Drivers of institutional change: the Inno-EUt+ project

Interview with Stelios Yiatros, Inno-EUt+ project

One of the most challenging goals of the EIT HEI Initiative is to bring about real institutional change within partner universities. We reached out to Stelios Yiatros, Project Coordinator of one of our Pilot Projects, Inno-EUt+. With the project’s conclusion in June 2023, we asked Stelios about its impact on the consortium.

Could you tell us about yourself and the EIT HEI Initiative project that you represent?

I’m Stelios Yiatros, Associate Professor of Structural Engineering at the Cyprus University of Technology. I have a diverse interest in innovation in engineering education and cleantech entrepreneurship. In line with this, I co-founded a cleantech business idea accelerator in Cyprus. I also served as the National Education Lead for the EIT Climate-KIC RIS Hub in Cyprus from 2016 to 2022.

During my time in this role, I was responsible for proposing and coordinating the Inno-EUt+ project. Inno-EUt+ was a project closely aligned with the goals of the newly established European university alliance European University of Technology (EUt+). Our primary focus in this project is to integrate an innovation and entrepreneurship mindset into our respective higher education institutions (HEIs).

Inno-EUt+ involves seven of the eight universities in the EUt+ consortium, including the Technological University of Sofia, Technical University of Cluj-Napoca, Technical University of Dublin, Université Technologique de Troyes, Universidad Politecnica de Cartagena, Riga Technical University and Cyprus University of Technology. Additionally, we collaborated with two external partners: the Water Alliance, which is a water-related technology innovation hub supporting start-ups and companies in the sector, and Chrysalis LEAP, the first cleantech business idea accelerator in Cyprus and an EIT Climate-KIC RIS partner since 2016.

Our main objective is to enhance the capacity for innovation and entrepreneurship within the participating HEIs through the development of common entrepreneurial curricula, the sharing of best practices, and the implementation of support mechanisms. Ultimately, we aim to increase the number of aspiring entrepreneurs and spin-offs as a result of these initiatives.

After two years of implementation, your project concluded in June 2023. Can you highlight its main achievements?

We provided training and mentoring to over 2,200 individuals, comprising 1,900 students and 330 academic and non-academic staff. We also mentored 18 start-ups, fostering their growth and development.

In terms of events, we organised three International Demo Days, where the top team from each HEI had the opportunity to pitch their innovative ideas.  We also hosted one Entrepreneurship Inspirational Week, bringing together cross-cultural and multi-disciplinary teams to generate new product concepts. We conducted an Entrepreneurship Summer School, providing further education and hands-on experience.

As a result of our efforts, we established 11 new partnerships within our ecosystems. These partnerships not only supported our local activities but also facilitated cross-campus collaboration and ensured the sustainability of our initiatives beyond the EIT HEI Initiative funding.

Beyond the numerical achievements, we believe that we succeeded in capturing the hearts and minds of our diverse communities, be it students, academic, research or administrative staff. This is essential for the success of our Innovation Vision Action Plan (IVAP). It’s all about sowing the seeds of change, empowering individuals and giving them the opportunity to explore new, creative avenues for advancement. In time, these efforts will yield innovative start-ups, new products, services and overall growth.

You said that the consortium was formed through the EUt+. How did the project activities contribute to the success of your university alliance?

Inno-EUt+ played a pivotal role in the success of EUt+ by being one of the most dynamic working groups, orchestrating numerous training programmes and activities, including facilitating student mobility across our campuses. We believe that our consortium’s enthusiasm and motivation have had a positive ripple effect throughout the entire alliance.

At this juncture, I’d like to acknowledge my colleague, Antonia Christou, who initially joined our group to support local activities. However, she quickly rose to the occasion, assuming leadership in various aspects of coordination and establishing connections with the relevant work packages of EUt+. Her enthusiasm and passion were transmitted to our partner institutions, resulting in a successful outcome and paving the way for the continuation of Inno-EUt+ as an integral part of the new phase of EUt+.

One of the key objectives of the EIT HEI Initiative is to trigger positive institutional change in innovation and entrepreneurship. Could you already see some signs of institutional transformation at your university or the universities in your consortium?

Yes, we have already noticed several signs of institutional transformation. Firstly, there’s a significant step forward in integrating entrepreneurship and innovation activities within a dedicated work package for the new phase of the EUt+. This integration means that our initiatives are now aligned with the alliance’s primary strategic objectives, and dedicated funding will support our activities.

Secondly, on a more local level, we have observed the creation of modules at our HEIs based on our climate entrepreneurship training. These modules have been seamlessly integrated into existing courses. Furthermore, we’ve witnessed the organisation of inspirational events and activities, contributing to a more dynamic and vibrant innovation ecosystem.

What were the internal and external factors that contributed to institutional change at the partner universities?

The Inno-EUt+ consortium, as a part of EUt+, received significant support from senior management, which was pivotal in propelling our efforts forward. Additionally, it’s worth noting that this initiative is among the most interdisciplinary within the alliance, involving both internal and external stakeholders. This diversity enriched the experience for each participating organisation and yielded exciting new insights that weren’t necessarily specific to any one sector.

An external factor that played a crucial role in enabling this transformation was our access to the ClimateLaunchpad content, which served as the foundation for our training programmes. Furthermore, financial support from the EIT Climate-KIC allowed our students to engage in the training, present their ideas locally, and participate in showcasing alongside their peers from the seven partner HEIs.

Moreover, the substantial assistance provided by the Water Alliance in supporting our regional start-ups demonstrated that the alliance had a reliable partner when it came to facilitating the transition from laboratory to market, as well as other innovation-related activities.

Did the university’s top management play a role in institutionalising the project results?

The senior management played a crucial role in the institutionalisation of the project results. They provided vital support for our IVAP and actively promoted our initiatives. Importantly, their backing extended beyond the project’s conclusion. This allowed us to establish a dedicated work package focused on innovation and entrepreneurship for the upcoming phase of the EUt+, enabling us to continue and expand our project’s activities.

How did the non-university partners help with institutional change at the higher education institutions part of your consortium?

The Water Alliance and Chrysalis LEAP played pivotal roles within our alliance. Chrysalis LEAP, in its capacity as the organiser and trainer for the ClimateLaunchpad, facilitated the establishment of a pool of trainers through their ‘Train the Trainer’ sessions. This initiative empowered HEIs to create a team of trainers for the climate entrepreneurship training.

The Water Alliance introduced a range of inspirational activities as part of our best practice sharing, including ‘F*ck Up Nights’, ‘Business Idea Generator’, and the ‘Launch Game’, among others. These activities not only motivated our students but also encouraged them to delve deeper into entrepreneurship and even explore launching their own business ideas.

Both of these partners have actively mentored our students, contributing to the cultivation of the next generation of innovators by ‘planting seeds’ for future success.

What is your best memory from this project?

I believe our project, which reached over 2,200 individuals across our 7 campuses, was filled with numerous smaller, yet significant moments. One of these moments was when we linked our training programmes with European mobility incentives to foster cross-cultural experiences. This included events like the Demo Days in Cartagena, Limassol and Riga, as well as the intensive bootcamp in Cluj-Napoca. As a result, participating in Inno-EUt+ activities became something that students eagerly anticipated.

However, for me, the most striking ‘wow’ moment occurred in May 2023 during the IVAP workshop in Prague. It was then that I realised our project had likely ranked within the top three or four in terms of engagement with both students and staff. That really made me smile.

Learn more about the Inno-EUt+ project

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Publication: 8 November 2023