Moldova : Teaching Entrepreneurship to Engineering Students

in the Former Soviet Union

Ion Tiginyanu

Technical University of Moldova

Bethany S. Oberst

James Madison University ( USA )

Russel C. Jones

World Expertise LLC ( USA )


In 2003 the Technical University of Moldova successfully piloted an ambitious entrepreneurship program for a group of its students, consisting of formal instruction and an internship with a successful Moldovan entrepreneur.  This paper describes the genesis of the project, the successful search for funding, the curriculum, selection of faculty, students and mentors, evaluation, the related entrepreneurial inventory project, and the place of the program within the framework of the new International Center for Entrepreneurship in Moldova .  The authors present this report with reference to the challenges of teaching entrepreneurship in a former soviet socialist republic, one which today is struggling to find its feet in the fast moving global economy.  The paper addresses the future of the entrepreneurship project, and the regional implications of the new International Center for Entrepreneurship.


Entrepreneurship education has taken on a new role in the past several years, as the international development community has begun to realize its importance in rebuilding and reorienting countries whose economies need to be recast, revised, rebuilt or revitalized.  While large scale, globally financed projects are often required to rebuild a country’s essential infrastructure, individuals must begin to believe that there is a place for them in the new economy, and that they have the capacity and skills to control a part of their destiny.  Capacity building requires both individual and collective initiative if it is to succeed and result in real economic benefits.  Teaching people how to be entrepreneurial within the context of their own evolving economies is a working link between large scale international efforts and the destiny of the individual.

That is the positive side of entrepreneurship education in the developing world.  The more defensive side is that under repressive political systems, extreme poverty and highly centralized economies, many people have been educated or trained to perform outmoded or even overtly destructive work.  Scientists whose efforts were directed to the invention of weapons of mass destruction, for example, face difficult choices: to sell their skills to the highest bidder, or to reorient their careers in order to survive in a new economy.  The challenge then becomes to identify those people, offer them ways to use their expertise productively, give them the tools to earn a living in their own country, possibly through private enterprise, and thus stem the tide of brain-drain and prevent deflection and possible perversion of their knowledge.  Entrepreneurship education is one component of this rehabilitation, following an entrepreneurial inventory of the type discussed later in this paper.

The Republic of Moldova :

The Republic of Moldova is located in the Black Sea region of Eastern Europe , north of Turkey , east of Romania , sharing a border with Ukraine .  Today 4.5 million Moldovans live in an area slightly larger than the US state of Maryland , 80 % of them with income below the poverty line, and most of them in rural areas. The predominant language is Romanian.  The second traditionally used language is Russian. 

What is now Moldova was part of Bessarabia and through the centuries was under the domination of the Russian Empire and the Ottoman Empire .  At the end of World War II, the land that is today Moldova became the Soviet Socialist Republic of Moldova, but on August 27, 1991 , it gained its independence from the Soviet Union .  Since independence, Moldova quickly moved to reform its economy, privatizing its industries, seeking to enter into the global markets, and achieving some success.  However, Moldova ’s economic rebuilding was slowed considerably by the sinking of Russia ’s economy, with which it was still closely tied, and the election in 2001 of a Communist parliament continues to weaken Moldova ’s prospects for attracting foreign investors.  Moldova is a land-locked country, entirely dependent on foreign energy sources.  Its economy relies heavily on agriculture, food processing, tobacco and wine.  Currently about 43 % of its exports go to Russia and another 10 % to Ukraine . 

Moldova has suffered from serious ethnic and political strife.  The most persistent problem, which passes largely unperceived in the western media, is the unresolved border issue involving the eastern portion of the country, known as Transnistria.  This land is committed to returning to a Soviet-style society and economy, and the presence of large elements of the old Soviet army in the area makes it a threatening reality in Moldovan politics.  Since 9/11, the world has slowly begun to take notice of the danger inherent in the very porous international border in this strategically important part of the world. 

