StartRails and StartNets: Mapping experiential pathways toward entrepreneurship at two large universities

How to visual directories of experiential entrepreneurship education opportunities at large universities and create a sense of belonging in an entrepreneurial community.

Martin Bliemel
UTS:Faculty of Transdisciplinary Innovation

Background and objectives of the case
How can experiential entrepreneurship education opportunities at large universities be coordinated and communicated to students? This presentation summarises successes and failures at creating visual directories of experiential entrepreneurship education opportunities at UNSW and UTS, each also creating a sense of belonging in a community.

How universities support startups and innovation remains a black-box for most students and external stakeholders. Recent overviews by Universities Australia (2017) including over 100 programs across 40 universities only scratches the surface of each university. The growth of these applied programs is fuelled further by state funding, such as the Boosting Business Innovation Program by the NSW Department of Industry (2017). However, these co-curricular programs are still only part of the picture and are complemented by the myriad of coursework programs.

Universities to more than produce raw talent and scientific knowledge. They are increasingly a source of startups and entrepreneurial talent. Research on innovation systems and entrepreneurial ecosystems has limited use if universities are consistently portrayed in a simplistic form as suppliers of talent and knowledge. Instead, more work needs to be done that recognises that universities are complex systems and that they provide a plethora of engagement opportunities between students and industry.

The objective of this pair of case studies is to provide guidelines with which to develop visualizations of universities as ecosystems consisting of interconnected experiential entrepreneurship education opportunities. Such visualisations are particularly useful if they are not oversimplified and not overly complex, as presented with multiple examples in this paper.

Generally, visualization of innovation systems and ecosystems can provide immense value, but involves significant compromises in deciding what to include and how to include it in the graphic. These compromises and tradeoffs are apparent in the genealogical visualization of 1,400 firms in British Columbia (Smith, 2002), 700 firms in Puget Sound (Mayer & Armstrong, 2011), and in more recent visualizations of the startup ecosystems in Sydney and Melbourne (http://www.startrail2015.com/).

The paper reflects on multiple attempts at mapping two university-based entrepreneurial ecosystems. This includes a failed attempt in 2012 followed by a successful series of visualizations from 2016 to 2017 at UNSW, as well as a series of attempts in 2017, ultimately abandoned until a new approach was taken in 2018 at UTS. Both university’s maps resulted in static (printable) versions, as well as interactive and hyperlinked online versions. These serve as a guide to over 50,000 students per campus to find their way towards an entrepreneurial career path. The maps also provide a visual directory for startups, investors and other organisations searching for entrepreneurial talent.