What does the National Research, Development and Innovation Office do?
The National Research, Development and Innovation Office of Hungary is responsible for developing the innovation ecosystem in Hungary, from the next generation of innovators and researchers through startups and SMEs to large, multinational companies, universities and research centers.
Our goal is to build the foundation for a strong, innovative ecosystem. We have analyzed many former models that tried to improve ecosystems mainly via funding to large companies, and we realized that those large companies are usually at the top of the ecosystem and doing a lot of R&D on their own. Small and medium enterprises (SMEs), on the other hand, are the ones that lack R&D funds and usually can’t afford innovations themselves. So, in addition to supporting large companies, we focus on these SMEs, developing financial models and services for them and programs for young people.
It is important to mention that we are not only giving applicants funds to improve their products or services but are also creating incentives and motivating the next generation to join the ecosystem.
What is the Hungarian Startup University Program and how does it fit into your overall organization?
The next generation of innovators is currently studying at universities. It is important to build some additional value into their education, so we conducted a survey with more than 13,000 students in Hungary. We asked them if they would be interested in learning about innovation, entrepreneurship and starting a business. The results showed that more than 10,000 students would love to learn about these things, so we developed a curriculum just for them. Now, students across Hungary can receive educational material on these topics, as well as mentoring and even scholarships.
In our 2020/2021 trial year, we had close to 5,000 students apply but could only accommodate 2,100 in the program. Students learn about the basics of entrepreneurship, including an entrepreneurial mindset, problem-solving and basic startup knowledge in the first semester. The aim is to make them understand what it takes to start a business or work for an innovative company.
Students who enrolled in the program must come up with an innovative business idea. In the second semester, the Innovation Council at the University will evaluate the ideas and pick the best ones. Students will then make up teams of three to five to pursue the selected ideas. Teams will receive mentors and a scholarship with a budget of up to HUF 3 million. At the end of the semester, teams will present their prototypes to the jury at Demo Day. Even if their ideas don’t receive funding, the program will have given them the opportunity to test out their ideas and see how starting a business works without investing their own money.
How are you marketing the program, how are students learning about it?
The HSUP program is currently running at 21 universities, and four more universities are expected to join the program next year. Universities are responsible for promoting the program in-house. As mentioned previously, there are currently 2,100 students enrolled in the program, but it might be around 6,000-8,000 students next year.
We finished the curriculum in August and started the program in September 2020; for now, the majority of the curriculum is in Hungarian, with some additional materials in English. We are currently translating all the materials into English, and the program will be completely in English in the future; however, students can still study the core subjects in Hungarian.
Who is an ideal candidate for the Hungarian Startup University Program?
Our ideal candidates are all university students from any year. The program can be taken just like any other course, and students will receive a certain number of credits for completing it.
Can you explain how someone can enroll in the online program? How much time and money does this cost?
There is no cost; any of the students attending the 21 universities can enroll in the program free of charge, and, again, we expect four more universities to join next year. Currently, the program has two semesters, but we are planning to extend it with a third semester focused on fundraising, especially how to get money from investors, and to provide additional support for those who need more time to finish their MVP or early-phase prototype.
At the end of the program, we will connect students to key stakeholders in the ecosystem, such as incubators, angel investors, venture capital firms and companies.
Have there been any issues with how the courses are taught or the development of the students?
The main challenge was managing 2,100 students and ensuring that enrolled students get the same level of education across the country. Unfortunately, we could only allow approximately half of the applicants to join in this trial year, as our pilot program runs on a physically limited server. We hope to get lots of feedback with which we can improve the platform and the current curriculum, as well as resolve the limitations to enable as many students to join as possible.
What are the long-term goals of the program and how will it grow over time?
We are planning to introduce a similar program to elementary and high school students, not with scholarships but other incentives. We believe that innovation is for everybody, no matter their age. Currently, only university students can enroll in the program, but we hope to standardize it and turn it into a program that can help, say, people who become unemployed get back into the job market.
Another important aim of the program is to reach our mutual goals with our students in an environment that extends beyond campuses, so we are calling on the actors of the startup ecosystem and those open-minded businesses that value community, teamwork, participation and the diversity of ideas and perspectives to become our partners. The partners’ role in developing the program will be to offer challenges to HSUP students. In such cases, some of the student groups will focus their attention not on their own business idea but on coming up with innovative solutions to the business challenges previously determined by our partners. This will enable them to better understand a given company and its activities while also gaining a new approach to solving problems.
We are additionally planning to extend the program outside of Hungary, primarily in territories and at universities with Hungarian-speaking students. Since anyone can join the program online in the future, we hope we can take the program abroad or even grow it into a global open-source initiative.
What can we expect to see as a result of the Hungarian Startup University Program; what impacts will it have on the community?
Participants are just getting familiar with the system, so we don’t have too high of expectations for this year. Having said that, we do expect 80-100 promising projects that we can present to the ecosystem and 30-50 projects to get funded by an incubator program or business investors.
Now, all young people who want to be an entrepreneur have the chance to get involved in the program. And this means the pool of innovative young people might grow; we hope to see more innovative SMEs in Hungary in 3-5 years as a result. We also hope to see a change in society. We would like to see people become more innovative and focused on solving problems.
What would you say to students who don’t think this program is for them?
It is a great opportunity for students. If they try this out but do not like it or don’t succeed in the first semester, they still get the credits. But if they do succeed, they will learn exciting things from successful entrepreneurs, get scholarships or even receive funding to bring their ideas to life. Students should all learn the lesson: Failure is not a disaster but normal. You have nothing to lose.
And don’t forget: “Innovation connects.”