TechLauncher - bringing entrepreneurship into the classroom

At the Australian National University, the traditional student group project has been given an entrepreneurial revamp with the introduction of the TechLauncher program in February this year.

TechLauncher gives students the opportunity to gain business experience while completing their degrees.  Under the program, participating students have the option of either creating their own software start-up company or working on real-world projects for public or private sector clients. The students work in small teams of 4-6 people, and each team is paired with an industry expert to provide guidance and advice. The year-long program is open to ANU students in any discipline and, for the first time, high-school students. 

Damien Beard is the Launch Co-ordinator for TechLauncher as well as an ANU graduate. He talks about how TechLauncher is bringing entrepreneurship into the classroom.

Why was TechLauncher set up?
TechLauncher was set-up to enable students from anywhere in the university to develop the skills required for bringing great ideas to life using technology. The driver behind the initiative was the increasing gap between students getting involved with start-ups and innovation projects, and the traditional student projects that have historically been run out of the Research School of Computer Science. We were aware that many students wanted to be involved in start-up businesses, so we figured that we shouldn't be hindering their enthusiasm, but instead encouraging it.  

Why do you think students are so interested in start-ups now, as opposed to say ten or twenty years ago?
I think there are two driving factors that are affecting our community at the moment. Firstly, the climate in Canberra means that getting a job in the public service isn't nearly as appealing as it was 10 or 20 years ago, and people are looking for alternative pathways into the workforce. Small businesses are exciting places to work, and I think that appeals to people, particularly young people.

Secondly, Generation Y are proving that we want to work for ourselves. There's a good portion of this age group that have no intention of going and working for someone else. They want to be their own boss, and they're making it happen!

What happens at the end of the program? 
At the end of the program, if students have chosen to work towards a start-up business, then they retain all of the IP for the project. The university will continue to support their business by offering them access to resources, and offering other assistance where appropriate. These groups are encouraged to apply for programs such as InnovationACT and the Griffin Accelerator program, as well as other opportunities around the country - and the world.

If the students have chosen to work on a client project, then they hand the project over to the clients. We find that students who work on client projects often end up working for those client companies sometime down the track.

Why did you get involved in TechLauncher, and what's your role in the program?
I graduated from a Bachelor of Software Engineering (Honours) at the end of 2014 from ANU. I also participated in Start-Up Camp Canberra and InnovationACT in 2014, as well as looked into creating my own start-up. I find working in the innovation space really interesting, and it's something that I had to try and juggle while I was studying. When I heard that ANU was looking into setting up a program that would allow students to work towards creating start-ups, and they could get a year's worth of credit for it, I thought that sounded amazing - and something that I would have done if I was still there. Since I'd graduated, I figured that if I couldn't take the course myself, I'd at least help get it up and running so that other people could benefit from it!

My role is Launch Co-ordinator. I'm basically taking this initiative from being an idea through to being an up and running course. I am involved with anything and everything that has come up, from writing marketing material, to building websites, to speaking at schools, to even running workshops for the students. My job is to make sure that the program can be taken from the beginning through to the end of year showcase (October 27) by the program convenor, Dr Shayne Flint.

What else would you like to see schools and universities do to encourage innovation and entrepreneurship in students? 
I'd love to see educational institutions provide pathways for students who have ideas to actually develop those ideas rather then being inundated with school work. When I was going through my degree, I found that trying to have extra projects on the side was near-impossible due to the workload that students have to bear nowadays. I would love to see schools and unis offer students the ability to work on their own projects, within the context of their program. That way you get the double benefit of their regular course load being reduced (and thus alleviating pressure) as well as allowing the students the utilise the resources they have available at their institution.

Given that there have been a lot of funding cuts across sectors recently, did TechLauncher encounter any challenges in getting sponsorship from other agencies? How did TechLauncher pitch to them to be successful in getting funding?
TechLauncher was largely funded from a ANU Linkage for Learning and Teaching Grant, which encourages projects that connect with organisations outside of the university. We actually found that the panel were very open to the idea of TechLauncher, and were excited to have the ANU be part of something so innovative and entrepreneurial. To me, it seems that the climate is right to start bringing practical innovation and entrepreneurship into the classroom.

Labels: , ,