 years." She explains that, as a result of funding received under the Science Enterprise Challenge, the college hopes to offer teaching in entrepreneurship to all undergraduates and postgraduates, across all faculties. Other plans for the Science Enterprise Centre include the formation of a science entrepreneurs' network, with prominent entrepreneurs, including college alumnus Chris Evans, chairman of Merlin Ventures and widely regarded as one of the most successful biotechnology entrepreneurs in the UK, serving on the advisory board. Imperial's existing research commercialisation efforts have already resulted in the formation of 37 companies employing around 750 staff.

Strathclyde University is one of five Scottish member universities in the newly formed Scottish Institute of Enterprise. Jonathan Levie, director of the Strathclyde Entrepreneurship Initiative, explains, "Strathclyde has been at the forefront of entrepreneurship teaching for some time. The aim of the initiative is to enhance the entrepreneurial capabilities of undergraduates, postgraduates, staff, and alumni." A suite of seven undergraduate and five postgraduate electives help students learn how to practice entrepreneurship through in-class analysis of real business situations in the presence of entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial resource providers, through in-company projects and by developing their own entrepreneurial ventures.

The Scottish Institute of Enterprise is charged with producing programmes for all the universities within the consortium. It intends to provide teaching materials that each of the institutions can tailor for use within their current curricula. Furthermore, it is hoped that a mentoring system, where successful entrepreneurs share their business expertise with students, will become part of the teaching programme. Susan Ferguson, deputy director of research and enterprise at Glasgow University, says, "the main aim of the centres for enterprise is to bring about a culture change within universities and to establish international best practice in entrepreneurship." She highlights targeting young researchers as a priority, because this is a group that is being lost from universities. "We want to increase the links between researchers and industry and increase the number of industrial sponsorships," she explains. Entrepreneurship teaching will be aimed at all levels within the universities, including Ph.D. students.

The programmes are at an early stage of development, but Ferguson hopes they will be up and running within 18 months. She refutes any suggestions that an increasing emphasis on entrepreneurship will be the death of traditional blue-sky research within universities. "We have fought very hard against that perception and certainly don't believe that every researcher should become an entrepreneur," she assures Next Wave. However she believes that participating in entrepreneurship programmes will open additional career opportunities to students, beyond the traditional paths of academia or large, established industrial companies.

In 1998, a total of 223 businesses spun out of UK higher education institutions, and opportunities for employment within this sector are increasing. Check out what entrepreneurship courses are planned at your institution to make sure you're ready for the enterprise revolution!