Story of Elin M. Oftedal, Business Creation and Entrepreneurship (BCE) Program Coordinator

By Yati Chen

Defining what we want to be in the future is easy, whereas making it happen is just like trying to open a locked door without the key. Sometimes we don’t even know what we really want, even though we are already halfway through our endeavor. Twists and turns will become spices to our lives until we find the wake-up call, the key to that locked door.

Meet Elin, the entrepreneur maker.

“I am looking for the next Steve Jobs”, Elin said, when Utropia asked her about the criteria for being accepted onto the BCE program. Although she is now the coordinator of the BCE master’s program, becoming a professor in the entrepreneurship field was not Elin’s biggest dream back when she was a child.

When she was in high school in her home town of Stavanger, Elin was thinking more traditionally, contemplating going into medicine or the field of journalism. Yet somehow, the idea of going into business came into her mind. She believes that in business, one can never get stuck because he or she always has the opportunity to develop new ideas. This small idea of hers soon led her to start a bachelor’s degree in business administration.

“At one point I wanted to do art, I think I was just fed up and I went to look for a school of art”, Elin admitted, “but the school of art was not accredited by the Norwegian education system, so I had to pay for myself, which I couldn’t afford at that time” she added.

Then a light shone on her third year of her bachelor’s study program, when Elin was introduced to entrepreneurship. The thought of developing something from nothing excited her greatly. “Sometimes it just clicks, you don’t know what you are looking for but it just ignites something in you”, she said.

Elin continued to study for a master’s in international marketing and production management, which was influenced by innovation and entrepreneurship. Similar to other graduates, she later worked in an innovative handicap equipment company. Thus, she utilized all the knowledge she acquired from her studies, since the company also exported products to Europe and Japan. She obviously enjoyed the occupation.

However, the longing for academia soon returned to Elin. She missed theory. She had the urge to contribute in a way that meant what was learned in context could really be used. With this in mind, she pursued her PhD in Bodø, focusing on high-impact entrepreneurship.

Photo: Michalina Marczak
Photo: Michalina Marczak

As part of the PhD process, Elin travelled to Austin, Texas, to witness the situation of entrepreneurship there. “Austin was called the Galapagos Island of entrepreneurship”, she described. There are a lot of innovations and creativities in the city, in contrast to Europe, where Elin explains that people say no to new ideas. In Austin, all ideas were worth investigating. “In Austin, it is not about picking up on who the winner is, but more about which company you can help. This was a huge wake-up call for me” she added.

Later, Elin went back to Stavanger with her knowledge from Austin, and became involved in ‘Greater Stavanger Economic Development’. She received the title ‘Opportunity Developer’, which aimed to find opportunities within Stavanger that were external to the dominating oil sector. She helped to develop the ‘Business Incubator’, focusing on food and clean energy. She even initiated the Cultural Incubator. In her opinion, renewable energy needs more attention. The oil sector is so profitable that it absorbs a large proportion of resources, meaning there are only a few people involved in the clean energy sector.

Shortly after, Elin took a year off and went to Thailand. There, she coincidentally met Lene Foss, whom she knew from her previous project. Lene mentioned to her an opening for a professor position at UiT and encouraged her to apply.  At that time, Elin was not convinced but thought that there was no harm in trying. Just before Christmas that year, she applied for the position.

But what was her reason for accepting the position? “I experienced that I was narrow-minded, but then I got access to new knowledge and that was a revolution for me. That’s why I am here”, she answered. She also said that it is amazing to be a part of the UiT BCE program. There is a lot of freedom to develop new ideas, which is why she wanted to be part of BCE and joined UiT in 2010.

Finally, Utropia asked Elin what she really expects from the BCE students. “I wouldn’t expect all students to become entrepreneurs because that’s such a major decision. But I hope their time in here is more than useful because BCE program is a strong background for management, business development and consulting, so they can start something new”.