Adding an entrepreneurial edge to academia: The University Students Entrepreneurship Project

Turning intellectual ideas into profitable businesses.

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STEP-C’s main building - the focus for the promotion of innovation in Heraklion, Crete. STEP-C’s main building - the focus for the promotion of innovation in Heraklion, Crete.

Context

Heraklion is the capital of the island of Crete and the home of the Science and Technology Park of Crete, or STEP-C, as it is known. Although Crete is an island steeped in history, and is perhaps most often thought of as a major holiday destination, it is also a dynamic and progressive island and, during the last 20 years, it has undergone significant academic and technological advances.

Many of these have been made via STEP-C, which promotes the development of science and technology in Crete by disseminating the knowledge accumulated by academic departments and research institutes to industry. Prior to the establishing of STEP-C, in 1993, tourism and agriculture had been the two main pillars of the island’s economy but now science and technology has became the third.

Activities

Step-C is an initiative of the Foundation for Research and Technology which is one of the largest research centres in the country. The Park covers a total area of 4000 square metres and houses 12 laboratories and over 100 offices. Although it is a place of work, STEP-C also developed the idea of a “Resort Office” prototype, which is specifically designed to create a relaxed atmosphere and encourage creativity.

STEP-C acts as an incubator for small innovative companies in the areas of medical equipment, biotechnology, telecommunications and tele-working, microelectronics and laser applications and also polymers and applied mathematics. It also participates in R&D projects with the Ministry of Development, other national bodies and other Member States. Part of its regional development strategy is to attract companies to the Park by offering companies low-rent office space and state of the art infrastructure. The Park also retrains key staff to give its member companies a greater competitive edge. Indeed, the whole ethos of the Park is cooperation and members are encouraged to collaborate with each other and with external R&D organisations.

One successful example of such cooperation is UNISTEP or the University Students Entrepreneurship Project. This project is run in conjunction with the Technical University of Crete and the University of Crete (UOC) and is supported by EU Structural Funds. In the first phase, university students were offered extra or add-on training in thinking “outside the box” that was designed to boost their capacities of imagination and to attune them to concept of innovation. Over 50 students from Heraklion and Chania took part in this Nursery of Ideas and then, working in teams, they invented totally new products or designed new “add-ons” to, or uses for, existing products. These plans were then assessed and some were selected to be developed by the students and the Intelligent Systems and Robotics Laboratory of the Technical University into prototypes.

Results

A fascinating outcome of the students’ innovative ideas is "ALE". ALE is an autonomous robotic vehicle, modular, reprogrammable and expandable that can serve both educational and research needs. Another is a radio controlled, small helicopter called "Thunder Tiger Raptor 60" and this is in a special class of aerial vehicles, which are designed and used for highly specialised missions. Thunder Tiger Raptor 60 can land in difficult and restricted areas like the deck of a ship and it is also highly manoeuvrable and can hover over any target area thus providing an ideal solution for military, rescue or other inspection and identification applications.

The overall objective was that the students’ ideas should result in competitive, commercial products and a network of 10 business mentors was created to help these students to draft convincing business plans and to contact possible sponsors. The final stage, conducted via STEP-C, was the actual business development. Two new IT companies have already been established. BlueBird at www.bluevibe.gr offers a unified platform for providing location-aware, low-cost services to mobile devices such as phones and PDAs and TERN at www.tern.gr offers internet application services.

The results of the whole project have been so encouraging that it is being continued within the framework of the Crete Innovation Pole Project. This is a longer-term initiative and so, whilst Crete can enjoy looking backward at its rich history, it can also enjoy looking forward to a dynamic and innovative future.


Draft date

01/01/2004