Lehigh University and Technische Universität Dortmund in Germany are using their successful institutional partnership to positively impact innovation and entrepreneurship

Lehigh University and Technische Universität Dortmund, a technical university in the Ruhr region of Germany, have enjoyed an active and highly successful institutional partnership for the last 24 years. Now, they are taking their collaborations to the next level.

Representatives from both institutions gathered last week to discuss how they can leverage their long-standing relationship to positively impact innovation and entrepreneurship in both the Lehigh Valley and the Ruhr region.

A group of people sit around a table smiling and talkingThere is a lot to be learned about how both of these similar communities develop their entrepreneurial ecosystems, and we’re delighted to have welcome TU Dortmund to our campus for a conversation that will ultimately benefit each of us,” said Cheryl Matherly, Vice President and Vice Provost for International Affairs at Lehigh’s Office of International Affairs (OIA).

Officials from the two universities participated in a symposium on Oct. 25 entitled “Empowering Regional Impact Through Entrepreneurship: The Role for Universities,” highlighting practices at both Lehigh and TU Dortmund to expand the entrepreneurship ecosystem. Visit here to read more about the event.

Afterward, the Lehigh and TU Dortmund delegations gathered for intensive roundtable discussions to identify shared challenges in both their communities, establishing short- and long-term goals for continued collaboration over the upcoming months.

Those goals include:

  • Establishing a shared “problem bank” for student entrepreneurs to draw upon when exploring ideas to form their ventures
  • Sharing best practices to support PhD students with opportunities to explore entrepreneurial ventures to commercialize research
  • Encouraging greater flexibility and short-term exchange opportunities for student entrepreneurs
  • Establishing a co-branded experimental laboratory in which student entrepreneurs can seek guidance from faculty at both Lehigh and TU Dortmund, providing them with a truly international experience
  • Identifying shared research interests for collaborative work in the areas of entrepreneurship

“When you face the same challenges, you are speaking the same language,” said Gerhard Schembecker, Vice President Finance at TU Dortmund. “The conversations we are having today will lay the foundation for actionable outcomes that will result in something very special.”

These initiatives between Lehigh and TU Dortmund perfectly align with Lehigh’s new strategic plan, Inspiring the Future Makers, which is committed to prioritizing and investing in entrepreneurship in a way that will impact local and regional communities and beyond.

“I really fundamentally believe in the critical role that universities play in developing and promoting and fostering entrepreneurial ecosystems in the regions that they inhabit,” said Nathan Urban, Lehigh’s Provost & Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs. “I think it’s an essential function of the universities.”

In addition to hosting the symposium and roundtable discussions, the two institutions signed a memorandum of understanding renewing the commitment to their ongoing partnership. It was signed by Matherly and Tessa Flatten, TU Dortmund’s Vice President of International Affairs.

“I firmly believe that there's strength in numbers, and strength in each of us to be able to say that we’ve got a collaborative partner on the other side of the Atlantic that is looking at this and very similar in it in a different environment, but in very similar ways,” said Lehigh University President Joseph J. Helble.

The partnership between Lehigh and TU Dortmund began in 1999 with the establishment of student abroad exchanges, and has continued to evolve in part due to the similarity between the two regions and the close alignment on similar issues at the universities. The Ruhr area was once a coal-mining region that was forced to diversify its economy once that production ceased, similar to how the Lehigh Valley economy changed after Bethlehem Steel shut down.

In the past five years, Lehigh and TU Dortmund’s focus has concentrated more specifically on entrepreneurship. Dortmund has established itself as a thriving hub of entrepreneurship and innovation, and Lehigh has long been committed to that same spirit, particularly through the work of its Baker Institute for Entrepreneurship, Creativity & Innovation.

“Entrepreneurial thinking and doing is in the Lehigh University zeitgeist and it’s not just about having good ideas,” said Lisa Getzler, Lehigh’s Vice Provost for Entrepreneurship. “We identify problems worth solving, use our creativity, skills, and abilities to find innovative ways to solve those problems and create value, and do so across identities, disciplines, and industries.”

The symposium and roundtable discussion event was presented by OIA, the Baker Institute, and Lehigh University’s Iacocca Institute.