Inspiring a new generation of entrepreneurs

November 06, 2016 - 09:00

A seminar on how to become a start-up nation and the role of universities was held on Nov.4 by the National Economics University. Dr. Harald Von Korflesch, vice president of the Koblenz-Landau University in Germany, talks Ha Nguyen through the issues of entrepreneurship.

Encouraging entrepreneurs: Dr Harald Von Korflesch, vice president of the Koblenz-Landau University, Germany. Photo courtesy of Dr Von Korflesch.
Viet Nam News

A seminar on how to become a start-up nation and the role of universities was held on Nov.4 by the National Economics University. Dr. Harald Von Korflesch, vice president of the Koblenz-Landau University in Germany, talks Ha Nguyen through the issues of entrepreneurship. 

Inner Sanctum: How have you cultivated entrepreneurial culture at your university? Would this be in conflict with the research mission of a university?

The development of an entrepreneurial culture, like we have been very successful with at the University of Koblenz-Landau, is an entrepreneurial process itself, and it is a continuous process as well which needs time.

First of all, you have to try it out without being afraid of failure.

Failure does not exist, but the process is about learning for the better. Then you should have a look at the assets you already have. These assets can be inside the university and outside the university.

Looking at the inside of the university, it is important to be supported by the top managers. Once she or he is convinced in general, you start talking to selected professors, students, and the administration in order to create an internal network of potential “entrepreneurial ambassadors”.

Looking outside of the university, a university with an entrepreneurial culture will become a major stakeholder within the surrounding entrepreneurial ecosystem. This means networking with potential partners, like successful entrepreneurs, business angels, venture capital funds, banks, lawyers, supporters, mentors, coaches and the like.

Having done all this, you will identify the objectives and the necessary resources coming from your two networks in order to reach them by taking the first steps. This process will become a very iterative, opportunity-driven one, because you need to continue to be open for new network partners, resources and eventually also for new objectives during this process of developing an entrepreneurial culture for your university.

An entrepreneurial culture of course is based on certain long-lasting values and attitudes, but also needs visible formats in order to be seen. This is to say: not only a website or a banner, but it is also about activities which ‘celebrate’ entrepreneurship inside and outside the university. These activities relate to measures for sensitisation, motivation, qualification, networking, and direct start-up support. Also, a very stable format for visualisation involves dedicated rooms or even buildings for entrepreneurship. And finally, celebrating events is very important in making an entrepreneurial culture visible.

At the very end, an entrepreneurial culture becomes the third culture of a university, after a research culture as well as a teaching culture. There is no conflict between these cultures, rather all of them are equally important and should be integrated in a modern university.

Looking again and especially at an entrepreneurial culture for a university, it also means that the institution itself is becoming entrepreneurial. That is to say, the university develops competencies for entrepreneurial thinking and acting in order to cope with the many challenges universities are facing today across all levels of activities.

Inner Sanctum: Could you explain the concept of Entrepreneurial Design Thinking? How did you apply it to boosting students’ entrepreneurial mindset at your university?

Design thinking was gradually derived from the classical design domain into various disciplines. Different applications of design thinking accompany different process models and therefore we find a variety of understandings of what design thinking is or ought to be.

For the formulation of Entrepreneurial Design Thinking® (EDT), design thinking and entrepreneurship seem to be a promising combination as a teaching approach in entrepreneurship education.

Especially in the area of scientific entrepreneurship, the support of entrepreneurial activities with strong roots in scientific work, design thinking can help to build sustainable concepts that are no longer just technology-driven, but also consider real-life problems as impulses for development. Put together, we can describe EDT as an entrepreneurship education approach for treating user-centred problems as entrepreneurial opportunities within an iterative process of solution creation and exploitation.

Design Thinking is an innovative way of finding creative solutions to problems through the creation of new ideas. Based on this principle, the School of Entrepreneurial Design Thinking® - the ED-School ( was founded in 2010 as an organisational entity at the University of Koblenz-Landau for inter- and transdisciplinary education on entrepreneurship.

Since then it has offered tailored workshops (for teachers, students, and companies) that help with its unique methodology to create, test and further develop prototypes and with its activities integrates EDT into everyday teacher training programmes, thus generating a multiplier effect (‘training the trainers’ approach).

Inner Sanctum: Will the University of Koblenz-Landau support any initiative to foster the EDT concept in Việt Nam?

The purpose of entrepreneurship education is to impart entrepreneurship knowledge in students’ minds. In order to successfully teach entrepreneurship, it is necessary for students to actually experience entrepreneurship. The concepts of experimenting and experience-based learning are important for entrepreneurship education, as they enhance learning success.

Therefore, educators should try to account for experimentation and experience-based learning by using EDT as a framework for entrepreneurship courses.

In 2013, I founded the Zentral Institute for Scientific Entrepreneurship & International Transfer (ZIFET) at the University of Koblenz-Landau. The newly created ZIFET (, is especially directed towards internationalisation. With a special view on Việt Nam, we are very happy and proud to be able and very much willing to foster Entrepreneurial Design Thinking® in Việt Nam by providing seminars for students as well as train-the- trainer workshops for entrepreneurship educators for our trusted partners in Việt Nam. As a concrete results, we cooperate with International School of Management and Economics, National Economics University to launch a new master program in information management with a major in entrepreneurship, technology and innovation management very soon in 2017 in Việt Nam. We believe this programme will help to dissemninate the concepts and promote entrepreneurship mindsets among leaders, lecturers and staff of NEU itself and students of the programme as well.

Inner Sanctum: What do you think about entrepreneurship training programmes in Việt Nam? In what ways is it similar and different from other countries? 

Viet Nam is really on the rise in supporting entrepreneurship, especially entrepreneurship coming from science - what I call “scientific entrepreneurship”. Universities play a major role in the respective entrepreneurial ecosystems of their regions. I have already witnessed many interesting programmes and training initiatives in Viet Nam, and training is obviously a very important part of it.

There are of course many different ways to teach entrepreneurship, in the classroom, in labs, innovation centres, and so on. What is important to realise is that the training programmes become more practice-driven and the practice is becoming more theory-driven. 

Again, one important way to bring theory and practice together is Entrepreneurial Design Thinking. Actually, this is not yet developed enough in Việt Nam, however we are working on this with our education partners such as International School of Management and Economics, National Economics University.

Inner Sanctum: In your opinion, what do you think would make a good environment for entrepreneurs to start up?

A “good environment for entrepreneurship” is to give space for trying things out. Especially, it is never about failure: It is always about being experimental and learning from your results, independent of if you succeed or not. Also, entrepreneurship is very much about entrepreneurial competences. These competences cover not only “risk taking”, rather it is about taking over responsibility for projects, managing projects, taking decisions alone or in a team, being able to move things forward, etc. 

A “good environment for entrepreneurship” also covers all activities of the entrepreneurial value chain. That is to say sensibilisation, motivation, team building, idea generation, innovation. And - you might expect it already - Entrepreneurial Design Thinking again provides this needed coverage of the entrepreneurial value chain. VNS