Higher education in Moldova consists of a mature set of colleges and universities.  The Technical University of Moldova (, founded in 1964 and located in the capital, Chisinau, is the only technical university in the country.  The university enrolls 14,000 students in nine faculties, taught by around 800 teaching staff. The TUM offers undergraduate and graduate degrees, and is deeply involved in scientific and technical research.  The TUM has administrative responsibility for a network of technical colleges throughout the country, and thus functions somewhat as a multi-campus educational system.  The TUM is also a leader in the Black Sea University Network, an organization of over one hundred universities located in eleven countries clustered around the Black Sea and dedicated to “peace strengthening, conflict prevention, early warning institutions, governance improvement, IT and learning, economy restructuring, joining the regional and global economic circuit, mentality change regarding modernization, tolerance and the capacity to work in joint projects, good neighbourliness and regional partnerships.” (

Much of what we take for granted when we in the US discuss entrepreneurship education is not a given in most parts of the world.  A supportive infrastructure of contract law, taxation, intellectual property rights, communications systems, licensure, banking and finance, transportation, is not necessarily everywhere in place to support small business initiatives.  And countries such as Moldova, which are emerging from decades of living in a controlled economy, face enormous internal and external impediments when they attempt to plunge into the often chaotic world of globalization, where both mature and new industries in economic powerhouses such as the US, the European Union and (formerly) Japan are now struggling to thrive in the new world economic order.  The authors of this paper hope that by teaching Moldovan students to become entrepreneurs, they in turn will push for the reforms needed to create a climate where entrepreneurship is supported.  And we also hope that we can stave off some of the brain-drain which occurs when bright, young, creative people cannot find opportunities for their talents at home and are forced to go elsewhere.  Although many in Moldova aspire to see their country more closely affiliated with the west, and play a part in the European Union as it expands, the road in this direction is strewn with political, social and economic barriers.  This paper represents the efforts of many people to shape the future of Moldova toward more prosperity and integration with the west.

Dr. Ion Tiginyanu’s encounter with US-style entrepreneurship and the search for funding:

During Dr. Tiginyanu’s visit to the University of Michigan in December 2000 – June 2001 (supported by the US National Research Council under the program “Collaboration in Basic Science and Engineering”) he realized how deeply the entrepreneurial spirit is imbedded in the US society.  People discuss how to make money during flights, researchers at the university discuss how to create a spin-off in order to commercialize an idea, students speak about opportunities to start private businesses after graduating from the university. His host professor during his stay in Ann Arbor succeeded in founding a joint venture to commercialize some microelectronic components developed in his laboratory. “I discovered a new mentality, a new way of thinking, a new world . . . ,” Dr. Tiginyanu reported. 

In May, 2001, Dr. Tiginyanu met with Dr. Bethany Oberst from James Madison University , with whom he had been in close collaboration since 1998, and Dr. Russel Jones from World Expertise LLC. The three discussed the possibility of offering a course on entrepreneurship at the Technical University of Moldova. Later they decided to look for funds enabling them to create an International Center for Entrepreneurship in Moldova .

 The team researched several possibilities and came to the conclusion that the most appropriate step would be to start with a pilot project. In autumn, 2002, Dr. Tiginyanu submitted a project to the Soros Foundation Moldova that was approved in December, 2002, for funding through January, 2004. This project supported the design and implementation of a pilot entrepreneurship course at the Technical University of Moldova to be offered as an extra-curricular program. In the spring of 2003 another proposal was submitted to the Eurasia Foundation which was approved in September, 2003. This project supports the creation of the International Center for Entrepreneurship in Moldova . The activities related to this second project started in October, 2003. At present the Center has an office at the TUM with several computers, a fax machine and a copier. The staff of the Center consists of eleven specialists, including five lecturers, a course coordinator, managers, a web-site programmer, etc.

 The Soros-funded pilot program: selection of faculty and students

The first challenge was to identify professors with international experience, and experienced specialists in economics to teach in the pilot program. A first good choice was an economist, Dr. Elena Chislari, who founded the Moldova-US Center for Private Initiative and whose many visits to Western countries has given her valuable experience. Other good professors were found at the Academy of Economic Studies of Moldova and at the Technical University of Moldova. The idea of developing and implementing a course on entrepreneurship for engineering students looked attractive to everybody.

 Students enrolled in advanced courses in the Faculty of Computers, Informatics and Microelectronics were asked to express interest in participating in the pilot program, which would be taken as an “overload,” in addition to their regular courses. A special test was administered to properly select the initial class of thirty-one students from among the seventy-two who wanted to take part. It was important to investigate student abilities such as intellectual level and organizational and leadership abilities.  University grades were not a significant consideration: preference was given to English-speaking students, those who looked convincing when describing their plans for future private business. (A couple of students already proved to be directors of a café-internet founded in the neighborhood of Chisinau.) 

