Trinity’s new ideas space Tangent, represents a sea change in University education in Ireland. Stephen Conmy asks Dr Diarmuid O’Brien what it means for students, Irish society and the startup ecosystem at large.

“We live in a world where two-thirds of all new jobs are now created by companies less than five years old,” says Dr Diarmuid O’Brien, chief innovation and enterprise officer at Trinity College Dublin.

O’Brien and his team recently opened ‘Tangent’ – an ‘ideas workspace’ in the University which brings together all the entrepreneurial programmes that Trinity is renowned for.

Tangent will allow students access to a “cutting-edge innovation and entrepreneurship education”.

On offer will be startup acceleration programmes, innovation and entrepreneurship community events and supports for the fledgeling to mature entrepreneurs.

“It is vital that we give our students and graduates the skills and knowledge to succeed in this ever-changing world,” says O’Brien.

“We don’t want to teach students how to get a job, we want to teach them how to create a job, not just for themselves but for others too.”

“The skills they want are skills to survive and thrive in a world of constant flux.”

Real survival skills 

O’Brien says that today’s students are very different from the students of the recent past. They were born into the mobile, digital age. They see innovation as something to be involved in. Their ‘rock stars’ are entrepreneurs.

“You could say it’s the Steve Jobs effect or the Elon Musk effect,” says O’Brien. “But the students we see today are very focused on work as it applies to something. They want to build things, create things, disrupt things. Most of them are fully aware that the ‘job for life’ is gone and they need to be able to create things and pivot when something happens. The skills they want are skills to survive and thrive in a world of constant flux. This is where a facility like Tangent comes in.”

O’Brien says that there is also a strong vein of social entrepreneurship running through the student startups. “It’s not just about the money for these students, there is a very strong desire to affect positive change in society.”

“We use the word innovation a lot but what does it really mean?”

The first ever certificate in entrepreneurship

Some of the new programmes Tangent will run include the first ever undergraduate certificate in innovation and entrepreneurship, and a variety of pan-European early-stage business accelerator programmes.

“With the undergraduate certificate, students have the chance to work with entrepreneurs, business leaders and industry mentors,” says O’Brien. “They can work on real industry projects and solve real problems for startups and businesses.”

“A University shouldn’t be a closed space,” says O‘Brien. “We use the word innovation a lot but what does it really mean? I think innovation is about freedom, it’s about creativity, it’s about collaboration, and it’s about exploration and application. This is what we want to offer people when they come to work in Tangent.”

Tangent will be housed in a state-of-the-art space, currently being constructed, and will be co-located with the new Trinity Business School on Pearse Street which will open in May 2019.

For more on Tangent and its various programmes (and the collaboration opportunities for businesses and startups) visit tcd.ie/Tangent. Tangent is supported by Bank of Ireland. 

Pictured above are the provost and president of Trinity College Dublin, Dr Patrick Prendergast; the co-founder of Change Donations (and winner of Tangent’s student business accelerator programme, Launchbox 2018), Lizzy Hayashida; the co-founder of SeaPunk (the runner-up in Tangent’s student business accelerator programme, Launchbox 2018), Tommy Torrades; and chief innovation and enterprise officer, Trinity College Dublin, Dr Diarmuid O’Brien.

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