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The final meeting of the "NOBALIS" project: Promoting innovation is one of the missions of higher education

Image author: No LLU arhīva

Currently, innovations are a guiding principle in both education, business, and management processes, which emphasize the relevance of their implementation and development in various directions. From 2022, the Latvia University of Life Sciences and Technologies (LBTU) is a partner in the international project "NOBALIS - Nordic Baltic Universities boosting entrepreneurial and innovation systems", which analyses innovation ecosystems in Latvian, Estonian, Norwegian and Swedish higher education institutions.

Almost all the organizations involved in the project specialize in the areas of life sciences and technologies, however, different approaches can be identified in the development of innovations. In order to present the results of the project, share examples of good practice and discuss future opportunities for cooperation, the final meeting of the partners of the "NOBALIS" project was held on June 11 and 12.

In the "NOBALIS" project, three directions of innovation development in higher education were studied - in the work of academic and administrative staff, as well as in work with students in study courses and outside them. Several mentor programs were also organized within the project, in which student teams from all project member states had the opportunity to develop their innovative business ideas in cooperation with an international mentor program. As Swedish student Nicole Hyslop says: "The programme requires work and commitment but in return you receive the expert advice and feedback from international innovators with decades of experience. We also had the privilege of being connected with other like-minded young innovators across the Nordic-Baltic consortium."

During the meeting, representatives from partner universities presented various innovation development models, identifying examples of good practice and the action steps necessary for their implementation. Much attention was devoted to the issues of innovation and research commercialization, one of the prerequisites of which is wider cooperation between entrepreneurs and universities in various stages of innovation development. However, no less important aspects were emphasized, such as teamwork, promotion of cooperation and competence to adapt to changing circumstances.

In the experience of Northern European countries, it is a common practice for researchers to work together with their doctoral students in research projects, who promote both research capacity and guide of the researcher as the main person in the implementation of the project. Therefore, the researcher's functions are managing the process, running the project, promoting people's cooperation and continuous communication not only among the people involved in the project, but also in the wider society.

The role of communication in the development of an innovative idea is also emphasized by project participant, student N. Hyslop: "We believe having a network is super important to develop both as a person but also as a business. And effective, sustainable, businesses are what we need to tackle the problems we face as a global community. We hope to inspire more students to take similar initiatives as us because we believe there is a lot of knowledge, creativity and potential just waiting to be realized through hard work."

However, the representatives of all countries acknowledged that commercialization cannot be the only criterion in the effective evaluation of research and innovation – research and innovation that have a social impact on society are no less important. This was also emphasized as an important aspect by the jury when announcing the 3rd place winners of the third Demo Day of the NOBALIS project on May 2, 2024 - a Swedish student team that presented the business idea of ​​the Lyckan company for indoor gardens. Team representative N.Hyslop explains the motivation behind the development of the idea: "The reason for starting this project, company for us is that a lot of people we care about are starting to get older. People who loved being outdoors and had their own gardens that could no longer do their own gardening or walk without pain, then we realized how many people who for different reasons do not have access to greenery and how important it is for their wellbeing. This made us reflect upon how little accessible greenery we actually have left in our cities and how many people this actually impacts, not just our loved ones."

In order to determine the role of innovations and development opportunities in higher education, within the framework of the "NOBALIS" project, an innovation ecosystem framework was developed, which was presented by the representative of LBTU, leading researcher and professor of the Faculty of Economics and Social Developent (ESAF), Dina Popluga during the final meeting of the project. The professor emphasized: "Innovation is the driving force of the 21st century, therefore during the project principles were developed for the improvement and exchange of innovation capacity, innovation systems and structures, as well as the functionality of university innovation ecosystems in the transfer of knowledge and technology to industry was studied." As well as the most important development opportunities and needs, professor D.Popluga identified the involvement of administrative staff in the innovation ecosystem at both LBTU and other partner universities.

Randi E. Taxt, representative of the Norwegian innovation company Vestlandets innovasjonsselskap, also highlighted the transfer of knowledge and technology, which is one of the missions of universities, in his presentation. The question of commercialization is important in the development of research, but the question of how to direct research to society, how to identify the significance of research for society as a whole is no less important. As Randi E. Taxt admitted: "The commercialization of research is only the visible part of the iceberg - there is a lot of academic and research cooperation underneath. These are not mutually isolated processes. If the commercialization of research and innovation becomes the main mission of universities, then the big invisible part of the iceberg is forgotten. Therefore, research commercialization must not be absolutized, considering that economic growth can also be a threat to academic freedom."

When cooperating with students and young entrepreneurs, it is essential to find the appropriate ways of cooperation. A representative of the Norwegian BIT Innovation Center explains that the basic principle of their organization's operation is to change the understanding from "I can create my own business" to "I can take advantage of this opportunity", thus putting the main emphasis on the development of students' talents in the development of innovation and entrepreneurship capacity.

During the "NOBALIS" project, it was carried out with three activities for developing students' innovative business ideas, one of which was the cooperation of student teams with a team of international mentors. Olga Latisenko from Latvia, representative of the third Demo Day winning team "YeastTech", adds about the experience: "Participating in the mentoring program and Demo Day provided us with several key benefits. Firstly, we received expert guidance on building our final pitch presentation, creating a strong business model, and understanding the logistics of our business. This advice was invaluable in shaping our project and making it more viable. Secondly, we significantly improved our public speaking and online presentation skills. These skills are crucial for effectively communicating our ideas and pitching our project to potential investors and partners.  Additionally, the experience boosted our confidence. Presenting our project and discussing our business plan with professionals helped us feel more assured about our work and its potential."

Linnaeus University professor Per Servais from Sweden emphasized, that innovation transfer is as important as technology transfer, presenting how the role and understanding of innovation in higher education has changed historically, which today reaches the highest historical relevance, focusing on universities cooperation between employees and students: “In the "NOBALIS" project, we had an excellent opportunity to develop entrepreneurship training in an interdisciplinary manner, bringing together the entire Northern European region. The future challenges for universities will be the implementation of sustainable development goals and, in particular, to prepare a digital circulation society - educating future entrepreneurs today."

In 2021, the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT) launched a new initiative "The HEI Initiative: Strengthening Innovation Capacity for Higher Education", with the aim of promoting the innovation ecosystem and partnerships in Europe, highlighting the role of the knowledge acquisition process in the creation of innovation. The NOBALIS (Nordic Baltic Universities boosting entrepreneurial and innovation systems) project is one of the projects financed by the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT), which is implemented by partner universities and institutes in Norway, Sweden, Estonia and Latvia. Latvia is represented in the project by the Latvian University of Biosciences and Technologies (LBTU).

More about the project is available at:

Submitted on: 21/06/2024