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AU helps businesses and entrepreneurs

Businesses that collaborate with the university grow and develop more than other businesses. The AU Centre for Entrepreneurship and Innovation (CEI) facilitates contact between researchers and businesses. The centre also helps young entrepreneurs start their own businesses.

To help achieve the goal of becoming a strongly entrepreneurial university, Aarhus University established the AU Centre for Entrepreneurship and Innovation (CEI) in 2011. Today, the centre has around 25 employees. Since 2011, the centre has functioned as a knowledge and competence centre for researchers and students at AU, as a gateway to collaboration with industry and as a springboard for students who want to start their own businesses.

The Entrepreneurial University
In 2010, Aarhus University won a national competition for the title ‘Denmark’s Entrepreneurial University’. As a consequence, CEI was established in 2011. The project grant period was extended in the summer of 2014, and the grant term ends on 31 March 2015. Since 2011, student demand for CEI’s courses and services has risen each semester. Both courses on entrepreneurship for the entire university and the assistance with starting a business offered at the Student Incubator have become very popular among students. A total of 736 students have participated in courses offered by CEI to date. 395 students have established or are in the process of establishing their own businesses through the Student Incubator. On the UBI Index 2014 global benchmark of university business incubators, Aarhus University receives top scores in long-term survival of businesses started by students.

Short-cut to new knowledge
Another CEI project is ‘short-cuts to new knowledge’, which facilitates contact between researchers in Central Denmark Region. Surveys and experience show that businesses that collaborate with universities grow and develop more than other businesses. Through this project, 34 businesses have collaborated with AU researchers, and feedback from both sides has been extremely positive. The great majority of these businesses are open to new collaborative projects, and in several cases, this has already happened. One of these businesses is CIM Gruppen A/S in Struer, a highly specialised business that produces industrial software solutions. Søren Møller fra CIM states: “The insights we’ve gained through collaboration with the researchers have put things in a new perspective. We now have important knowledge about our core market, and this knowledge has already been transformed into concrete products. We’ve achieved a result that we can continue to build on, increased our understanding of the area, and the potential for growth is definitely there.”

AU and LEGO collaborate on new ’miracle material’

AU researchers are working with LEGO to explore how to integrate a new nanomaterial into the LEGO products of the future. The new material, called graphene, is pure carbon in the form of a one-atom-thick sheet of carbon that is invisible to the naked eye. It is at least 100 times stronger than steel and conducts heat and electricity with great efficiency. Until just a few years ago, graphene only existed in scientists’ laboratories. But now industrial uses are being found for the material, and businesses are interested in exploring where and how it can be used in the products of the future – including LEGO.

Better products
Marianne Graves Petersen’s research focusses on the interplay between IT and the physical world. Petersen, an associate professor at the Department of Computer Science at Aarhus University, is working with LEGO to investigate how graphene can be applied to the development of new products and improve existing ones. “We were at LEGO World in Copenhagen during the winter holiday. Of course, it wasn’t possible to play with the new material, but we tried to simulate its properties using other materials such as copper, and this gave us a lot of creative input from hundreds of enthusiastic children and parents,” explains Petersen.

A new material means new ways to play
Olav Gjerlufsen, director of digital producers at LEGO, points to the theoretical and practical development work in cooperation with AU researchers and LEGO fans of all ages as the force driving the project. “LEGO World provided us with fantastic material from children, parents and researchers, so we can continue to work with finding applications for graphene in the LEGO play activities of the future. We’re especially interested in investigating how we can exploit the material’s thermal and electrical conductivity, and we wouldn’t be able to investigate these possibilities without our partnership with AU’s researchers. We have great expectations that graphene can contribute to creating some unique possibilities for play and learning in the LEGO products of the future.”

Marianne Graves Petersen’s collaboration with LEGO is part of the NIAGRA project (the National Initiative for Advanced Graphene Coating and Composites), which is funded by InnovationsFonden (the Danish innovation foundation). The project is investigating potential commercial applications for graphene. The University of Copenhagen and the Technical University of Denmark are also participating in the project, along with the companies LEGO, Mekoprint, SP Group and Welltec.