Giving our entrepreneurial university wings


Students, employees and external parties are working together to develop ideas for transforming the ZHAW into a leading entrepreneurial university. In doing so, focus is being placed on facilitating the bringing together and networking of people who both think and act in an entrepreneurial manner.

Where can like-minded individuals with innovative ideas meet up, get to know one another and enjoy fruitful exchanges? What specific offers and assistance relating to the topic of entrepreneurship are available at the ZHAW? And how can those with entrepreneurial objectives best navigate the bureaucratic jungle they find themselves confronted with? Various teams are devoting themselves to finding the answers to such questions as part of the first Innovation Challenge.

After all, as an entrepreneurial university, the ZHAW should become a place where people who think and act entrepreneurially are able to meet and flourish by tackling and overcoming challenges. This innovation process, which has been launched by the “ZHAW entrepreneurship” strategic initiative, is focussing on the development of innovative projects, starting with team building and the generation of ideas and culminating in their ultimate implementation. “We want as many students, employees and external parties as possible to participate in this open innovation process,” says Anita Buchli, Co-Director of ZHAW entrepreneurship.

From greenhouses to online platforms

With their idea, the team headed by Zifei Wang-Speiser, for example, would like to create a meeting place that isn't constrained by interdisciplinary boundaries. “We want to create an experience where students and employees from every department within the ZHAW can come together and build a greenhouse on a collaborative basis, providing them a place in which they can plant, harvest, cook and eat together. Everyone can play their part, as no specific skills are required,” explains the research associate from the ZHAW Institute of Facility Management, who believes that this experience will do more than just facilitate the transdisciplinary exchange of knowledge and skills. “While working together on this tangible project, those participating are provided with a setting for spontaneous encounters and the emergence of unexpected ideas.”

“After all, the ZHAW will in future find itself faced with an ever-increasing number of issues and challenges and initiatives that require rapid action and that cannot be dealt with ideally within the framework of the usual processes and procedures.”

Anita Buchli, 

Raphael Wolfensberger and his team, for example, are working to provide better guidance in terms of innovation and entrepreneurship at the ZHAW. “We have found that efforts to promote innovation at the university in some cases run in parallel to one another. In order to make better use of these synergies, it would make sense to have a central point of contact.” The idea that they have in mind is an online platform that serves to combine existing offers while also providing coaching and a marketplace for problems that need to be solved. This should lead to greater transparency and lively exchanges between the Schools, ultimately further facilitating innovation in the process.

Idea competition launched

The various teams first had to come together at a boot camp to mark the launch of the first ZHAW Innovation Challenge before working together to develop ideas and convince one another of their merits. Since then, the participants have been meeting regularly at so-called deep dive events, where they receive support from experienced growth coaches and are inspired by the input delivered as part of presentations given by successful entrepreneurs.

“We launched this Innovation Challenge because we want to promote an entrepreneurial mindset among ZHAW staff and students.”

Hanna Brahme,

As part of this iterative process, the teams experiment and test their project ideas. “This allows us to gradually make progress and thereby develop things that are innovative and things that we may not even have thought of previously,” explains Anita Buchli, Co-Director of ZHAW entrepreneurship. “After all, the ZHAW will in future find itself faced with an ever-increasing number of issues, challenges and initiatives that require rapid action and that cannot be dealt with ideally within the framework of the usual processes and procedures applying established methods.”

Looking for an entrepreneurial mindset

“We launched this Innovation Challenge because we want to promote an entrepreneurial mindset among ZHAW staff and students,” says Hanna Brahme, Co-Director of ZHAW entrepreneurship. “However, we haven’t committed to a specific idea. Instead, we are looking for dedicated teams who are enthusiastic about their ideas and want to put them to the test in reality.” The teams formed at the Innovation Challenge boot camp will work on the selected ideas and solutions throughout the entire year as so-called “innovators”. At a pitching event in mid-November, they will receive critical feedback from a jury. Here, they will be tasked with convincing the jury members of the added value that will be generated for staff and students by their idea as well as its feasibility. The winning teams will then go on to implement their innovative projects and test them in reality, bringing the ZHAW one step closer to achieving its goal of becoming a leading entrepreneurial university in the process.

Strategic initiative for entrepreneurship

As an entrepreneurial university, the ZHAW wants to be a meeting place for people who think and act in an entrepreneurial manner, thus allowing them to expand their horizons, experiment and undergo self-development. The “ZHAW entrepreneurship” strategic initiative was therefore launched at the end of 2021 under the co-leadership of Hanna Brahme and Anita Buchli. Initially, the primary focus was placed on creating a diverse entrepreneurial community comprising students, employees and stakeholders from the worlds of business and society. In addition to establishing “Visioneur,” an entrepreneurial community whose name is a play on the words “vision” and “entrepreneur,” a number of pilot projects and events were also held. For example, the “ZHAW entrepreneurship” stand at the Startup Nights in Winterthur drew in students, startup representatives and other interested parties. And the “Meet the nerd” event series is aimed at opening doors across the different Schools and promoting exchanges between themselves. Interested individuals should be able to drop in without any obligation and gain inspiration. The first Innovation Challenge, which is addressing the question of “How might we help students and staff develop and foster an entrepreneurial mindset?,” is now aiming to accelerate the transformation of the ZHAW into a leading entrepreneurial university as part of an open innovation process.

Inspirational talks and idea pitching

Those who want to experience the entrepreneurial spirit found at the ZHAW for themselves can do so at the following public events and exhibitions, among others.

22 August 2023:  Deep Dive Inspirational Talk with successful entrepreneurs – this time with Stefano Santinelli, CEO of localsearch, on his experiences with innovation processes. The talk will take place at Bogen D at the Viadukt in Zurich.

10 November 2023: Innovation Challenge 1.0 – pitching event where participants will present their innovative ideas and be provided with feedback from a jury. Everyone is invited to experience the teams live in action.

Until December 2023: Exhibition on the Innovation Challenge 1.0 and an entrepreneurial mindset. Visitors have the opportunity to note down on flip charts what they are passionate about and what an entrepreneurial mindset means to them. The exhibition can be visited at the University Library Winterthur.

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    Mohammad, from Bangladesh
    02.08.2023, 20.18
    its looks good, but is it only open for locals ? or Ex-Zhaw students who live abroad can be a part as well?