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The Knowledge Triangle

Learn more about the knowledge triangle.

We have already discussed what an entrepreneurial ecosystem is, how entrepreneurial schools operate and why work-based learning can be beneficial for students. Connecting learning to the world of work and the wider community is a sign of excellence in entrepreneurship education. In this step, we will reflect specifically on the knowledge triangle, an essential concept for connecting schools to innovation and research.

To understand the entrepreneurial learning ecosystem, it is important to understand how these different aspects connect and interact. You might already be familiar with the triple helix model [1] of interaction involving university, industry and government actors, which was quickly followed by the quadruple and quintuple helix models, in which civil society and the natural environment were integrated respectively. Each of these models assumes the free circulation of knowledge and promotes interaction among the different actors, helping to promote and develop the role of education in society. The knowledge triangle is not dissimilar to the concept of the triple helix yet it’s very much focused on innovation systems.

In the diagram below – which was developed just for this course – all aspects of the knowledge triangle are covered, from the perspective of entrepreneurship education, aligning these with educational, industrial and regional actors. Notably, whilst government-funded research bodies would be included under the heading of regional actors – alongside social entrepreneurs and other government agencies – private research actors would be considered under the heading of industrial actors. In all three cases, learning types are shown alongside expected outcomes and impacts.

A diagram of the knowledge triangle. Corner 1, at the top, is labelled ‘educational actors'. Corner 2, bottom right, is labelled 'regional actors'. Corner 3, bottom left, is labelled 'industrial actors’. There are also labels down the sides. Between ‘educational actors’ and regional actors’, it says ‘innovation in teaching’. Between ‘regional actors’ and ‘industrial actors’, it says 'new jobs’. And, between ‘industrial actors’ and educational actors’, it says ' ‘future challenges and careers’.(Click to expand)

At European level, it is already more than 20 years since the EU declared its intention to become “the most competitive and dynamic knowledge‐based economy in the world” [2], prompting increased cooperation within the knowledge triangle. This is compounded by efforts among national governments – from across the world – to pursue public‐private research and commercialisation partnerships as a way of enhancing their country’s innovation and entrepreneurship system.

The European Commission is also working hard to promote Centres of Vocational Excellence to better connect vocational education and training provision to wider frameworks and strategies for regional development, innovation and smart specialisation.

There are also many good examples of collaborative practice at national level.

For example, in the Netherlands, the Katapult agency acts as a catalyst for public-private partnerships in vocational and professional education and helps to bring together more than 50,000 students with companies and teachers with the goal of improving cooperation between the public and private sectors, keeping pace with innovation and meeting the ever changing needs of the labour market.

Another example is from Germany and the Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training (BIBB). Working with federal government, social partners and industry representatives, BIBB recently revised the training regulations for four information technology occupations (IT specialist, IT systems electronics technician, digitisation management assistant and IT systems management assistant), ensuring the adequacy of training to meet the demands of the labour market.



1. Etzkowitz, H. & Leydesdorff, L. The Dynamics of Innovation: From National Systems and ‘Mode 2’ to a Triple Helix of University-Industry-Government Relations. Research Policy. 2000. 29(2); 109–123.
2. Lisbon European Council. Presidency Conclusions. Lisbon European Council 23 & 24 March. 2000. Available at:

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