An Australian in Europe: veski's chief executive reflects on her recent travels

24 August
Heather Alexander and Julia Page
Heather Alexander and Julia Page

As an innovative organisation veski draws on its international networks for knowledge, inspiration and advice. An important part of my role as chief executive officer is visiting our international connections and learning how innovators in other countries operate.

During late May and early June, a whistle stop tour of Europe had me visit Holland and Scotland to meet with a range of veski stakeholders. I had the opportunity to listen to, and learn from, their best practices. In Holland, my focus was on visiting the University of Twente and their innovation campus Kennispark. In Scotland, my visit centered around Interface - the knowledge connection for business based in Edinburgh and catching-up with their inspiring leader Dr Siobhán Jordan (our 2015 veski resident) providing me with a unique opportunity to observe the Interface team in action and spend time with some of the larger Scottish tertiary institutions. 

Taking the opportunity to listen and learn from the experiences of others, and in return supporting others to learn and grow by sharing veski’s own experiences is a critical part of global innovation.

The University of Twente was voted the top Dutch university in the area of commercial knowledge transfer: recognising the university’s ability to create economic and social value from scientific knowledge. After my visit to Twente it is obvious that collaboration and entrepreneurship are a core part of the university. Twente is an innovative institution looking to the future and continually reinventing itself. 

While in Holland, I had the opportunity to attend The Future of High Tech conference and participate in a discussion on the Future of Education. It was a most rewarding experience and reassuring to learn that the challenges we are facing in educating our next generation are shared across the world. 

One of the key themes, that supports the work veski is currently undertaking, is the importance of developing transferable skills that allow students to be enterprising so they can navigate complex careers across a range of industries and professions. Such Enterprise skills are generic skills that are transferrable across different jobs such as problem solving, financial literacy, digital literacy, teamwork, and communication. 

The discussions I had with attendees and participants at the conference were further reinforced by spending time with Kees Eijkel, director of Kennispark Twente. Kees has been a regular contributor to veski conversations in recent years and his experiences lie with entrepreneurship and stimulating startups. In his new position as Director of Strategic Business Development he will be focused on developing new connections between the university’s research areas and collaboration with large companies.

After spending several days visiting the University of Twente and their innovation campus Kennispark I then made the journey to Scotland where I participated in a program of meetings coordinated by the team at Interface.

One of my key takeaways from spending time with the Interface team and several of their stakeholders was the importance of the face-to-face engagement – the personal approach to gain a true understanding of the challenges faced by SMEs. The team play an invaluable role in unpacking and interpreting these needs and sharing them in a language to engage academia in providing an array of solutions (often approached through a different lens) for the SMEs consideration. 

Siobhán and her team arranged meetings for me across Scottish universities, providing me with the opportunity to learn more about how the universities embrace the independent service that Interface offers and the importance it plays in brokering that initial relationship between an SME and an academic partner. 

I believe, having met with several academics who regularly engage with Interface, that one of the success factors if the willingness of academics to collaborate with SMEs; whether it’s driven by their internal incentives system, for the sheer passion of changing the world [see last month’s Interface Blog with Professor Bill Buchanan], or by utilising the case studies prepared by Interface to assist individual academics in demonstrating the impact that their knowledge engagement is having.

I also had the opportunity to learn a little more about The Royal Society of Edinburgh and in particular their Enterprise Fellowships  - growing successful entrepreneurs - designed to enable an individual to advance the commercialisation of existing research results or technological developments through a program of specialist training and mentorship from experienced entrepreneurs.

Nothing compares to the experience of seeing and feeling how an organisation operates in person, and by spending time in both Holland and Scotland I was able to observe first-hand how innovative organisations; addressing localised needs, approach many of the challenges and opportunities open to veski in Australia.

Plenty of food for thought…

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