Bilbao Berrikuntza Faktoria: a learning, innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem

Image: Group Init

Image: Group Init

What happens when you gather university students and business initiatives in the same space?

Recently I had the opportunity to visit a place wherein an integral way, this interaction takes place daily. It was not a bootcamp, conference, forum or employment fair. Not even a school (in the traditional sense). It was a factory where higher education and the entrepreneurial community coexist daily in a transversal and interconnected space, without classrooms or offices, without teachers or students.

This space is the Bilbao Berrikuntza Faktoria (BBF) and it physically exists in Bilbao, Spain, although the initiative is a network of teampreneurs that extends worldwide. The network is the Mondragón Team Academy, an international community of teampreneurs and the entrepreneurship unit of the Mondragon Unibertsitatea (University of Mondragón).

But how does a school work without teachers or students? The BBF is a learning, innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem where teachers become mentors and students become entrepreneurs. The "classrooms" rather work environments with large work tables where students carry out their businesses and projects in collaboration with companies and start-ups that are in the same building.

Been inside this innovation factory was a totally different experience from what I expected. The building that houses the BBF, located in the urban zone of Bilbao, goes almost unnoticed among the rest of the buildings because it does not look at all like a university campus. The industrial aesthetic of the building lives up to its name and inside you can find large open spaces where entrepreneurs, mentors, businesses and start-ups work in collaboration.

The building is full of bicycles, skateboards, prototypes, models, posters, Post-its, flags, plants and armchairs. But what surprised me most about the space, which resembles a start-up more than a university, was that far from focusing on modern furniture, is that is centered on the people. To enter the BBF is to see groups of people focused on their projects, discussing, planning and working in teams; some other student on his laptop and others in a video conference with a partner in another part of the world.

The distinction between students, teachers and entrepreneurs is almost imperceptible. And in this place you don't see teachers writing on a blackboard or showing PowerPoint slides, nor students sitting passively listening to the lecture. Here, collaborative and interdisciplinary work is the norm. Although this ecosystem is more similar to an incubator, the BBF offers official university and postgraduate programs, but different from the average academic offer.


The Bilbao Berrikuntza Faktoria model

The BBF model integrates three differentiated and interconnected layers: Learning, Entrepreneurship and Innovation.

  1. Learning. Through the disruptive academic offer of the Mondragon Unibertsitatea: The Leadership, Entrepeneurship, and Innovation Degree (LEINN degree) and two graduate programs: the International Executive Master Program in Intrapreneurship and Open Innovation (MINN degree) and the Team Mastery Training:
    A program to start, trained & become an MTA certified Team Coach (TMINN degree). 
  2. Entrepreneurship. Through incubation, consulting services and project development in the field of innovation, intrapreneurship and creativity.
  3. Innovation. A business headquarters with innovative products and services with an important growth potential.


The keys of the LEINN Degree

  • It is the only official and international university degree on entrepreneurship that exists in Spain.
  • It is based on the Finnish educational model which is based on three pillars: learning by doing, team entrepreneurship, and learning through international trips.
  • It is a 100% practical university degree where from the very beginning students create a real company, design and develop real products and services, work with clients, and must generate revenue to pass the course.
  • There are no teachers but mentors and the classrooms are replaced by work environments.
  • It is the only university degree with 100% employability in Spain.

More than 1,000 students are part of the LEINN degree currently working in the laboratories of the international network Mondragon Team Academy (MTA), based in Madrid, Barcelona, Bilbao, Irún, Oñati and Valencia (in Spain), Mexico, Amsterdam, Shanghai (China) and Pune (India).

The BBF is a project promoted by Mondragon Unibertsitatea with the collaboration of the Bilbao City Council. To learn more about this initiative visit the Bilbao Berrikuntza Faktoria webpage.