TOP STARS – innovaTion challenge fOr PhD STudents And ReSearchers
The TOP STARS 2017 Winter School is part of the innovation and entrepreneurship (I&E) education component of the EIT RawMaterials, primarily open to PhD students and young researchers. TOP STARS draws upon the experience of other schools and pilot projects proposed by the EIT Community to offer PhD students unique hands-on learning experience. With respect to traditional schools, TOP STARS combined focus-lectures of academics and practitioners with teamwork, field and usability tests, customer validation activities, field visits and socializing events. The focus was on providing the soft skill needed to transform the technical capacities of the students into business seeds to channel into an incubation phase.
During the Winter School 2017, students were confronted with and mentored by the participating stakeholders (SMEs and start-ups as well as academics) to consider the sustainability and relevance of their ideas. They worked hard to prepare a business idea to pitch in front of the companies. The course emphasized multidisciplinarity and drew attention to specific components related to the conceptualization of usability, technical and marketing planning, and business realization of an idea.
TOP STARS school for future T-shaped professionals
The project contributed to the formation of potential new innovators. Changing the mind of a student that has been formed for a few years in academia with scarce or no contact with companies is an important step. T-shaped professionals that are able to interact with professionals is the requirement from the companies and this is what we have obtained. This de-siloing activity should be introduced in the career of Master and PhD students, especially those closer to their end of studies, to favour the match between the job market and high education. The model of the school has been also proposed as a possible framework to an integrated summer school for the EIT labelled Master programs but can be easily adapted to the PhD programs as well as transferred to other EIT Innovation Communities.
Creating awareness and contributing to business-oriented thinking, can lead to faster innovation not just in the Raw Materials but also in other sectors with clear benefits for the whole society. TOP STARS project provides various tools for the EU students in the Raw Materials sector to excel. Currently, one of the participants of TOP STARS 2017 Winter School, Alessio Bucciarelli, is working in collaboration with the tutors from the school to translate his initial idea into a start-up company. His team Flash Fric presented a project to reduce the environmental impact of brake pads by removing copper and reducing the energy needed to prepare the final product and won “Frenotecnica Challenge Award”. This aspect leads to a decrease in the cost of a single pad as well as a 42% reduction in CO2 emissions.
TOP STARS school raised awareness and contributed to disseminate the EIT RawMaterials Innovation Community ideas to 54 students, ranging from Master students to young researchers, and two SMEs (Frenotecnica and La Galvanica Trentina). Three novel business ideas, out of ten developed, were given a pre-incubation grant by the University of Trento and the HIT (Hub Innovazione Trentino) Innovation Hub. One of these seeds is starting to move.
Besides the potential of attracting young talents, confirmed and enhanced in the 2018 edition of the initiative, what is unique about this school is the new methodology proposed to get the students closer to the companies. TOP STARS shows that a common language is a basis for teamwork and that diversity, often seen as a limitation, is the key to success. The initiative showed the companies a different tool to promote innovation and to find new talents. It is a way to promote fast learning and exploitation of all sides of the knowledge triangle through a learn-by-doing approach.