In this interview, WHU Doctoral student Monika Hauck talks about her experience as a Doctoral student at WHU, her interest in the field of entrepreneurship, and her plans for after she finishes the program.
Why did you decide to start a Doctoral Program?
Actually, it started in California. I spent a year there and that’s where I first came into contact with innovation environments and entrepreneurial culture. Back in Germany, while writing my Master thesis on “Berlin Venture Capital Scene – Analysis of Cluster Formation”, I had the opportunity to witness the rapid growth and enthusiasm for the startup scene and especially the “New Economy” businesses in Berlin. I found it fascinating to observe how informal network ties and knowledge spillover effects can contribute to the development of an innovation ecosystem and how the whole can become more than the sum of its parts. So, I decided to broaden my expertise in this field by pursuing a Ph.D. degree.
Why was it WHU’s Doctoral Program you chose to join?
The Chair of Professor Christoph Hienerth is renowned in the fields of Open Innovation and User Innovation. It offers an ideal academic setting to work on the topic of innovation ecosystems. Also, WHU has an exceptional startup culture and history of founders which seemed to me a perfect environment to conduct the empirical part of my research. WHU was my number one choice, so I was grateful for the opportunity.
Could you please tell us about your average day at WHU? What does it look like?
As a matter of fact, entrepreneurship is a very dynamic field, so there are hardly any average days. However, I typically start my day with a cup of hand-brewed coffee and read news articles on TechCrunch.com or the Berlin Valley magazine. I also read a lot during the day, spending a significant amount of time on academic articles. Doing a well-grounded literature review is at the core of every doctoral dissertation. I also keep in mind how these news and academic articles can be applied in our teaching curriculum at WHU and what implications they have on my research projects. Doing research in the field of entrepreneurship and innovation, you need to stay agile and learn to observe, filter, and integrate diverse and sometimes vast sources of information.
As part of my daily work at WHU, I frequently meet and coach student founders and help them connect to investors or other relevant stakeholders of the startup ecosystem. Meeting with student initiatives such as IdeaLab! - WHU Founders' Conference or the WHU Entrepreneurship Roundtable and planning conferences is also part of my duties at WHU. The day of a Doctoral student is quite long and multidimensional. Hence, maintaining a healthy work-life balance is very important. I really appreciate the fact that there is a gym on both the WHU Vallendar and Düsseldorf campuses.
What have you enjoyed most since you started as a Doctoral student at WHU?
Learning can be a very liberating experience. WHU has a unique setting for this because it offers both exceptional academic quality as well as close contact to the industry. The highlight of my Ph.D. journey and the motivation to dive deeper into the field of Open Innovation was a visit to Open and User Innovation Conference at Harvard Business School. I truly enjoyed presenting my work and engaging into discussion with the leading minds in the industry such as Professor Karim Lakhani and also getting to know the personalities behind the papers which I have been frequently reading and quoting.
Has studying and working at WHU influenced the way you perceive and approach things?
I feel that we are living in exciting but also very uncertain times. The world is changing, and we need to follow. While we are fascinated by technology, we sometimes forget the power of human creativity and empathy. I really believe that many important innovative solutions will be driven by new ways of collaboration. Hence, firms and individuals will need to move away from their transactional thinking and embrace a more holistic, an ecosystem thinking. I am observing that Open Innovation can not only be a powerful way for established corporations to stay up to date and pursue innovation projects at scale, it is also becoming a powerful tool to tackle societal and environmental issues. By creating a more inclusive and collaborative environment, established originations, startups and NGOs can reduce uncertainty and increase their knowledge and space for solutions. As I see it, organizations first had to learn how to compete, then how to cooperate, and now they have to learn how to collaborate better.
How would you describe your relationship with your Professor and with the other Doctoral students?
My relationship with Professor Hienerth has always been very open and supportive. I am especially thankful that he has given me a lot of freedom to experiment with different ideas and explore new, and sometimes unconventional, research avenues. Professor Hienerth has also supported my efforts to attend international research conferences, which I think is an important part of developing research projects. However, a Ph.D is a long and sometimes mentally challenging journey. Having a chance to share my experiences is very important to me and gives me the feeling that I am not alone. In this regard, I am grateful for the good team spirit we have at the Chair of Entrepreneurship and New Business Development and for the fact that the working relationships with my colleagues have developed into real friendships.
What are your plans for after you finish your Doctoral studies at WHU?
During my time at WHU, together with Professor Hienerth, I founded the WHU Entrepreneurship Center. It was a sort of ‘intrapreneurial’ project at WHU. Given the rising relevance of entrepreneurship for our students, alumni, and corporate partners, we saw a need to create a platform that connects the various stakeholders and facilitates innovation and entrepreneurship related activities within and outside WHU. The Center aims at building future corporate and institutional connections, thereby developing an entrepreneurial ecosystem around WHU and its sites in Vallendar, Düsseldorf, and Berlin.
My plan is to work on further establishing the WHU Entrepreneurship Center activities, especially at our Düsseldorf Campus, and I will be supporting and facilitating corporate innovation projects of our partner organizations. Based on existing contacts to well-known startups, various types of investors, incubators, and accelerators, as well as corporate connections and strategic partners, the Entrepreneurship Center at WHU aims at contributing to the growing entrepreneurial ecosystem in Germany, and I would like to be part of it. As my fascination for the topic of Open Innovation is still high, I also plan to do further research in this field. In addition, I would like to take a deeper look into how Open Innovation tools and an entrepreneurial mindset can contribute to addressing the environmental and social issues that our society and planet are facing today. This year, I became an Ambassador of an organization called Fashion Revolution, which is a British social enterprise dedicated to raising awareness of the social and environmental issues in the fashion industry. Given its rising importance and my personal interest in the topic, I plan to integrate Sustainable and Inclusive Entrepreneurship into the teaching curriculum at WHU.