Entrepreneurial experience from the start

Students at Ruhr West University of Applied Sciences are way ahead when it comes to e-commerce

A concept that is being successfully adopted at a growing number of innovative companies has now also arrived at selected higher education establishments: a modern, open and unconventionally designed environment with relaxation opportunities invites employees to make themselves at home at the office. Perhaps this change of thinking at the universities is a result of their direct cooperation with leading companies in the region, but maybe it is also due to the commitment of the students themselves. In any case, the scene at Ruhr West University of Applied Sciences (HRW) in Mülheim an der Ruhr – in the heart of the City of Cities – looks like something usually seen when leafing through the pages of a living magazine: seating islands in orange, green and magenta and broad window fronts with steel and exposed concrete in the right places.

It is clear that the HRW provides its students with the best conditions for getting to grips with the timetabled projects for local businesses such as Tengelmann, Metro, Aldi Süd, Eismann and Footlocker in a professional manner and, at the same time, with a real sense of enjoyment that comes from being in a pleasant working environment.

The university is also impressing people with its content: the e-commerce course is the only one of its kind in western Germany, explains Professor Oliver Koch, HRW vice president for research and transfer and acting head of e-commerce. In theory, it’s all about online communication, sales, payment transactions, marketing and design. The particularly good thing: ‘Our students have contact with the outside world from the very start; they conduct research with or on behalf of the businesses,’ explains Koch.

A real model for the future

On Monday at 8 a.m., however, the week begins with a lecture. Lecture? That’s probably the wrong word to describe it, because there is a great deal of dialogue between the students and lecturer, who works at the IFH, a Cologne-based institute specialising in retail research. In the course of the lecture, terms are mentioned that most students would have been completely unfamilair with until recently: smart consumers (online buyers), cross channel services (a mixture of online and offline retailing) and click and collect (reserve the goods online, pick them up yourself). It’s all about customer service and advice, which is gaining in importance again. Particularly baffling for the course participants is a development which is seeing many businesses that have hitherto only operated online now also going ‘offline’ and opening stores in city centres.

Many of the lecturers come from businesses in the private sector, so it is hardly surprising that their ‘lectures’ are more akin to talks given by guests. This is precisely what Svenja Neumann likes about her degree course: ‘It gives us a lot of practice-based knowledge,’ says the 22-year-old from Bottrop. ‘We can ask questions and learn from the lecturers’ experience.’ Her fellow students nod in agreement and list other reasons to opt for the e-commerce course. Adrian Neithert from Oberhausen and David Grywacz from Mülheim, both 18 years old, can combine ‘marketing and design with the online aspect’ here and see ‘a real model for the future’ in it. Lena Trappmann has been interested in information technology since she was at school. ‘I can now build on that,’ says the 19-year-old from Mülheim. Jacqueline Czech previously studied biology in Cologne. ‘But there was no personal contact with the teachers; you were just another number among many.’ In contrast, the teaching staff can be approached directly at the HRW. Even when it’s about extending a deadline, adds Andrea, aged 19, from Bonn.

Endowed professorships for Mülheim and Bottrop

By having such close contact with the real world of business, graduates really are given the opportunity to get immediately involved in operations. Yet it also works both ways: the well-represented logistics industry in the Metropolis Ruhr also benefits from the cooperation partnership with the university. Through endowed professorships – initiated by the Tengelman group, for example – additional funds can be made available for teaching and research. This not only applies to Mülheim. The university’s second site in Bottrop also benefits from the comprehensive support of companies based in the City of Cities.

The chance to establish something really big

At the HRW, Professor Koch says it is becoming very clear that something is happening in the region. While skilled employees are being created on the one hand, there are a number of ideas for exciting start-ups on the other. Accordingly, there is a real need for consulting services in the area of online retailing. Now more than ever, graduates could establish something really big and successful: ‘The cooperating companies in the Metropolis Ruhr that are always on the lookout for innovations also get something from it,’ according to Koch. At any rate, there are plenty of laboratories, workshops and material warehouses at the HRW for developing ideas.

About the HRW

A total of 5,900 students are enrolled at the HRW on 20 bachelor’s and six master’s courses, 4,300 of them in Mülheim an der Ruhr. With 360 employees at present, including 81 professors, the university itself is an important employer. In addition to e-commerce, degree courses in IT, mechanical engineering and industrial engineering for energy systems are also on offer. Other areas of focus in Mülheim and Bottrop include vehicle information technology, cognitive system technology, applied measurement and automation technology, international business and network economics. The content and subject matter of all courses of study are firmly rooted in the Metropolis Ruhr. There are also 200 apprenticeships as part of a work-study programme, and this figure is continuing to rise.