Lithuania: Kaunas University – Freedom of self-realization through creativity

Kaunas University

Unique Kaunas Vytautas Magnus University (VMU) Minded initiative aims to provide the freedom of self-fulfilment through creativity.

Dr. Justinas Kisieliauskas

“As uncertainty is becoming the new motto of our lives, entrepreneurial philosophy is useful in any area of life. Entrepreneurship is much more than the tendency to see the profit line as the end-result in everything. It is a broader set of characteristics that provide a person with more space and more freedom, without narrowing everything down to economic benefit measured solely by money”, Vice-Dean of the Faculty of Economics and Management at Vytautas Magnus University (VMU), Dr. Justinas Kisieliauskas, says, discussing the advantages that entrepreneurial skills bring everyone: not just those who plan to work in business.

The European university alliance Transform4Europe, which unites VMU and ten other European universities, aims to educate and train knowledge-entrepreneurs: people who are capable of recognizing, seizing, and creating opportunities in order to contribute to innovation and change. The European Union recognizes entrepreneurship as one of the eight key competences for lifelong learning that are needed today and will be in the future.

Entrepreneurship is described as a kind of philosophy, a way of thinking dedicated to generating ideas, implementing them, and initiating transformations. Developing this philosophy means improving one’s skills in problem solving, creativity, risk management, pursuit of goals, teamwork, leadership and many other abilities that are particularly appreciated by employers today, Dr. Kisieliauskas notes, adding that in turn, these skills help the organizations to develop various innovations.

“The ability to create the conditions for innovations or to develop the innovations themselves eventually ensures a competitive edge. Whether it’s Apple, which integrates a player, a browser, a camera, and now an average AI-based personal health assistant in a phone, or the Lithuanian Vinted, which is gathering a community based on more sustainable consumption—all of these kinds of organizations share the ability to discover horizons of value in places where no one had ever been before”, he observes.

Minded: one of the best European entrepreneurial experiences

Minded Entrepreneurship Academy diploma award ceremony. Photo by Jonas Petronis

Development of these types of abilities is the goal of the business-competence development centre Minded, which has been founded at VMU seven years ago and, since then, has earned recognition in Lithuania and Europe as a unique initiative. The centre offers a minor study program Entrepreneurship Academy, which can be chosen by any VMU student, regardless of their specialization, as a secondary discipline alongside their main studies. The program develops entrepreneurial competences and allows students to acquire practical skills for recognising and implementing ideas as well as solving problem situations. At the European Enterprise Promotion Awards 2018, the Entrepreneurship Academy was selected among the three best experiences in Europe under the category “Investing Into Entrepreneurial Skills”.

The students of Minded participate in smart internship, during which they successfully implement team projects dedicated to solving practical challenges of real business enterprises as well as social issues of various institutions and Lithuanian towns or cities. During the last year, thanks to the students’ efforts, a leisure space for pupils was created in Išlaužas, a sub-division of the quiz game Auksinis Protas was opened in Vilkija, a new sports hall was established in Kybartai, film screenings for the town’s youths have been initiated in Ariogala, and a birdhouse workshop for pupils as well as a birdhouse installation event for the town’s community were held in Babtai. And that’s just some of the completed community projects.

Minded is cooperating actively with over 80 business companies and social partners that provide the students with opportunities to implement various projects in practice, to work on real issues and contribute to the improvement of existing products or the development of new ones. These organizations include Žalgiris Kaunas, Hostinger, Kilo Health, Jorus and many others. Students also have the opportunity to talk with representatives of various organizations, professionals of their fields who hold lectures, participate in expert circles, and evaluate students’ works as commission members.

Minded team

Close partnerships have also been established with various organizations that are building the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Kaunas: KaunasIN, Kaunas Tech Park, the Innovation Agency’s Spiečius in Kaunas, Junior Achievement Lithuania and others thanks to whom successful young businesses and startups are regularly developed in the city. Working on real business tasks and keeping close contact with the aforementioned companies that foster and encourage entrepreneurship will help the students implement the largest practical project of their studies: creating their own company.

More than a thousand of university students and school pupils have already taken part in the activities of the Minded Centre for Enterprise Practice. Over 100 practical challenges have been solved, and students are aided by a team of more than 30 experienced mentors. Minded has already organized over 30 camps dedicated to competence development.

The many successful Minded alumni include the makers of the Kondigno board game, which has been adapted for the visually impaired and won the award “For more sustainable world” in the Kaunas Start-Up Awards 2023.

