By @SimonCocking, interesting interview with Roisin Lyons Lecturer of Entrepreneurship and Innovation, Dublin City University.

What is your background?

Originally from Macroom, Co. Cork I went to the University of Limerick for my undergraduate degree and qualified as a Chemistry and Biology teacher (B.Sc in Chemistry/Biology and H.Dip in Education). I loved teaching science but became more and more fascinated by innovation and decided to supplement my knowledge with some business acumen. I did my masters degree in Business Management in Dublin City University and was lucky enough to be offered a number of posts there including teaching assistant, course developer and after a while, lecturer. I am in my final year of my PhD where I am able to merge my passions for teaching, entrepreneurship and innovation. My research field is entrepreneurship education, specifically looking at the factors that effect within-team behaviour in student teams and entrepreneurial teams. Essentially we are finding that a lot of start-up projects are failing due to team issues rather than any specific business reason and I am studying why this is happening and how to prevent it. I also work full time as a lecturer of innovation and entrepreneurship in the DCU Business School.

Is it a logical progression to what you do now?

 Does anyone have that nowadays! No, not really. Moving from teaching science to teaching entrepreneurship is not an easy move. However, both science and entrepreneurship are in constant flux or evolution, and both are founded on discovery, so I find them to be blended. Also as my position is heavily focused on research it pays to have been given a good grounding in scientific research and reasoning early on. Teaching has always been a constant for me though, I think since I was six years old or so. This year I got to merge all my great loves together as I was asked to judge at the BT Young Scientist competition. So perhaps it is all starting to align!

 1 min pitch for your current role?

 I am a full time lecturer of innovation and entrepreneurship in the DCU Business School. I deliver a number of programmes relating to starting your own business and skills development for both undergraduate and postgraduate students. I have worked on the [email protected] programme in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia a number of times also, delivering similar programmes. I am aiming to finish my PhD this year studying individual and team behaviour in entrepreneurial and student teams. I have given talks and presented a number of papers relating to my research in numerous countries and universities. Lastly, I work on a number of other research projects and teams usually focused on entrepreneurship or entrepreneurship education.

Tell us more about the DICE module you teach?

DICE stands for Digital Innovation Creativity and Enterprise and is a yearlong module taught to over 500 1st year students annually. It was developed by Prof. Theo Lynn and I over five years ago in the DCU Business School, and has received a great level of international recognition since then. Essentially we wanted to begin our students University experience with a look at what is going on in industry today, by hearing from industry experts and working on projects which are current and relevant to today’s workforce. Students are given a blend of traditional theory based lectures, workshops, online tutorials and team-based activities. They are also mentored by our postgraduate students who get some managerial experience in the process. Four times per year we host large mini-conferences in the Helix, DCU where we invite key industry guests (approx. 6 – 10) to present on topics of social media marketing (Get Social), start-up (Get Started), mobile technology (Get Mobile) and digital innovation including cloud computing (Get Digital). These conferences are also opened up to external guests of DCU for free and we often get 200 or so external guests register to attend, showing the calibre of the events. Students have to reflect on these events and one of their assignments is to develop blog posts about each one.

DICE students also work in teams on an applied project. In the last three years they had to conceptualise and develop fully downloadable mobile apps. This was undertaken with Microsoft Ireland and led to the development of over 300 to date. This year in the wake of the Pokemon Go phenomenon we decided to pivot and do a gamification themed applied project. Teams were taught about how gamification is fast becoming a key new technique to drive engagement in marketing, market research training etc. and I taught them about the different techniques employed to ‘gamify’ something (progression, onboarding etc.). They selected business topics and had to conceptualise and develop the structure for a gamified experience for delivering the topic, display it online and applying the lean start-up approach, begin getting feedback to modify it. This project is still underway but they are excellent so far. Even the names the student have selected are awesome like ‘HRM Ville’ and ‘The Only Way is Ethics’.

Overall your role sounds fun / cool, what is the response from your students?

