Future by Lund is doing a lot of projects that are being evaluated at the end – but sometimes there are already researchers involved all along in the project. Looking at the innovation platform from an outside perspective provides of course an extra dimension of quality but also adds to learnt lessons for the future. Barcamper was an accelerator for creative businesses facilitated by Future by Lund in the beginning of 2016. Recently, Professor Jonas Gabrielsson and Professor Diamanto Politis published a study about accelerators. Their work focusses on individual learning. They found out that peer learning is very important for a successful accelerator process.
Jonas Gabrielsson is professor at Halmstad University and Diamanto Politis is professor at Sten K. Johnson Centre for Entrepreneurship at Lund University. Both have made several studies focusing on academic entrepreneurship, that is entrepreneurship related to the innovation system at universities and colleges. In their research they are interested in accelerators. The latter depicts a quite novel way to provide innovation support for entrepreneurial companies as previous research has mainly focused on incubators but not accelerators.
– We experienced that a lot of previous research has had a one-sided focus on companies and how companies grow, which one measures by, for example, the number of companies that survive and the number of employees, explains Jonas Gabrielsson. In our work we wanted look more at how individuals learn. An important thought is that ideas change but the entrepreneurs stay.
Diamanto and Jonas have studied both the Barcamper and its successor the Creative Tour. They witnessed how Future by Lund tried different designs to support entrepreneurs from idea to company. With Barcamper the project members drove with a camper van to different places in Skåne (Scania) to scout ideas.
– Our interest in Barcamper started with PhD candidate Solomon Akele Abebe being early on involved and interviewing all participants of Barcamper. That’s how we got the idea to follow the process where we wanted to study how the program creates conditions to facilitate and strengthen entrepreneurial learning; why it is good to be part of an accelerator and what gives the knowledge and capability to engage in new business models in such an environment, says Diamanto Politis. The Barcamper implied an interesting context. It was an important part of an entrepreneurial ecosystem that existed in collaboration with the university but also attracted other participants with no ties to the university.
In their study Jonas Gabrielsson and Diamanto Politis looked at how the environment in and around the program created conditions for learning. In Barcamper and similar projects they have witnessed the importance of peer learning, that is how participants of the same program can learn from each other. The researchers identified three catalysts which together create the conditions for entrepreneurial learning. The first catalyst is the existence of a supportive environment, a friendly atmosphere which encourages participants to share, give and take in feedback. The second catalyst is constructive feedback which implies that participants learn to question their own ideas to be able to take in more knowledge. They shall be confronted with challenging questions and it’s often enough the coach that provides these. Last but not least, emotional motivation also plays an important role. It is motivating to be part of a community and entrepreneurs developing emotional ties to each other leads to them supporting each other in different situations and during challenges. On top, they are also encouraged and inspired by each other’s achievements.
However, the researchers also identified some challenges for accelerators. It can be, for example, quite hard to custom-tailor content to every participant in a heterogeneous group. The participants alternating levels generate different learning outcomes among them.
– Some have a lot of experience in entrepreneurship and they took in things differently than those who didn’t have any experience. Another point of departure can make a difference is how advanced each and every one was in their development of the company. It can be a misfit and it can also create differences in how they take things in, says Diamanto. Those who design an accelerator have a challenge there.
The right balance depends on what the accelerator wants to achieve. Accelerators with a broad approach get more variety in the entrepreneur’s perceived participation outcome and it can be good to be prepared for that case from the accelerators’ perspective. It also became clear that participants appreciated to hear more about what other entrepreneurs were up to rather than listening to lectures from invited experts. Another important ingredient for a good entrepreneurship education was to give participants an entrepreneur-identity to ensure that the participants feel they are accepted as entrepreneurs.
– In the university sphere, we tend to forget the importance of getting experiences from others and that we as well get experiences and become stronger through helping each other. The peer and collective learning are the base to take in entrepreneurial knowledge and skills, says Diamanto.
Different types of accelerators and incubators have their own mixes of knowledge content and peer learning.
– Those who are working with accelerator support or incubator programs shall of course not neglect the importance of theoretical knowledge but one should be aware that the peer learning [factor] that they can help with is something the university is having difficulties to get into the courses, means Jonas Gabrielsson. There, accelerator programs have an edge that makes them suitable to complement the university and collaborate with the university. Different entrepreneurial educations can be strong in different things without competing with each other. In Lund one works with that ecosystem in a good and integrated way.
In the end, it was important to have access to the accelerator for research purposes. Yet, it was equally important that the Barcamper education program wanted to gain insights from the research results.
– We experience a big openness in the Barcamper project and Future by Lunds coach Lars Mattiasson and Katarina Scott have been open to learn from research. It has been a mutually useful and our results have not only been returned to the research society but also to the entrepreneurship education, ends Jonas Gabrielsson.
For more links >> see the Swedish version of this article
Translated by Christin Scheller