Shine on: Summer Lab awarded for excellence in entrepreneurial education

A free, co-curricular programme held over summer and designed to make entrepreneurship accessible and engaging has scored an international award.

Summer Lab participants.
Throughout the programme students learn about the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, identify a problem to solve, form teams, and develop a business idea and plan based on their solution.

Summer Lab, a four-week University of Auckland experience highlighting innovation and entrepreneurship education, is enjoying its day in the sun after winning a United States Association of Small Business and Entrepreneurship award (USASBE).

This year, the University of Auckland is the only institute outside North America to take out a USASBE award after Summer Lab won the Entrepreneurship Education Excellence award for innovation in co-curricular education.

The judges celebrated the programme for its focused and organised delivery, transferability and method of inspiring participants to consider and tackle big problems. They also noted the robust pre- and post-surveys that staff undertook to evaluate the student experience.

“The winner in this category developed a programme that intentionally targeted a diverse set of students from different majors and let students drive their problem-solving based on their passions and interests, which got the students very excited about entrepreneurship and encouraged them to solve big problems,” says programme awards co-chair Judi Eyles.

Summer Lab promotes interdisciplinarity and diversity by making concepts of entrepreneurship available to students of all faculties. Meanwhile, because it’s free, barriers to participation are removed.

This isn’t the first time the high-paced experience, held at Unleash Space and delivered by the Business School’s Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE), has won an international award. The programme was also awarded an International Council for Small Business Global Award in Entrepreneurship Education Excellence in 2021.

Summer Lab participants
Participants explore emerging technologies and concepts such as design-led thinking.

The vast majority of students who take part in the experience say they would recommend it to others, and many rave about the skills and confidence they gain through action-orientated learning, including rapid prototyping, workshops, access to entrepreneurs and industry leaders as guest speakers, and tools and frameworks that shape innovative thinking.

Participants also explore emerging technologies, minimum viable products, and concepts such as design-led thinking using a range of business canvases.

Throughout the programme, they learn about the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, identify a problem to solve, form teams, and develop a business plan based on their solution. Then, on the final day, groups share their ideas by pitching their venture to a panel of judges, after which they receive feedback and guidance.

CIE Director Darsel Keane says: “We have iterated the content of Summer Lab over a number of years to ensure that we deliver a contemporary and high-quality programme that will help students develop transferable skills and an entrepreneurial mindset that will serve them well in life.”

Many participants in Summer Lab have progressed the ideas they came up with during the programme, including the team behind Socius XR, which was developed by biology, psychology, commerce and information systems students. Socius XR is now helping neurodiverse people into jobs through interview training and other skill development using an immersive extended reality platform.

Another Summer Lab alumnus, commerce student Toby Thomas-Smith, created EasyRent, to ease the issue of filling short-term rentals. The Sydney-based start-up has filled 1,000 places and processed $2.4 million in rentals in the last ten months.

Business School dean Susan Watson says she’s proud of the success of the CIE’s Summer Lab.

“It's part of our broader mission in the Business School to empower people with entrepreneurial and business skills. Those skills can bring ideas to fruition in ways that do not just benefit the entrepreneur but can also result in services and goods that make the world a better place. The businesses that have resulted from Summer Lab through CIE are examples of this.”

Consideration for the USASBE awards involved a comprehensive application, video submission and interview before the finalists were shortlisted, and the award winners were named at the USASBE’s annual conference in Florida this January.

The United States Association for Small Business and Entrepreneurship, founded in 1981, is a community of educators, researchers, and entrepreneurs advancing entrepreneurship education through teaching, scholarship, and practice. For more information, visit

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