It’s all about co-creation. If you have one idea, then there’ll be more

Professor Stephanie Birkner is part of the project Startup Ems-Dollart Region (Startup EDR). Based in Oldenburg, she is currently setting up an entrepreneurship village. A place that’s all about Zukunftunternehmen, the German term for future-oriented business. ‘This is the arena of our future. Entrepreneurs design the future, and here we’re trying to redefine that design.’

Stephanie has a mission. By means of collaboration she aims to break through barriers, identify limiting ideas and redefine the concept of ‘entrepreneurship’. ‘Our society is a product of entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurs define the future, the narratives and the definitions of our society. This means that entrepreneurs can change the future, too, by adapting our definition of entrepreneurship to the current societal context. And to the society of the future.’

The arena of the future

According to Stephanie, entrepreneurship has become stuck in old ideas, in outdated concepts that are no longer applicable to our modern society. ‘If we open ourselves to redefining our idea of entrepreneurship, then we can break through social constructs. And this is necessary in order to move beyond the limitations of our economy and to overcome stereotypes. If we are to achieve this, we have to shift the focus within entrepreneurship: not only offering new products or services, but bringing about changes to society.’

One idea isn’t enough

In Oldenburg entrepreneurs are beginning to apply this new idea. In a former factory hall, old containers have been transformed into small office spaces. Now this is a place where everyone can come together to co-create. A place for being together physically or online and for meeting like-minded people.

Stephanie continues: ‘With our unique approach we’re not focusing on just one idea, but on the people. We’re faced by so many societal challenges that one idea isn’t enough to solve them. We need lots of ideas. In the entrepreneurship village we make people aware of these challenges, we help them grow stronger and we teach them the methods for tackling these challenges together. We build the bridge, they come together with good plans.’

Co-creation is the key

The great thing about the entrepreneurship village in Oldenburg is that it’s not only for young entrepreneurs. In fact they facilitate entrepreneurship for all. ‘We bring together all kinds of different parties here. This is an important element for breaking through old concepts: we lower the threshold for thinking about new ideas and we break through the hierarchy. Every field, every person has something to contribute.’

‘Co-creation is a question of give and take. At the moment, entrepreneurship is often a struggle to find and sell the best idea. But as a result the goals are all about money and success, and not a question of doing good. And this too is another limiting stereotype in our society. But ultimately the intention is the most important thing. Collaboration is more important than competition.’

Unconscious prejudices

In the entrepreneurship village, all the participants are part of the solution. ‘And that’s crucial,’ says Stephanie. ‘People don’t realise how little is actually needed for change. Our prejudices are unconscious, we don’t know that we think this way. When people become aware of these prejudices then it’s shocking, especially for large businesses. And only then do they realise what they need to change.’

However, this isn’t just a question of ‘right or wrong’. ‘We don’t condemn people for having prejudices, that’s simply the way our society is. But that’s why it’s so important to support entrepreneurs in a positive manner in order to break through these patterns. Only then does the true potential of entrepreneurship reveal itself. And the best way of doing that is through collaboration. By co-creating with new people you promote diversity in entrepreneurship.’

Change is coming

Nowadays it’s no longer a question of wanting to change: no, we have to change. Luckily Stephanie is hopeful that this will start happening in the near future: ‘There’s a growing tendency that entrepreneurs are bringing about ever more changes. Entrepreneurs are increasingly setting a good example themselves, from mindful entrepreneurship to simply no longer working 24/7. They are the change they want to see in the world. And then politics naturally follows.’

The power of the EDR

According to Stephanie the Ems-Dollart region is a great example of co-creation. ‘It’s a community in which people with various backgrounds, ideas and cultures come together. What’s more, ideas know no boundaries. We’ve made the boundaries, so we can remove them as well. The project Startup EDR isn’t cross-border, it’s without boundaries!’

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