Facing the corona crisis with entrepreneurship and innovation
Let me quickly introduce ourselves: we are the Maastricht University Centre of Entrepreneurship and Innovation (CEI) and our main task is to boost the entrepreneurial eco-system of Maastricht University. In addition to this, we also focus on leveraging the innovative potential of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the Brussels-Eindhoven-Aachen triangle. Over the past year a lot has happened but let me focus on the past few weeks. This is because, over these past few weeks, we have had to practice what we preach: flexibility in action and the power of innovation. Due to the recent crisis, our timeline of launching our programs has taken somewhat of a detour. We had to postpone our student pre-incubation program till September as many of our potential participants agreed that an offline environment would work better. Furthermore, a large project we were working on focused on family firms in cooperation with the Province of Limburg and MKB Limburg has been postponed till the fall.
Turning crisis into opportunity
While the crisis might have put a damper on some of our plans, it has also created new opportunities. A lot of firms are starting to realize that their business model is not as durable as they had thought. Firms in all kinds of sectors are looking to deal with the new reality of the '1,5 meters society'. How do you serve people in a bar or restaurant when you are not allowed to come within a meter and a half of other people? Due to the many 'funny' videos popping up on social media it might seem impossible, but problems are there to be solved. How do you create gatherings in which sharing the sensation is a big part of the experience ( think of sports games, theatre shows, concerts, festivals. etc.)? These two questions, from a practical standpoint, have big implications for the organisations involved and threaten their existing business model. This is what we are spending most of our time and effort thinking about at the moment.
Creating a more sustainable business model
We are currently involved in setting up programs together with the municipality of Maastricht and MKB Limburg to aid SMEs in all kinds of sectors to create a more durable business model and play into the opportunities of our post-corona society. In our programs, we start from scratch and try to let entrepreneurs create their business anew. Focusing on 'what could be' instead of 'what has been', we try to create a situation in which these entrepreneurs and their organisations are ready to take full advantage of the post-corona era’s opportunities.
For MKB Limburg our main efforts lie in the field of innovation. We focus on spreading our message that innovation is the silver bullet that will lead to long-term survival as an organisation. Our contribution to the platform is aimed at getting organisations out of crisis mode and instead focus on what comes next. We do this by showing them that innovation could be the answer and then showing them how innovation works and can be applied in their organisation. With the city of Maastricht, we are working on creating more in-depth programs, effectively aiding those who have been hit hard by the crisis but at the same time are aching to get their business started again. Focusing on their main customer, their business model and their product, we help shape a new reality for these businesses within the setting of the new reality.
The CEI's activities at Maastricht University
As you can see, our days are pretty filled. However, next to our efforts relating to SMEs we are also creating a new major program within the Maastricht School of Business and Economics (SBE) around the topic of entrepreneurship starting in September. This is hopefully also when our first student pre-incubation program will start. We are working on the launch of our family firm program and together with partners in Leuven and Liege, we are creating a program focused on female and minority entrepreneurship.
Last but not least we are involved in the YUFE efforts of Maastricht University concerning entrepreneurship. I also want to especially mention the Entrepreneurship Club, a group of students closely linked to CEI who are working hard to create a university-wide grassroots movement around the topic of entrepreneurship. Great work and keep going!
All in all, our dance card is well filled and we are excited to continue working on these projects. We miss the day to day interaction with colleagues and students but we are certain the CEI will hit the ground running when business as usual (whatever that may mean) will resume. For now on behalf of all of us at CEI: STAY SAFE and hopefully see you all soon.
The Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation (CEI) is Maastricht University’s initiative to help startups thrive across campus. Their mission is to connect students, researchers and investors to equip the community with tools to move powerful ideas from concept to product.