Katharina tells us about the course: Entrepreneurship and Innovation.
Idea development and innovation projects with companies
On the course Entrepreneurship and Innovation, the students work on developing a business concept based on a case challenge that is related to their fields of study. The course focuses on business development (not meaning actual development of products/technologies), but students are encouraged to bring in their knowledge to design a business model and evaluate its desirability, feasibility, and viability.
The course focuses on cooperation with the outside world. From the start of the course, students work on real-life and real-time cases presented to them by entrepreneurs, companies, or organizations (including universities). Students are exposed to tangible role models and have a chance to become part of the idea development. This also includes the development of partnership agreements and contractual arrangements regarding intellectual property rights. When the students work on their real-life challenge throughout the entire course they get the opportunity to experience how an innovation process unfolds. They must regularly solve case-related tasks, as it is a graduation requirement. However, their final grade is based solely on their oral exam performance at the end of the course. This examination approach helps the students to focus their learning and allows them to continually build a sense of the skills they need to start a business or deal with an innovation project.
Focus on project management and team dynamics
There is from the beginning of the course focus on collaboration and group composition as an important part of project management. Katharina Poetz explains “Prior to course start students have to provide information about their backgrounds, which I use to assign them into teams of 5-7 students. Attention is paid to creating diversity but also to matching students’ backgrounds with the case challenges.“
In the beginning of the course students are introduced to leadership dynamics and project management tools. Emphasis is given to team work and the formulation of a common purpose instead of group work and task division. Students need to develop a team charter (group contract, ed.), that is later on used by the course teachers to facilitate team work and address team-internal problems. Students are individually graded at the final exam and are encouraged to embrace the team formation and idea development process as a learning experience for their future careers. They keep personal and well as team log files to manage tasks and reflect on their learning experience.
Katharina explains: “My role as a teacher involves more hand-holding and facilitation – I have to find appropriate cases, manage the relationship between the students and the case hosts, and help students overcome the difficulties of dealing with uncertainty, messy processes, and conflicts in their teams. Prior students have pointed out that the course introduced them to relevant tools and helped them develop an action-oriented mindset as well as better communication and collaboration skills. However, as a teacher, giving feedback on ideas and facilitation of the learning experience is a challenge since outcomes are uncertain and difficult to evaluate. “
Design thinking as an approach
The overall concept used to structure the course and tie the different tools together is Design Thinking. The course draws additionally on various theoretical concepts and models on innovation processes (focusing on the development of products, services, etc) and entrepreneurship processes (focusing on early stages of business development, entrepreneurial behavior and decision-making styles). Students are then introduced to a range of well-known tools used in innovation management and business development.
The course uses e-lectures and readings to introduce students to theoretical concepts and tools, followed by shortened discussions and exercises in class.