Summer School team learns by doing as they help a startup go corporate

EIT Digital Summer School

Already several years out of school, and working as a political secretary at the IG Metall trade union in Munich, Falko Blumenthal is typical of the young professionals who find EIT Digital Summer School is a perfect fit for their needs.

The programme saw Blumenthal join a team of other professionals and master’s students in tackling the task of helping a large corporation integrate a startup post-merger. “The startup staff was asked to fit in with a corporate structure and they became disincentivized and basically told HR to get lost,” Blumenthal explained. “That kind of challenge is my daily bread.”

The Digital Transformation for Organisational Resilience Summer School, held in Ljubljana, Slovenia in July, looked at methods for adapting to new management and operational practises brought in by disruptive IT technology. Blumenthal said the lectures, and problem-solving with a multidisciplinary team, gave him new knowledge and a wider vision, which he is already using at his workplace.

“This EIT Digital Summer School in Ljubljana was a great way to expand myself professionally and to learn about project development in very agile systems and very short time periods,” he said. “You get the integrated view of a technological and social business approach. This is an angle usually reserved for C-level training.”

The two-week course was one of 11 EIT Digital Summer School programmes held in charming cities spread around Europe this year. The courses mix master students and young professionals, and were very popular this year, accepting 300 students from the EIT Digital Master School and 200 external participants, for an average of around 45 students per programme.

Learning as a team

After lectures from renowned experts like Julian Birkinshaw, Vaughn Tan and Miha Škerlavaj, and other professors at University of Ljubljana, the course quickly shifted to hands-on work that provided substantial learning, Blumenthal said.

“To have insight, knowledge and debate about a company struggling with post-merger, post-acquisition troubles, to see the layers of business, social and organizational and then technical problems and solutions - this bolstered my intuition that you need a holistic, integrated analysis, and also gave me a deeper understanding of how businesses work,” he explained.

Being thrown into a diverse team, with a big age and geographical spread, proved beneficial. “I learned a lot by working with the project managers from the Netherlands, all the IT professionals from Turkey, and so on. It was a great experience,” Blumenthal said. “I’d never worked with Icelandic people before!”

The team members brought unique contributions and energized one another. “I think this mixture of master’s students and some extra, random, older participants helps both sides,” Blumenthal said. “You have necessary skills distributed among the participants, and you work very closely, at a very fast pace until 11 at night.”

Real-world work

Ljubljana is a beautiful, historical city that provided its own diversions and was exciting to explore with the other students, but “it was not just a random venue”, Blumenthal said. The Summer School did an excellent job of incorporating the local ecosystem, involving international corporations and the “intellectual firepower” of the University of Ljubljana, to give students a real feel for regional specifics impacting business considerations.

And the challenge his student team worked on - addressing the takeover of a startup - was real.

“These guys are saying now we have a good salary, but we are lost in this corporate universe. I do not know where the rest of my original team is. I do not know what I’m supposed to do, and whether it matters that I come to work, because it’s such a huge corporation,” said Blumenthal. “In the end our idea was to complement the formal corporate, hierarchical, necessary structure with more informal ways of collaboration, of working together, and to keep the original startup team as a unit, informally, while formally integrating it into the corporate structure.”

Real-world lessons

Blumenthal said he expects the corporation that set out the challenge will use much of the solution his team proposed - and he knows he will use the experience.

“I got an overview of how the human and systemic interactions work in a transformation, and this is really what I apply now to my understanding when dealing with IG Metall groups.”

He said he also picked up a lot of “soft skills” regarding teamwork from fellow students, most of whom were 7-8 years younger than him. “They were just throwing the basic structure on the whiteboard, and checking on Google Docs what the others are doing, and basically establishing a silent form of organic self-management. I think this came from the IT guys being able to work remotely and work flexibly, in teams,” Blumenthal said.

As someone who often takes advantage of training opportunities, Blumenthal said he was attracted to this programme by EIT’s strong reputation and was pleased to find the EIT Digital Summer School was particularly effective, “time well-spent” and a unique experience that he would recommend.

“If you are ready to get out of your comfort zone”, the real-life experience of jumping into a team and consulting for a large corporation provides a lot of learning in a hurry, according to Blumenthal. “It’s a real bootcamp.”

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Co-Funded by the European Union