The University of Exeter in south-west England is adopting the critical friend method developed for the northern region of the Netherlands through the joint efforts of the Entrepreneurship for Change professorship at Hanze University of Applied Sciences Groningen and Alfa College. 

Exeter to adopt critical friend method

Exeter is the capital of County Devon, a region participating in the European E-COOL project along with other regions, including project partners Hanze UAS and Alfa College in the northern Netherlands. After the University of Exeter became familiar with the critical friend method through the project, it is now adopting the approach to encourage entrepreneurship among young people in this innovative way. Young entrepreneurs from County Devon will get to know the critical friend method through a centre for entrepreneurship affiliated to a collaborative network of four universities.


The reason why the method is considered to be innovative is that it is based on a collective process rather than individual entrepreneurship. You can achieve more together with a circle of critical friends whose main role is to assist the development of an entrepreneur, for example. The method also takes a very open approach, in which all people are invited to contribute and join.

This open approach creates a healthy environment for innovation. As a combination of innovation and entrepreneurship is beneficial to the vitality as well as the prosperity of regions, the key is to connect different parties. The critical friend method is a useful tool in this respect; for instance, by facilitating the interplay between a student and an SME owner who become each other's critical friend.

As a result, the approach is eminently suited to such an environment as a living lab, since it is a perfect way to create new networks, identify new opportunities and connect different sectors. This experience has already been gained by Health Hub Roden and Tech Hub Assen, as well as by Start-up City students at the Hanze UAS Centre of Expertise for Entrepreneurship, which also welcomes students from Alfa College for entrepreneurship education.

Applied research for entrepreneurship education

For the professorship, the critical friend method is a key research theme to develop further and apply in teaching. Professor Alexander Grit previously visited the University of Exeter in January last to explain and demonstrate the critical friend method. There was a lot of enthusiasm among the participating students, who were keen to learn its further applications. A second visit to Exeter had been envisioned for June 2020, when the other ten partners from the European E-COOL project would find out additional details of this good practice. That visit was postponed due to the coronavirus crisis.

Encouraging an entrepreneurial mindset

As the approach deviates from the usual teaching by lecturers, it does require a change of mindset. This approach consequently encourages an entrepreneurial mindset among not only young people but also others who are crucial to students' personal development process and capacity for innovation, such as lecturers and coaches. The ultimate beneficiary is the region, which will have its own innovative environment with enterprises as well as other parties, including educational institutions and government bodies. This outcome is a key objective of the E-COOL project, which aims to improve regional entrepreneurship policy.