Digital entrepreneurship: the EIT Digital Master School

Willem Jonker ©EIT Digital

SciTech Europa spoke to EIT Digital’s CEO Willem Jonker on the day of their Digital Master School Kick-Off to discuss their ambitions for the future of European digital transformation, and the importance of giving technology graduates an entrepreneurial education.

The 2018 Digital Master School will educate over four hundred new international students at a network of 20 European Universities. The EIT Digital Master School aims to connect education, technology, entrepreneurship, and social responsibility. The Master School will give them the entrepreneurial skills to elevate their digital skills and provide the basis for leading new innovative start-ups in the future.

The students are meeting today for a three day Digital Master School Kick-Off in Paris from 25 October to 27 October.

© EIT Digital

What was the ambition behind developing an entrepreneurial education program for tech people?

Our reason for developing the EIT Digital Master School is that we noticed that the existing European digital programmes generally focus on just technology, and not entrepreneurial skills. We also noticed that many graduates did not gain the necessary skills in the commercial application of digital technology at university. The industry feedback reflected that many graduates are technologically savvy but are disconnected from commercial and societal needs. The ambition was to create the Digital Master School to connectdigital technology with commercial applications and societal needs. In our programme, we prioritise educating students about business entrepreneurship and social responsibility, alongside their technical education.

Digital technology is invading many employment sectors now, and disruptive technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) mean that the requirements of employees are changing. We address this new digital skills agenda in our Master’s School. We also have a professional education programme which teaches these skills at a strategic, executive level, as well as at an operational level to help employees adapt to increasingly digital job roles.

© EIT Digital

What are the challenges in realising Europe’s digital transformation, and how is EIT digital working to overcome them?

The main challenge in realising Europe’s digital transformation is the need to attract digital talent to Europe, and then to make sure that it stays here. This has been challenging because Silicon Valley is presented as the most attractive option for the top digital talent, but at EIT Digital we are addressing this by building digital ecosystems in Europe so that when students graduate they have an interesting digital market to work in.

We have also collaborated with DG Connect, and particularly Gerard de Graaf, on reattracting talent to contribute to the reindustrialisation of Europe. I would like to stress that entrepreneurial education is both an industrial and governmental responsibility, and we strongly encourage businesses to create interesting internships for our students.

It is challenging to incorporate digital skills into a wide range of curriculum areas because of the pressure on IT faculties at universities. Frank Baaijens, the director of Eindhoven technical university, is one of our close partners who we work with on this.

There has been a positive increase in the number of digital students in Europe, including many students choosing to study Master’s qualifications at Dutch universities. Eindhoven University has a strong tradition of collaborating with industry partners which in the beginning was mainly with Phillips but has now diversified greatly. Similarly, Munich Technical University, Germany, Delft University of Technology, the Netherlands, the University of Cambridge, England, and some of the Nordic universities are successfully creating relationships in the relevant industrial sectors.

What are some of EIT Digital’s key successes in developing entrepreneurial education?

The EIT Digital Masters School is an enormous success. We have overcome the challenge of agreeing on a coherent digital curriculum with a network of over twenty European universities. We have further strengthened our curriculum. We have also improved the quality of our programme this year and we have increased the student intake to four hundred.

We are succeeding in our aim of building global digital companies in Europe to keep talented graduates by investing in entrepreneurial education to up-skill graduates, and by building start-ups.

One example of this is a Chinese student who studied in Europe and established his digital start-up company in Berlin. Instead of selling to an American company when he had the opportunity, he has used our accelerator to build a global company based in Germany. We need more entrepreneurs to do this, because it will attract talent and create employment opportunities here in Europe.

Our work will also encourage European graduates who work in Silicon Valley to come back to work in the digital sector in Europe. Many Indian graduates who studied in the United States stayed there and were commercially successful, then eventually went back to India and influenced digital transformation there. EIT Digital can achieve a similar success using our hub in Silicon Valley to promote an awareness among employees there of the growing European market.

What are your hopes for the future of EIT Digital, and how do you wish to shape Europe’s role in the global digital economy?

Our ambition for the future is to scale up the student intake in the coming years, and we hope that in a couple of years we will have an intake level of a thousand students per year.

We encourage our students to think globally and be determined to make an impact on digital transformation. These students will be the future entrepreneurial leaders of the digital industry. They will have a global impact and increase European employment. Sometimes just one leader, Elon Musk for example, can create a huge impact on the industry.

We will be able to provide examples of how our graduates have risen to leadership positions and created successful start-ups, based on concrete metrics which will allow us to expand across Europe. As well as the universities already in our network, there are hundreds more European universities which could benefit from our model in the future.

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