Earlier this month, we caught up with Marleen Aasa, Head of University Relations at European Innovation Academy to find out about how the organisation is transforming the lives of students through entrepreneurship.
Marleen and her team are responsible for collaborating with universities and other institutions all over the world. They believe in the power of innovation and entrepreneurship; their programs provide a rare opportunity to learn these skills in an interdisciplinary, international, and hands-on environment. EIA has hosted faculty and students from 500+ universities (Imperial College London, UC Berkeley, University of Michigan, Tsinghua University, University of Melbourne, Karolinska Institutet, etc).
Before joining EIA, Marleen worked in a fintech startup called TransferWise, which revolutionised money transfers. She cites the human brain and future technologies around it as the thing that inspires her and believes that neurostimulation has the power to help tens of millions of people in the coming years.
What are the most rewarding parts of your job?
We stand behind a product that has such a positive impact on people's lives. Day 15 of the program -- this is the day when students cry out of happiness and marvel at the experience they gained during the three week program. They started as strangers, doubting whether they could launch a startup.
At the end, they pitch their start-ups in front of investors from Silicon Valley and have formed beautiful friendships and networks of mentors, speakers and faculty that will last for the rest of their lives.
As our participants say, it is life changing!
EIA is on a mission to innovate within the education system. In your opinion, why does the education system need a rethink?
We believe that instead of information we need to focus on the skills. According to a Gallup-Lumina Foundation survey, 96 percent of chief academic officers believe that higher education institutions are very or somewhat effective in preparing students for the workforce. Yet, only 11 percent of business leaders strongly agree. EIA programs are designed together with representatives from UC Berkeley, Google, and Stanford to teach the skills to become a successful entrepreneur and/or valued employee in any company.
The word ‘entrepreneur’ is used a lot nowadays. What is EIA’s definition of an entrepreneur?
Entrepreneur is a buzzword these days as well as intrapreneur.
For EIA being an entrepreneur is all about having the right mindset, and we believe an entrepreneur is the one who solves a real problem. One learns the best while doing, and as we love to say in our program, failure is an event not a person.
Why do you think it’s becoming more important for students to have an entrepreneurial mindset, and what can universities do to encourage this behaviour?
Whether a student will become an entrepreneur or an employee in a company, it is crucial for them to know how they can add value, what their strengths and weaknesses are and how to lead a team. The entrepreneurial mindset is about a certain way of thinking -- it is about the way in which you approach challenges and mistakes. It is about an inherent need to improve your skill set and to try and try again. It’s about taking action, being willing to risk and try, welcoming changes, focusing and listening to your customer.
"We believe that instead of information we need to focus on the skills."
We believe universities could help prepare students by putting them into real life situations where they have to solve real problems and provide more study abroad opportunities which are crucial part of experiential learning. We are happy to see from our statistics that 92% of students say that EIA has given them new opportunities in the job market.
What traits do the most successful students on your programme tend to have in common?
1) Open Minded
2) Leadership skills
3) Open to challenges
Working in a team of five strangers from all over the world for 12 hours a day for three weeks is not easy. But it’s rewarding!
EIA has over 15,000 alumni and faculty in over 85 countries. What have some of your graduates gone on to achieve?
Throughout the years the success of the program has been taking new forms as we welcome all students from any major and any study level. We would like to share the following achievements with you:
1) We have startups who have joined accelerators after the program and raised 300 000 USD in months after the program, such as Pocket Confident.
2) We have success stories where students gain the mindset and become serial entrepreneurs as they are not afraid of failing anymore. The network of mentors, speakers, and investors is with them now!
"We believe universities could help prepare students by putting them into real life situations where they have to solve real problems."
3) We have participants who have understood after the program that entrepreneurial life is actually not for them and there are other ways they can add value in their lives. Knowing what’s for you and what’s not for you is a success!
You can find out more about our participants' feedback here:
What are EIA’s plans for the future?
We have just been recognised by the Financial Times, Google and leading European policy makers as one of 100 digital pioneers in Europe. In the coming years, we are looking to expand our programs to every continent and educate 1 000 000 young talents by 2025.
How can universities get involved with European Innovation Academy?
Each year we form partnerships with new universities who want to offer this opportunity to their students as well as faculty. Feel free to nominate your university here, or get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.
My Job in Higher Ed is a monthly series. Take a look at our other interviews.