This week's Spotlight on Research series is with Dr Roisin Lyons, Assistant Professor in Entrepreneurship and Innovation, DCU School of Business and University Track Captain for Dublin Startup Week (October 21-25)
Roisin, earlier this year you co-organised an event to encourage researchers in DCU to look at their research in terms of sustainability, what was that about?
“It was a day-long symposium where we asked DCU researchers from different disciplines across the University to champion one each of the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
These goals have been set out by the United Nations with targets to achieve by 2030 in areas such as reducing poverty and increasing equality and tackling climate change.
At the event, each champion talked about how their research links into a goal, and the idea was to encourage other researchers to think about their research and sustainability and collaborate on these sustainable targets and goals.”
How did the idea for the event come about?
“I work in the area of entrepreneurship and recently I have had a focus on sustainability. When myself and my colleague in DCU School of Business Dr Rob Gillanders saw that the DCU Quality Improvement Fund issued a call for funding around the Sustainable Development Goals, we decided to organise this event.
We immediately got a good reaction, everyone that we asked to take part said yes within 24 hours, so there was an appetite for it.
Then when we got researchers together in the room to present and talk about their area of work in the context of the SDGs, it brought a lot of new perspectives.”
How do you seek to improve sustainability in entrepreneurship yourself?
“I mostly do that through education at the moment. I teach entrepreneurship to students in DCU and in Princess Nourah Bint Abdul Rahman University in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
The students respond really well to learning about social entrepreneurship and taking part in our Enactus programme in DCU, where teams develop social enterprises and compete with other teams globally.
Hands down, Enactus builds that sense of responsible, sustainable entrepreneurship in the students who take part. I also set the students tasks to develop business ideas and products around the Sustainable Development Goals.
They have had great ideas, such as games for children that make them aware of the need to reduce sugar in our diets, and the threats of animal extinction.”
Can education really make people entrepreneurs?
“The research would suggest that yes, it can. Some people will be born with more of a disposition for entrepreneurship, or they might have been exposed to it through a family business.
But wherever the student is, entrepreneurship education can provide a lot of knowledge about the mindset of entrepreneurs and the processes of building a business - like getting funding and building teams - then doing projects and pitches allows them to build their skills.”
How do you carry out research on entrepreneurship education?
“Most of my research is quantitative, using surveys with the students in DCU, or from national and international databases. I am on the national teams for Ireland and Saudi Arabia on a huge international study called GUESSS (Global University Entrepreneurial Spirit Students' Survey), which surveys students about entrepreneurship and the factors that affect it, such as attitudes, families and supports.”
What have you been finding in your research?
“One trend I have seen is that at the start of entrepreneurship education the students pretty much all want to be entrepreneurs.
Then you put them through their paces and invite speakers to come in and tell them about the authentic highs and lows of entrepreneurship.
At the end, the students may believe they now have the skills, but they don’t want to be entrepreneurs, they graciously decline.
Then after a lag period of a few years after graduation, that desire to be an entrepreneur rises. So it seems they want to build their skills and networks in a company straight after graduation before diving into entrepreneurship, which is logical.”
What is keeping you busy at the moment?
“We have just launched a new module known as LIFE (Learning Innovation for Enterprise), which is being taught to all 625 first year students in the Business School, which is very exciting.
I’m also very excited to be University Track Captain for Dublin Startup Week 2019. Techstars Startup Week™ Dublin powered by Dublin City Council brings entrepreneurs, innovators, local leaders, and friends together over five days (October 21st - 25th) to build momentum and opportunity around our community’s unique entrepreneurial identity.
There will be over 75 events in total and we are expecting over 2500 attendees, so it is a massive undertaking. In my role, I aim to encourage many third levels and students to engage in the network and events, and have helped to curate events with the student in mind.
During StartUp Week Dublin, students are welcome to learn about start-ups and the entrepreneurial journey by attending amazing seminars, and by networking with industry experts and community builders.
I am delighted that north Dublin is well represented with events in Talent Garden, StartUp Ballymun and in DCU itself.
We will be running an event called “What is Entrepreneurship?” in the Solas room on Thursday 24th.
I would urge that everyone in the university to consider attending something during StartUp Week – register for events on https://www.dublinstartupweek.com.