According to a recent survey targeting life science students in Europe, nearly 30% of respondents are very interested in becoming entrepreneurs in the field of bioeconomy. However, there are barriers that prevent students from pursuing business opportunities.
To tackle the ecological crisis, the European Union and member states have set targets for developing bioeconomy solutions. Companies and individuals are encouraged to develop and test solutions to bridge the sustainability gap. Life science students — as future professionals — are crucial in shaping the path forward. Understanding their views of bioeconomy is essential for implementing sustainability transitions.
At the end of 2022, EFI’s Bioregions Facility with NOMADI and Bioscope projects implemented a survey for students, especially in the field of life sciences. The objective was to understand students’ perceptions of the bioeconomy and their interest in working as entrepreneurs to develop, promote and implement bioeconomy solutions. From November 2022 to February 2023, we received 764 responses; thank you to everyone who contributed.
Familiarity with bioeconomy varies
We find large differences in how familiar students are with the concept of bioeconomy. Almost half of the students surveyed are moderately or very familiar with the bioeconomy concept, while 25% are unfamiliar or slightly familiar.
Most respondents associate bioeconomy with nature-based solutions, ecosystem services, and the circular use of resources. Less than a third link economic prosperity or community resilience with the bioeconomy. Even if providing well-being or creating jobs are not prioritised, students acknowledge that the bioeconomy can have positive social and economic effects along with environmental benefits.
Students’ responses give hints at the complexity of expanding bioeconomy in a way that benefits people and nature. Over 80% believe that “developing the bioeconomy is a good way to protect forests and biodiversity,” and around a third view that helping conserve biodiversity and ecosystem services is the biggest benefit of the bioeconomy. Yet, the degradation of biodiversity and ecosystem services is viewed as the biggest risk of the bioeconomy by nearly half of the respondents. We interpret that students believe that there is a bioeconomy potential, but it is only useful if implemented within environmental constraints.
Entrepreneurial interest is driven by the chance to reduce environmental impacts
We find high interest in entrepreneurship. A quarter (26 %) of respondents are very interested in starting their own business, while 18% are not interested in entrepreneurship. Moreover, nearly 30% of all students who took the survey find starting their own business to be their first career choice, and over 45% have a business idea — or they have already set up a company. Entrepreneurial interest is driven by the chance of reducing environmental impacts and creating positive impacts on the life quality of communities. Other drivers for starting a business are the possible impact on personal life quality and the opportunity to realise one’s own idea.
It may be that many ideas do not get tested, as there are barriers that prevent students from pursuing business opportunities — financial risk related to starting a business is found to be the biggest barrier. Students also worry about the fear of failure and lack of funding. To overcome these barriers, a majority view that collaborating with someone who has business expertise would be most beneficial.
Despite the wide interest towards entrepreneurship, only 23% of respondents have attended university courses or training in topics related to entrepreneurship and business. Moreover, students are not aware of support structures for start-ups, such as incubators and accelerators. They lack information on especially funding opportunities, entrepreneurship events, and entrepreneurial education programs.
In general, students could benefit from more active communication about the opportunities and challenges linked to bioeconomy solutions, as well as the existing support for pursuing entrepreneurial activities in bioeconomy sectors. Different support structures should be highlighted clearly and transparently, and individuals should be encouraged to leverage available public resources to test their ideas. Engaging students in the future bioeconomy by raising awareness and encouraging them to develop and test bioeconomy solutions as entrepreneurs can support the transition towards a sustainable circular bioeconomy.
Are you interested in launching the survey in your educational institution? Please contact EFI’s Bioregions Facility (email@example.com) to learn more about working with us.
The student survey was funded by the Bioregions Facility member regions and the European Union, in collaboration with the following projects: NOMADI project (grant no. A77271) funded by the Regional Council of North Karelia through the European Regional Development Fund as a part of the European Union’s COVID-19 activities (REACT-EU) and BIOSCOPE project (grant no. A76405) funded by the Regional Council of North Karelia through the European Regional Development Fund.
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