The pilot testing phase of the SCIENT Entrepreneurship Programme, developed in WP4, took place in 7 participating countries (Cyprus, Italy, Spain, Portugal, UK, Malta, Lithuania). About 20 STEM PhD students and graduates have been chosen in each country, using specific criteria, decided by our partnership early on in the project. In total 100 students participated in this pilot phase, aiming to test our training material and collect feedback and suggestions by all people involved (students, trainers, companies, guest speakers, Advisory Board members).
The programme started with a theoretical five-day workshop, of total 40-hour duration, designed to take promising PhD STEM students/graduates through the more difficult early stages of the entrepreneurial journey, starting of course from the basics of launching their own company. SCIENT is developed from the consortium of partners as a pre-accelerator programme designed to educate, support and inspire scientific entrepreneurs who want to launch a business, providing a hands-on, mentor driven programme approach. Special emphasis was placed on the entrepreneurial skills that are necessary to be developed in order to be successful and to the methods of transferring a research project into a commercialised product/service. During the course participants had the opportunity to experience real business cases from the STEM sector and other fields and group exercises.
Once the 5-day workshop was completed, students had the opportunity to participate in discussions/talks with successful entrepreneurs, visit companies related to their field of study and have job shadowing activities there. This stage had a 20-hour duration.
A mentor was assigned to each student from the start of the pilot testing phase. Mentors were experienced people with extensive business experience, like successful entrepreneurs and managers, members of Business Angels Networks and Venture Capital firms, consultants and STEM professionals. Through these hands-on mentoring, participants were able to secure an understanding of their customer development strategy, market size, competitors, MVP, fundability and pitching.
Furthermore, a number of participants from each country had the opportunity to participate in a transnational mobility programme for internship purposes and visit companies which were relevant to their business idea or to their field of studies. The participants, who didn’t have the chance to participate in an internship abroad, had the opportunity to attend an internship within their country. Partners faced several difficulties to convince the students to participate in this activity due to other commitments they already had. During the internship, participants were able to work for the company that they were assigned to, learn about its
line of business and discuss with the managers/employees how their own research work can fit with their business needs.
Once all partners involved completed all the activities included on the SCIENT pilot testing programme, an evaluation report of the pilot testing prepared by each partner organisation describing in detail the programme they followed, the participants background, the profile of the trainers and guest speakers, the companies visited, the methodology they followed in order to complete the relevant activities taking into consideration their local context, the feedback received and they also mentioned in their report the improvements that the consortium of partners could implement for the finalisation of the SCIENT training programme.
All the seven Country Evaluation Reports for Pilot Testing (D22) were gathered by EUROPEAN UNIVERSITY CYPRUS and a consolidated report prepared in which the main findings from all country reports were included, comparing and contrasting the opinions of all involved members.
A thorough read of all the sections in D23 can provide the reviewer with many pertinent conclusions regarding the training programme content, organisational challenges, participant and trainer concerns and external evaluators’ input. It was immediately apparent that different countries, presenters, participants, facilities and scheduling provided varying impressions regarding the overall programme and specific modules. There were, however, some wide-ranging agreements across countries and throughout all the programmes. Here is a list of the main conclusions:
· The programme was very well received by the participants. Although many of these PhD students and graduates had little knowledge of business matters, they appreciated its usefulness. The participants affirmed the merit of the programme by more than 75% in all of the quality dimensions covered. Indicatively, participants assessed the programme as useful, comprehensive, interactive and engaging. All individual programme modules received evaluations of more than 8 out of 10 points in all countries.
· The qualitative element of this project (verbal comments in free format) validated the positive quantitative ratings given.
· There were few clear points for improvement, however there were a number of suggestions that some elements should be expanded in order to further the involvement of business practitioners, and to provide time for practicing and training in pitching skills.
Suggestions for alternative structuring of the programme (some suggest to use shorter modules over a longer period, while others appreciate the compact format) show that delivering the course in various customised formats could further increase the outreach.
Other general conclusions include:
· The best way to attract participation is through a blitz of communication techniques, including social media and traditional means. Moreover, contacting key influencers (e.g. professors, Deans) helps as well. Most important is personal communication with candidates.
· Scheduling and other organisational details (e.g. breaks, duration of each session etc.) must be customised, according to the audience’s preferences.
· The strengths of the trainers, guest speakers and the participants must be taken into consideration and utilised in the whole process.
· Local variations (e.g. specific industrial emphases) must not be ignored. In fact they should be used to strengthen the training programmes.
· The stage of development of participants‘ business ideas is very important and ideally similar; however, training, as it has been structured, can actually combine varying entry level development stages. Nonetheless, the resultant final outcome (i.e. how far each individual’s or group’s idea has progressed) will be affected.
· Group work should be encouraged further.
· The theory-practice combination is very important. Generally, students prefer the hands-on this-is-how-it’s-done approach.
· Though mentoring and internships are key, it is a challenge to arrange scheduling and to find participating companies and individuals. Possibly the best way to approach this is to find tangible benefits for both sides. The team also concluded that internships, due to regulations, even legalities, need to be separate from such programmes. Mentoring should be embodied within the training sessions, even though there is an argument that mentoring needs to follow an incubation period, during which participants can better absorb taught material.
· A key objective must be to coordinate the theoretical class with the practical one and the visit of the guest speaker. This way, they all had a major impact in the attendants’ comprehension of the project. But this is not always easy.
· The pitching unit needs a more solid foundation, with training in marketing, promotional and selling skills.
· PhD students in non-business areas can get excited about entrepreneurial projects, given the right training.
· Given the amount and diversity of new material, it is a challenge for the participants to absorb and then assimilate it all. Ideally, there should be an incubation period somewhere within the course.
· All modules should have the feel of workshops, with a very real result at the end.
· More incentives, or tangible benefits, are required to ensure an increase in registration demand. A learner’s contract of some sort is necessary, to ensure participation throughout.
The results and feedback received from each partner pilot testing programme were analysed in-depth to finalise SCIENT innovative entrepreneurship training package for STEM PhD students/graduates.