The Dutch Centres for Entrepreneurship (DutchCE) is a network created to allow university resource centres to pool capacity to promote joint research and knowledge sharing on entrepreneurship education, at low operational costs.
The initiative was started by universities as a way to facilitate cooperation on entrepreneurship education, notably in the context of the organization of joint events such as the Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW).
Prior to this initiative, a number of entrepreneurship centres were active in the Netherlands, but they were operating on a small scale, with limited individual capacity. DutchCE has received public support to further cooperation, as part of a wider government agenda to support entrepreneurship education.
The information below is an excerpt from the OECD’s International Compendium of Entrepreneurship Policies (2020), which contains 16 case studies from 12 OECD countries. The Compendium examines the rationale for entrepreneurship policy, presents a typology of policy approaches and highlights principles for policy success. Case studies span policies for regulations and taxation, entrepreneurship education and training, advice and coaching, access to finance, internationalization, innovation, and holistic packages for ecosystem building. (OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/338f1873-en.)
DutchCE is the network of Centres for Entrepreneurship in public universities and universities of applied science in the Netherlands. It was created as a bottom-up initiative and involves 20 higher-education institutions (HEIs), 6 major incubators/accelerators, and 4 key partner organisations over the country. Centres have regional outreach, and offer entrepreneurship programmes for students, staff, and local entrepreneurs.
The DutchCE network aims to (i) Strengthen entrepreneurship education; (ii) Strengthen entrepreneurship research; (iii) Apply entrepreneurship education and research; (iv) Support policymaking and (v) Represent and promote the Dutch ecosystem.
The DutchCE functions as a consortium of Dutch Universities. The programme received public subsidies in the past, but is a bottom-up initiative run by its members at its core. Its board includes two universities and a university of applied science, an entrepreneurial support organization and an entrepreneur. The board represents most of the Netherlands’ regions.
Target beneficiary groups of this initiative are:
- Higher education institutions
- Aspiring entrepreneurs and early-stage entrepreneurs (pre-launch to growth)
Each Centre monitors its activities independently. No network-wide evaluation has been conducted. However, many DutchCE participants have shared reports on their activities.
Work on improving metrics and coordination is ongoing. Three of the Centres are also on the advisory board of the European Union-supported Evaluation of Entrepreneurship Education Programmes in Higher Education Institutions and Centres (EEEPHEIC) project, which is developing a toolkit to assess impact of entrepreneurship education programmes.
While there is no published evaluation of DutchCE as a whole, some centres share information on their activities and achievements. The Erasmus Centre for Entrepreneurship (ECE), for example, estimated that the 150 companies located at its campus have created 850 new jobs since its opening. Over 5000 students have followed entrepreneurship education or participated in events at the centre. Founders and innovators from around 1500 companies have also been supported through programmes: about 500 entrepreneurs have followed the validation and incubation programmes, and another 950 participants from SMEs and other firms have followed the New Business Cycle or another entrepreneurship education programme at the ECE.
Similarly, UtrechtCE reports 157 users over 2011-16, of which 63% successful launched a business. The centre estimates that supported firms have collectively generated EUR 84 million in revenues and created 1 125 jobs (Utrecht University, 2017).
A challenge that has been identified by DutchCE members is that entrepreneurship and entrepreneurship education is not a core mission of universities. As such, it is not embedded in university budgets, which affects long-term planning and makes it more difficult to support entrepreneurship research. In practice, some of the centres initially involved in DutchCE have been closed, and many have shifted activities to focus more on acceleration and technology transfer and less on entrepreneurship education and research activities.
Another challenge that has been identified by centres is a difficulty to select appropriate metrics for evaluating their activities. For example, identifying and assessing the development of entrepreneurship courses across institutions and over time is not straightforward, as entrepreneurship courses vary widely in content and may be given under various names.
Lessons for other countries
The DutchCE Network creates linkages between diverse organisations and is not centrally evaluated, as drawing definitive conclusions on its design and implementation is difficult. However, the network is perceived by participants as filling a need for coordination in the ecosystem. It also has the potential to increase impacts of HEI investments in entrepreneurship teaching and start-up support by co-ordinating activities of different centres: for example, by fostering collaborative research on entrepreneurship and encouraging the development of applied research in this area. Another potential strength of the programme is the ability of local centres to develop partnerships in entrepreneurial communities, locally and at the national and international level and connecting students with the entrepreneurial ecosystem.
Potential factors for success in developing a similar initiative include the following:
Similar initiatives should consider setting strategic objectives and embedding them in the overall strategic objectives of universities.
Setting up a network-wide monitoring and evaluation framework could help similar networks set clear objectives for their network and monitor its progress, as well as facilitate peer learning between centres.
The founding partners of the DutchCE network are the leaders behind the Amsterdam Centre for Entrepreneurship (ACE), the Erasmus Centre for Entrepreneurship (ECE), the Saxion Centre for Entrepreneurship and the Utrecht Centre for Entrepreneurship (UtrechtCE).