10 Years DO!: from pioneer to key player in student entrepreneurship

(25-10-2020) In 2010, Koen De Bosschere wanted to stimulate student entrepreneurship at Ghent University. Today DO! is the expertise center for student and PhD entrepreneurship, and plays an important role in Ghent, Courtrai and Flanders.

“Stimulating entrepreneurship among our (PhD) students will be extremely important to help the economy on top after the corona crisis. As a committed and open minded education and research institution, we must and will continue to take the lead in this. The role of DO! the next 10 years will be even more important in this regard than it has unmistakably been in the past 10 years.” (Rector Rik Van de Walle)

From a pioneer in 2010...

It all started in September 2010, when Professor Koen De Bosschere gave the first impetus for entrepreneurship activities within Ghent University.

The objectives? Encourage students to discover entrepreneurship and give them the opportunity to experiment. Many students still have time to discover whether entrepreneurship is something they enjoy and are good at. And above all: students still have the necessary freedom to take risks (and maybe even fail) without too much pressure to immediately make a lot of profit.

Professor De Bosschere sought and found support from the faculty and central board, which led to various achievements in the following years:

  • in October 2010 steps were taken to give entrepreneurship an official place within Ghent University: Durf Ondernemen!
  • the special student-entrepreneur status was officially introduced in 2011-2012.
  • in the faculties of Engineering and Architecture, and Economics and Business Administration, an optional package on entrepreneurship was offered from 2012 (the 'entrepreneurship learning path')
  • Steve Stevens started in 2013 as the first Ghent University staff member who, together with Professor De Bosschere, would specifically focus on the further development of 'Durf Ondernemen!'

In these years, Ghent University was the first Belgian university to commit itself so strongly to providing opportunities for student entrepreneurship.

...to a team and key role on the Ghent and Flemish level in 2020

DO! is the center for student entrepreneurship at Ghent University. We are the first point of contact for every University student who is thinking about starting his/her own venture, as well as a springboard towards other entrepreneurial organizations and initiatives in the ecosystem. Our goal at Dare To Venture (Durf Ondernemen) is to correctly inform all students about the pros and cons of a career as an entrepreneur, to provide as many students as possible with entrepreneurial competences, and to optimally support the official student-entrepreneurs with counsel and guidance during both the starting and growing phases of their ventures. (DO! Mission)

In 2020, Ghent University still plays a key role in stimulating and engaging student entrepreneurship, but that is no longer limited to 2 faculties, 1 staff member and a few dozen students...

Durf Ondernemen became DO!: a team of 6 staff members, in addition to Professor De Bosschere.

  • Student entrepreneurship is possible and is encouraged in all faculties, and students can take up 5 university-wide electives within the DO! Learning track, as well as various master's programs offer specific entrepreneurial electives.
  • Since 2018, PhD students can also find support at DO!
“Doctoral students are exceptionally talented. If we can let them do business, this will eventually have an impact on all of Flanders” (Professor Koen De Bosschere, DO! founder)
  • Many international (PhD) students are now also finding their way.
  • The Ghent University approach formed the inspiration, and is partly the driving force, for initiatives within other educational institutions in Ghent, Kortrijk and Flanders, but especially in the development of city initiatives for young entrepreneurship. The cooperation and interaction with Gentrepreneur and Start at K is therefore very intense.
  • The special student-entrepreneur status has meanwhile been established at Flemish level, as well as the tax-self-employed student status. Professor De Bosschere continues to work towards an even more extensive embedding of entrepreneurship in the studies. The most recent step is to add 'entrepreneurial action' as a core competence within the bachelor's programs in Flanders.

The package offered has been greatly expanded:

  • Advice and coaching to (PhD) students who want to discover entrepreneurship and / or start a business
  • An extensive teaching branch with the DO! Learning line
  • Bringing the professional field and students together, for example by means of a call to the professional field to present challenges that students can work with in their study trajectory.
  • Setting up various entrepreneurial programs
    • Expedition DO !: a pre-acceleration process for students and young researchers
    • Science To Business (S2B) for doctoral students
    • H-Impact: innovation and entrepreneurial program in the health sector

Hundreds of (PhD) students a year: reaching for better and more

In 2019-2020, 137 Ghent University students applied for the special student-entrepreneur status, 420 students were coached during more than 600 sessions, and 37 doctoral students applied for DO! support. As is almost annual custom, the previous annual records were broken.

Moreover, since 2012 more than 5,000 students have already taken one of the optional courses offered within the DO! learning track.

And whether there are any success stories? Too many to list... Maybe start with the story of Dripl, the company that markets 'the Soft Drink Machine 2.0'. They are the winners of the recently ended Expedition DO! Trajectory, and earlier this year they also won the Gentrepreneur award for 'Sustainable Centipede'.

Since 2010, Gentrepreneur annually awards the prize for the Ghent student entrepreneur of the year. This year Tibo Ceulers of Pic @ Media, student of Political and Social Sciences, was honored, making him the 6th Ghent University student to receive this prize:

  • Sarah Parent - Zikini - Gentrepreneur Student-Entrepreneur 2014
  • Maxime Sergeant - Bakkersonline - Gentrepreneur Student-Entrepreneur 2015
  • Laura Verhulst - Madam Bakster - Gentrepreneur Student-Entrepreneur 2016
  • Ellen Bruyninckx - Roll-in (and now current: Ergopraktijk.be) - Gentrepreneur Student-Entrepreneur 2017
  • Tibbe Verschaffel - Planet B - Gentrepreneur Student-Entrepreneur 2019
  • Tibo Ceulers - Pic @ Media - Gentrepreneur Student-Entrepreneur 2020

Great start-ups have also been started from UGent Campus Kortrijk. Marie Van den Broeck became UNIZO student entrepreneur of the year in 2017, and recently made a first takeover with her company My Add On.