 You would have to ask them!! Like any module, some students dive straight into these subjects while for others it may take some time to adapt as it is a very different approach to their school experiences. With DICE in particular, students often tell me that they use the module as material in interviews and when talking to companies which is great to hear. Lately, more and more students have come to me for advice and mentorship for their own start up projects. It is challenging to keep up with them all but worth it. One group in particular – Robotify Labs – just began to stock their products on shelves this month which is very exciting. You are right though – my role is cool. I have had so many opportunities to travel and work with amazing people, in that I am extremely grateful to DCU and my mentor Theo Lynn for these.

 How do you explain / communicate the value of teaching innovation as part of the curriculum?

People sometimes question me about why I teach entrepreneurship or doubt that entrepreneurship has any place to be taught in a classroom (‘school of hard knocks’ mentality). In part, of course there are many ways to learn to be an entrepreneur, and there is no special secret to doing it correctly. However, by arming students with the knowledge and skills to understand how the market operates, how to evaluate business opportunities, develop prototypes, apply for funding and much more we are building a more informed ecosystem to support and spur entrepreneurship. Not all of my students will be entrepreneurs, but I aim to give them the best grounding I can if they should ever choose it. They will all certainly encounter an entrepreneur during their lifetime, perhaps their brother, sister or friend, who will benefit from having a support system of people who are informed about entrepreneurship and have studied it.

How was Saudi? What was it like?

DCU is affiliated with a female university Princess Nora University (PNU) in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia and delivers two undergraduate and two postgraduate programmes there. It began four years ago and I was in the team that went over initially to help start up the programme. It began with 4 DCU lecturers on site and now has 22! I am very proud of what has been accomplished over the last few years and never cease to be impressed by the Saudi female students we have, or the commitment to education shown by the DCU staff who have to say goodbye to loved ones and move to a very different cultural experience. I have lived in Riyadh for three semesters in total, teaching innovation and entrepreneurship related subjects. Actually the group of 70 students I taught in their 1st, 2nd and 4th year will graduate with DCU degrees in September and I could not be prouder of what they have achieved. It is challenging to teach about entrepreneurship in the Saudi context and get access to experts and information, but also fascinating as there is so much support for start-ups here.

 What are your sources of inspiration?

 Easiest question to answer! My students. I cannot tell you how rewarding it is when you see students succeed with their start-up ideas. Even on a daily basis, the innovative capacity of the vast majority of students is incredible once you find the technique or teaching approach that works for them. Sometimes you have to help them pivot ideas and get them to problem-solve but it is truly rewarding when they produce something innovative. I have to say that I also find this generation of students to be very aware of global issues and socially conscious which is refreshing to work with every day.

I am lucky that I work in an area that is constantly evolving, inspiration is at every turn and it is part of my job to study it. I read a lot of research and try to meet with as many start-ups as I can (including my cousin Elva Carri: co-founder of Girlcrew who is doing so well!). I have even had a few successes and failures myself in the start-up world so this all adds to why I am so passionate about the area. DCU itself prides itself on being innovative and there are always interesting seminars, speakers and research to keep me inspired.

 What are the plans for DCU in 2017 and beyond in terms of innovation?

 As Ireland’s University of Enterprise, DCU has active links with academic, research and industry partners both at home and overseas. DICE is representative of the types of modules at DCU, as providing a unique learning environment where students are encouraged to develop their creativity and skills as innovators heavily influences university initiatives and programmes. We have a new strategic plan which will be unveiled later this year which will help shape how innovation will be supported in the campus and locality.

There are an incredible number of groups and parts of DCU working on many innovative objectives. DCU Alpha for example, now a thriving hub of innovation, is tackling IoT and involved in the development of future technologies. The team at Invent, DCU’s Innovation and Enterprise Centre, continues to link the university and business to help entrepreneurs. There are always plans to collaborate, with our recent partnership with Intel as a recent example. Even the students are innovative – I know the enterprise society have an initiative to find the best ‘Rags to Riches’ salesperson this month. For students, I know that there are many plans for more hackathons so that students are given the space and opportunity to generate ideas.

Why is Ireland excelling in IoT? DCU Alpha campus in partnership with Irish Tech News to host May 30th conference

Anything else you’d like to add / we should have asked?

Not really. I am delighted to be asked to contribute. There is still quite a gap between the academic and practical sides to entrepreneurship so the more we can link the two the better off everyone is. There is still quite a gap between the academic and practical sides to entrepreneurship so the more we can link the two, the better off everyone is.


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