Graduates are attractive to employers thanks to practical experience

Currently, Minded is also offering the BA study program Creative Business and Innovation Design, which is practice-oriented: students implement projects while cooperating with business companies and social organizations. This study program is based on analogous examples of prestigious universities around the world, such as Stanford, Harvard, Oxford and others, where innovative methods of entrepreneurship development are applied. The studies can be summarized by three steps: “Experience, create, and initiate”. After finishing them, students will not only become initiators of startups or initiatives but also change as people. One half of the program’s content is taught by practitioners from businesses and partner organisations.

Dr. Osvaldas Stripeikis. Photo by Jonas Petronis

“As they enter the job market, Minded graduates can already demonstrate very specific cases of their success and thus improve their careers, becoming more attractive in the market, because these days the employers want more than just knowledge: they ask, what kind of experience you have, what projects have you implemented. Our program provides an opportunity to do so: it is one of its standout features”, the head of the Minded Centre for Enterprise Practice at Vytautas Magnus University (VMU), Assoc. Prof. Osvaldas Stripeikis, says.

“Business companies provide students with certain cases: problems that need to be solved or tasks to create or improve a product or a service. It might also be a social challenge, when students choose a social issue which is relevant to the city or the country and solve it. Finally, on the third year of studies, the students develop their own startups: they choose a business idea and, applying the knowledge they’ve acquired, they establish a company of their own. These opportunities make our studies unique in the entire Lithuania”, Assoc. Prof. Dr. Stripeikis explains, adding that the program’s lectures are taught not just by academic experts but also business representatives and social partners.

EQ Thinking Model: from personal growth to realization of ideas

According to Assoc. Prof. Stripeikis, the distinctiveness of the Minded studies is embodied in the unique model that is applied: EQ Thinking Model. It divides the studies into three stages: during the first one, the goal is to provide the students with as much experience and personal growth as possible, the second one aims to encourage them to generate ideas, and the third one is dedicated to putting ideas into practice.

“During the first stage, the students determine their own personal competences, the mentors lead them, help them grow, and the students are immersed in the learning process, which brings experience. During the second, creative stage, students are provided the tools to recognize ideas, to evaluate them, test them, and select the best ones. And the third stage is practice-oriented: for the learning cycle to end, an idea must be put into action in the real world: as a certain project or initiative, or by creating a prototype or a startup, or perhaps even a company”, the head of Minded says.

In seven years of activities, the Minded centre has received numerous international accolades. The Entrepreneurship Academy has been selected by the European Commission’s research consortium University-Business Cooperation in Europe as one of the top 50 case studies of successful university-business cooperation in Europe and worldwide. The University Industry Innovation Network (UIIN) recognised Minded’s EQ Thinking Model as good practice at international level.

Building a network of business representatives and mentors

Assoc. Prof. Stripeikis claims that currently one of Minded’s top priorities is the improvement of the BA study program’s activities and the aim to provide students with quality services. A new VMU mentorship model is being developed which will stand out not just at the university but also in the entire Lithuania thanks to its innovations.

“It will be a mentorship program which describes the role of the mentor in the study process. Mentorship has several levels: it can be individual, team-based, and organizational. The roles and required skills of the mentors vary greatly at different levels: somewhere, they may be needed more as experts, while elsewhere they’re required as coachers or discussants who share their life experience. Alongside this, we’re planning to consolidate the Minded mentor community network, which will consist of business representatives and the organization’s mentors. Companies see the benefits of mentorship processes: as mentors in our program, they gain the latest tools, and they can transfer that experience to their organization. Moreover, the observance and upholding of quality standards in the processes implemented by the partners will be ensured by regular short-term learning experiences after which a certificate is granted: it is the globally-recognised format of microcredentials, which is currently on the rise”, the head of Minded elaborates. The implementation and recognition of microcredentials across European businesses and institutions has recently received support from the Council of the European Union.

Minded is constantly working on multiple projects dedicated to the nurturing of business, entrepreneurial and creative skills of pupils and students as well as the improvement of higher education. Currently, the centre’s projects focus on the fostering of active citizenship of the youths in Lithuania’s regions and on the psychological education and extracurricular activities of pupils.

“I have encountered initiatives similar to Minded in numerous universities that offer business-related studies, e.g. at Bocconi University in Italy and Aalto University in Finland. The main similarity is a creative ecosystem which is built via various elements of the studying experience, starting from the environment and the tasks and ending with the process of study organization itself. All of this creates favourable conditions for both the lecturers and the teachers to innovate, make mistakes, and learn. VMU Minded is a relatively young entity that hasn’t yet birthed a new Lithuanian unicorn, but here, just like in other countries, exceptional entrepreneurial individuals are nurtured”, Vice-Dean of VMU Faculty of Economics and Management, Dr. Justinas Kisieliauskas, assures.

Martynas Gedvila
Martynas Gedvila, Marketing and Communication Department, Vytautas Magnus University

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