– responsible for implementing the communication and dissemination activities in SMART4FUTURE – conducted a series of interviews with the project partners.
Introducing Algebra University College: the biggest privately-owned educational organization in Croatia and is an accredited higher education institution. In 2014, Algebra became the best Microsoft learning partner in a global competition of 3,200 organizations. Today, Algebra University College carries out four undergraduate programs (bachelor) and seven graduate programs (master). Algebra LAB has been listed on EC’s Smart Specialisation Platform as a fully functional Digital Innovation Hub (DIH). Algebra University College has 20-years’ experience managing EU-funded projects.
Hello Maja and Aneta! Thank you for this opportunity to meet you and talk about SMART4FUTURE. To kick-off, could you give us, in your own words, a short introduction to Algebra University, and your role there?
Algebra University College is the largest private educational institution in Croatia and currently organises the highest rated professional study programmes in software engineering, data science, system engineering, digital marketing, digital art, game development – all things digital, you might say. As a university, we not only teach, but also conduct research, develop products and services in the field of artificial intelligence, data science and data economics. Competing with more than 3.000 organisations globally, Algebra was named the best educational institution in the world by Microsoft in 2014.
We work at Algebra LAB, an open innovation lab – a meeting place of all the key elements needed for successful innovations. We offer applicative R&D solutions for public and private sector, whose efforts at applying digital technologies in devising new and refined business solutions and services we support. We have an in-house tech start-up incubator, the oldest and the most successful in Croatia. So far, more than 150 teams (600+ people) have finished our start-up programme, organised in 15 successful start-up batches, who enjoy the support of 100+ mentors in all fields pertinent for start-up development. Our work in this area has been recognised in Croatia and abroad. EEPA has recognised us in 2015 as the organisation leading in promoting entrepreneurship in Croatia, and CESA awarded us in 2016 as the best start-up incubator programme in Croatia.
To someone reading this who is still not familiar with SMART4FUTURE, how would you describe it in simple terms, and how do you distinguish it from other projects or initiatives?
The goal of the project is to build capacity of higher education institutions (HEIs) to support innovation and entrepreneurship among students, academic and non-academic staff. In the era when knowledge and information can be found basically everywhere around us, and when research has ceased being the safe reserved space for universities, HEIs have to redefine their role in society. People today rightly expect from universities to deliver answers to the pressing challenges of our time, like climate change, global viral infections, etc. But in order to do so, universities have to intimately connect with their local innovation ecosystems to be able to actively support them. And HEIs need to become “more entrepreneurial” – delivering innovation to people who need it, when and where they need it. This is the goal of SMART4FUTURE. We want to contribute to building a new generation of leaders, HEI students and teachers, who will know how to use their domain knowledge, enhanced by the unprecedented rise of digital tech, to answer the problems we as a humanity are facing today.
The project brings together students, academic and non-academic staff, start-ups, scale-ups and business organizations with the common goal of developing and fostering the entrepreneurial mindset necessary for high-tech solutions to have a real impact on our global societal challenges. In SMART4FUTURE project, education meets innovation to develop sustainable, smart, and responsive solutions for a better future.
Algebra University College is the project coordinator. Could you tell us about how was the process of establishing the SMART4FUTURE consortium and the development of the project concept?
The digital technologies we encounter in everyday life are becoming more embedded, more complex, more miniaturized, and more autonomous. They have become invisible, yet they have an enormous impact on our lives. Only smart innovation ecosystems that are able to harness the power of advanced technologies and combine innovation with entrepreneurship can successfully respond to the challenges of the ever-evolving world.
In selecting project partners, we paid particular attention to their diversity. Our partners have very different experiences and skills in entrepreneurship and innovation. Some of them have very strong support structures for future entrepreneurs, while others have not yet started their adventure with business support. Some, like University of Naples that was founded 800 years ago and is one of the oldest universities in continuous operation in the world, while others are less than 30 years young. Such a diverse consortium creates the conditions for the exchange of knowledge and experience, mutual learning and the creation of entirely new programs, support mechanisms, contact networks, the whole ecosystem related to the promotion of innovation and entrepreneurship.
Algebra University College is also leading the co-designing, co-creating, and implementing the second innovation & entrepreneurial curriculum: “Lead for smart change” programme. Could you tell us more about the process and which will be the main outcomes?
The development of the “Lead for smart change” programme involves co-design, co-creation, and implementation of what we hope will be a very innovative and exciting new learning programme. At the moment, most of us live either in harmony or under the terror or both with the very advanced digital technologies, of which we understand very little – we treat them as the so-called “black box solutions”. We find the current situation to be totally unacceptable. Technologies such as artificial intelligence and machine learning will revolutionise all fields, be it medicine, agriculture, entertainment – we believe we need to understand how and why.
“Lead for smart change” programme will allow participants to discuss and develop successful applications of technological solutions in response to human needs and wants.
The programme will also allow students to try out their innovative capabilities in the form of student bootcamps, where students will be asked to demonstrate their newly acquired expertise in the field of cutting-edge technologies by proposing innovative solutions, particularly in health and climate challenges.
What are you personally most enthusiastic about achieving during SMART4FUTURE?
We hope to help our students, our teachers and our researchers develop passion for innovation. Not because innovation is a buzz-word, and everyone must honour it, but because passionate people know no boundaries and accept no limitations when pursuing their goals. We hope to inspire all SMART4FUTURE project participants to love digital tech in the way that makes them masters, not servants, and to use it for furthering their own professional and personal development.
How do you see the project legacy regarding achievements and partners’ collaboration in SMART4FUTURE, at Institutional, National and European levels?
Our project will ensure that the programmes, business support mechanisms, and culture of entrepreneurship and innovation created under SMART4FUTURE will be implemented at the universities participating in the project, ensuring lasting, positive changes in their functioning even after the project ends. We will start university incubation programmes where there are none, and we will establish strong innovation labs in our local ecosystems – all of which will be connected in international partnership on the level of consortium. Ireland, Portugal, Poland, Italy, Croatia, Serbia, and Turkey have very different innovation traditions, but all our current and future innovators and entrepreneurs will benefit from the network we will form throughout the project. We are only 6 months into the project, and we are already building on it by adding new topics and new joint initiatives – some of which have already received European funding. But more about it some other time 😊.
No doubt there will be some readers that are keen to meet you and talk about this project and your experience. Which events will be possible to meet Algebra University College in the upcoming months?
In mid-May, we will be guests at the seminar on the possibilities of implementing renewable energy sources “Solar Energy 2023”. You can also meet us at PODIM in Slovenia, where we will discuss innovations from space research with our friends from InnOrbit H2020 project. And at the end of May, we will also participate in the Student DIGI Award 2023, a competition for innovative student start-ups offering the best digital solutions in the fields of digital transformation, robotics, smart city, smart villages, and the implementation of computer learning and artificial intelligence.