Annika Wolf on innovative entrepreneurship in education: ‘A fixed position in the classroom reflects a fixed mindset’

Annika Wolf works for the University of Oldenburg on the innovation of entrepreneurship and education. ‘I look at the various regional education formats in the area of entrepreneurship. That means on both sides of the border: an area in which nine different research universities and universities of applied sciences are based. I examine what the various institutions are doing to nurture the entrepreneurial spirit of the students. Which types of education are provided to form the mindset of the students, and how are students and start-ups supported and guided?’

Interactive education

As an expert in this area, Annika can see an interesting parallel between the implementation of the education and the educational institutions themselves. ‘If you want to facilitate innovative education, you also have to be an innovative educational institution yourself. Projects and interactive seminars allow you to convey this new mindset to students as an educational institution. So instead of one-sided lectures, you need to roll up your sleeves and work on projects. The starting point is moving the tables and chairs around. Because a fixed position in the classroom reflects a fixed mindset.’

‘This generation of students is producing pioneers in the field of entrepreneurship’
Annika Wolf

These kinds of workshops show how the education system is now lagging behind the needs of society. ‘During the first few days, students have no idea what to do. After all, you first need to explain to them how creative thinking works. They’ve always learned to just study for tests, and suddenly they have to do things. But once they step out of their comfort zone, you’ll be amazed at the possibilities.’

Pioneers through collaboration

Being creative is easier said than done, however. ‘The students in this region are newbies when it comes to entrepreneurship. They are the pioneers who are learning to think creatively at school. If you work with an idea from the outset, you will also incorporate it into your work later on, even if you don’t launch your own start-up but end up working for an institutionalised company instead.’

Collaboration is invaluable to educational institutions: it is synergy.’ – Annika Wolf

Therefore, collaboration between the various educational institutions in the Ems-Dollart-region (EDR) is so important. ‘If you work together, you get synergy: 1+1=3. Each research university or university of applied sciences has its own speciality, its own niche. In addition, Hanze University of Applied Sciences (Hanze UAS) and the University of Oldenburg have a lot of experience. So why not give students from one university access to workshops and seminars from another? These kinds of collaborations foster the exchange of knowledge. And educational institutions can also reduce costs by working together. It’s hard to put a price on that kind of added value.’

Making an impact

And it’s fun too, says Annika with passion. ‘Working together is enjoyable. It’s fun to develop and to innovate. The world is changing, the mindset is changing and it’s time for higher education to change as well. Our region is the ideal place for this and is characterised by cross-border cultures. Students also benefit from this exchange of different perspectives.’

You don’t need to develop a new Tesla to make an impact’ – Annika Wolf

The region also has an additional advantage, namely that you can make a big impact with small innovations. ‘Although there are no major industries in the EDR, what you can do is apply entrepreneurship to regional innovation. In other words, you can apply creativity to make changes that will benefit the entire region over the next 20 – 30 years. In doing so, you will also respond well to the local needs of the area. You don’t need to develop a new Tesla to make an impact. And the impact here is many times greater than in Berlin or the Randstad conurbation.’

Sustainable innovation

‘The more people are personally involved, the more innovative entrepreneurship can become’ – Annika Wolf

This kind of regional innovation therefore also constitutes a sustainable strategy for making the region more popular again. Annika: ‘Entrepreneurship is a way of bringing knowledge, Mindset and creativity back to the region. Because once the network is established, the ecosystem automatically ensures innovation and development – at least, within a network in which people and organisations work together for a greater good. A network makes it easier to get started and share ideas with others. By working together, you can do fantastic things and turn dreams into reality. The more people are personally involved, the more innovative entrepreneurship can become.’