Innovative Practice - Set up shop

14th December 2012 at 00:00
Encouraging business ventures by inviting start-ups and entrepreneurs to use space inside a vocational college

The background

Civic leaders in Espoo, Finland's second largest city, realised that it had a lot of high-tech companies. However, there was little provision for small start-up businesses and entrepreneurship, particularly in the service sector and in arts and crafts, where graduates were struggling to find meaningful employment.

So staff at Omnia, one of the country's largest vocational institutes for 16- to 19-year-olds, set up an "entrepreneurial hub". Its aim was to create a community of people with a passion for entrepreneurship and to promote cooperation between work and education.

The project

Thought to be the first scheme of its kind in the world, the InnoOmnia project invites small start-up businesses and entrepreneurs to rent workspace on the Omnia campus.

Applicants, who are given a questionnaire and interviewed before being accepted, are assessed on the basis of their potential value in terms of experience, fresh ideas and willingness to join in with community activities.

Successful applicants are expected to take part in a mix of formal, business-related events and more informal events built around networking. There is an emphasis on joint projects with the college's students, including business coaching and networking, with the aim of inspiring them to start their own businesses.

Currently, about 50 entrepreneurs are taking part in the project, including some who rent tailor-made facilities and others who use space on a more ad hoc basis.

Tips from the scheme

To create a real sense of community, constant interaction with students is key. The entrepreneurs have to give and not just take.

Make teachers realise the project is not a threat to them. It is not about detracting from their teaching but adding another dimension.

Evidence that it works?

The project has been credited with having a huge impact on drop-out rates on Omnia's business and administration course, down from almost 40 per cent last year to just one person this year.

It has been selected as a best practice case study for the World Innovation Summit for Education book Learning a Living, by Valerie Hannon et al, to be published in January 2013.

THE PROJECT

Approach: Giving entrepreneurs and start-up businesses space inside a college

Started: August 2011

Leader: Mervi Jansson-Aalto, head of learning solutions at InnoOmnia

THE SCHOOL

Name: Omnia

Type: Institution for vocational education and training

Location: Espoo, Finland

Age range: 16-19

Number of students: 10,000.

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