Romar van Hegelsom is Project Coordinator for Inno4YUFE and is based at Maastricht University. Romar provides a detailed insight into the overall aims of the project and how students can enhance their career opportunities by participating in Inno4YUFE’s unique training programmes.
What is the overall aim of the project and how has this project been funded?
Inno4YUFE aims to remove barriers for student entrepreneurship and reinforce the role of YUFE and its partner universities as launchpads towards entrepreneurial career pathways. Building on YUFE’s established pilot portfolio of educational and entrepreneurial initiatives, Inno4YUFE presents an ambitious yet achievable Innovation Vision Action Plan (IVAP) to bring its long-term vision into practice. For Inno4YUFE, this means that we are not only building entrepreneurial and innovation capacity for the individual universities, but for the entire YUFE Alliance. The project is funded through the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT) HEI initiative: Innovation Capacity Building for Higher Education. The initiative from the EIT is a joint effort from the different EIT Knowledge Innovation Communities (KIC) as part of the EIT Strategic Innovation Agenda 2021−2027. The initiative aims to support higher education institutions with expertise and coaching, access to the EIT innovation ecosystem, and funding, enabling them to develop innovation action plans complementing the needs of individual higher education institutions.
What does your role involve at Inno4YUFE?
As the Project Coordinator for Inno4YUFE I focus on the delivery of the project objectives, maintain contacts with the funding agency EIT, ensure alignment between the work packages, and ensure strategic coordination of the project with the other YUFE projects and external partners.
The Inno4YUFE project aims to foster a new generation of student entrepreneurs – how will it do that?
The Inno4YUFE project is built on six concrete actions to provide our students with the best support in their journey to entrepreneurship. We do this by creating an institutional environment that supports their education in the form of a virtual campus for education and entrepreneurship and creating a knowledge transfer office where students can submit and receive support for their entrepreneurial ideas.
This is strengthened by our partnership with the EIT KICs and their elaborate offer of training programmes, support structures and extensive entrepreneurial ecosystem. We offer dedicated educational programmes for the YUFE Student Journey, such as research and entrepreneurship training, mentoring, as well as an entrepreneurial internship programme allowing our students to get first-hand experience of working with start-ups. We have created a combined ecosystem through our YUFE international start-up community which includes an acceleration programme for start-ups from within those local ecosystems.
What are the advantages in delivering a project with members from across Europe?
As we are building a European alliance of universities, we aim to provide European students, staff and citizens from different backgrounds with life-changing educational experiences and opportunities. By working together with ten universities from ten different European countries, we can build on our shared expertise, learn from each other and provide our students and staff with unique perspectives and opportunities beyond those of their own university.
When it comes to innovation and entrepreneurship specifically, the collaboration on a European level allows us to create a shared ecosystem for entrepreneurs and start-ups by linking the already existing ecosystems of the individual universities. By initiating these connections for students, staff and start-ups, we can provide them with a unique network and opportunities that transcend borders and connect them with new partners they might otherwise never have met.
Who will benefit from Inno4YUFE?
The short answer is everyone! Students and university staff receive unparalleled opportunities on a European level to start or boost on their path towards entrepreneurship. They will be more employable and gain real world experiences which will greatly benefit them whichever career path they may choose. Businesses will gain access to a truly European network of entrepreneurs, can benefit from expertise from ten different universities and the EIT KICs, and have access to a pool of talented students eager to start their careers in entrepreneurship. Ultimately, we all benefit from students that have the skills and passion to innovate, to become entrepreneurs or to put their skills to use for furthering the development of other innovative organisations.
How can students in the YUFE Alliance engage with Inno4YUFE?
Students will have many opportunities to engage with the activities planned for Inno4YUFE. They can join one of the training programmes we offer through the YUFE Virtual Campus, receive additional mentoring from those trainers, or apply for interesting internship to receive hands-on experience with entrepreneurial careers. They can submit their innovative ideas for advice and support to our knowledge transfer experts through our Flipped Knowledge Transfer Office.
If students have already started their own business, they can join our start-up community to gain new networking opportunities, receive additional training and consultation from entrepreneurial and knowledge transfer experts, or join the acceleration programme for intense one-week training that helps take their business to the next level. We can also direct students to the targeted training programmes offered by the EIT KICs, connect them to the EIT ecosystem or help them look for funding opportunities from the different KICs. More details on these opportunities will be announced soon.
Why do you think it is important for students to engage in Inno4YUFE?
Many students have innovative ideas but do not have the adequate support to make them a reality, while others are eager to work in entrepreneurship and develop their skills in this area. By engaging with Inno4YUFE, these students can develop their skills and businesses in a truly European environment by benefitting from the expertise of EIT and our ten partner universities. The knowledge and skills they will garner in Inno4YUFE will help them shape unique and innovative businesses and foster skills that make them uniquely employable. In short, by engaging with Inno4YUFE they have to opportunity to become part of a new generation of entrepreneurial students.
What do you find most rewarding about your role?
I am incredibly grateful for the job I have and the diverse and international community of colleagues of the YUFE Alliance. The YUFE experience provides everyone with unique experiences, connections and perspectives that enrich you both personally and professionally. EIT helps to foster this experience. They offer great opportunities for these students, staff, start-ups but also the higher education institutions to develop themselves in an international setting thereby opening new dimensions and opportunities for all those who participate.
Finally, let’s find out a bit about you – what do you like to do in your spare time?
In my spare time I like to read, spend time with friends, take part in sport when the weather is ok (which can be a problem in the Netherlands), travel, go to concerts or otherwise play videogames or watch series. I also volunteer a lot in my local community and for the municipality in which I live, which is really gratifying!
What is the best thing about living where you live?
I live very close to Maastricht and the University; it is the area where I was born and raised. Despite being a relatively small city, the population of Maastricht is incredibly international, providing me with the best of two worlds; on the one hand I am close to my family and the friends I grew up with, while on the other hand I have access to a diverse community.
While I live relatively far away from the urban centres of the Netherlands (bearing in mind that the Netherlands is not that large to begin with), the region is ideally situated between Germany and Belgium with a maximum travel time of 20 minutes to both countries. This allows me to enjoy a truly European experience; 30 minutes to Aachen, one hour away from Brussels, Cologne and Düsseldorf, and countries like France and Luxembourg can reached by car or train in just over two hours.