 The selection of internship sites

From the first, internships were designed to be an integral part of the pilot program. The internship constituted the final stage of the educational process, following the formal instructional program organized for the spring of 2003. The objectives of the internship were to permit students to synthesize the benefits of the entrepreneurial program, to evaluate their new knowledge and skills, and to create the foundation for the development of their own business.

For placement sites both large and small enterprises were chosen. The managers of many SMEs were contacted and those who agreed to personally supervise the work of students during the internship were selected. At the end of their internships, the students prepared a report. Some students even succeeded in drafting a business plan for themselves during the internship.

 The Center arranged the placement of students with these successful Moldovan entrepreneurs. The students worked for a minimum of twenty hours per week in the position of manager (under a supervisor’s control) for a period of two months. Prior to the intern’s arrival, the supervisor was trained how to engage the students in work assignments that were not only productive for the company, but also important for student learning.

 In July – August, 2003, ten students were distributed among enterprises including TOPAZ, Ferex S.R.L., InformInstrument S.R.L. and Red S.R.L. 

 The Curriculum

All students followed the same curriculum in the spring semester:

·                    How to set up a private enterprise.

The module outlines the main legal forms private businesses can adopt, and the entrepreneurial advantages and disadvantages of each form. It constitutes a basic guide to starting a business in Moldova : foundation documents and acts, registration of the enterprise and other proceedings inherent to the process.

·                    Legal basis for small and medium business.

The students examine the laws relevant to small and medium-sized businesses. Emphasis is placed on the advantages offered by present legislation and the responsibilities of managers.

·                    Fiscal policy, types of taxes, their calculation.

This module thoroughly analyses fiscal policy of the Republic of Moldova. It examines the types of taxes and their calculation, as well as methods for the optimization of fiscal payments.

·                    Account balance. The cash flow and accounting of incomes and expenses.

Students learn about balance sheets, how to write and interpret them. They examine the cashflow statements and profit and loss accounts as a means of developing financial planning skills. Special attention is paid to the advantages offered by these financial instruments and their practical use. 

·                    Financial indicators. Budget and cost calculation.

Financial indicators help to better understand the outcomes and the financial position of an enterprise: they show the way assets are being used. This module is intended to develop a student’s ability to realistically assess the objectives set up by an entreprise. Cost calculation enables entrepreneurs to set adequate prices, it explains the reasons for high costs, offers premises for their reduction. It gives useful information on how to improve the efficiency of a firm.

·                    Notions about the account evidence.

This module offers basic information regarding the necessity of accounting. It defines accounting, types of accounts, rules and forms of book-keeping.

·                    Human resource management.

As the personnel of an enterprise represents its most active and dynamic asset, this module offers valuable strategies, theories and principles for the efficient motivation of employees.

·                    Basics of marketing.

This part of the curriculum provides students with the fundamental definitions and principles of marketing.  Emphasis is placed on formulating a vision oriented toward serving customer needs and studying competitors, opportunities and threats of the market. It offers strategies for efficient product placement and the development of the marketing mix.

·                    Notions about the management in transition.

Management in a transition economy is characterised by a series of specific factors which differ considerable from those in relatively stable economies.  The module highlights these phenomena and their impact on the development of small and medium enterprises. 

·                    Business Plan.

The business plan module represents the synthesis of the knowledge and abilities acquired in the program. This module invites the participants to develop a business plan for a future enterprise, starting with the objectives and the resources needed to achieve them in a well-defined period.  

 The International Workshop on Entrepreneurship Education

In order to recognize the accomplishments of the students who successfully completed the pilot program, to attract favorable public opinion to the new International Center , and to set the tone for future activities, on September 10, 2003 , an international workshop on entrepreneurship was organized at the Technical University of Moldova. The workshop was attended by advanced students from across the several institutions of higher education in Moldova , and Moldovan faculty members from across the country. In addition, attendees included productive research and development people interested in bringing their ideas to market quickly. Finally, the entrepreneurs who had served as mentors to the students attended as well. 

 The program began with the distribution of a certificate of completion to each of the students by Mrs. Mariana Alecsandri of the Higher Education Support Program of the Soros Foundation Moldova , assisted by Dr. Russel C. Jones from the United States . 

 The program included the following speakers and topics:

 Program feedback and modification

When asked for feedback, most students said that the entrepreneurship course and their subsequent internship were very useful. Some of them recommended that the course be enlarged. Also, it seems that the internships at small companies were more successful since the students observed flexibility, orientation to innovations, etc. All students found attendance at the closing International Workshop on Entrepreneurship Education very useful. They learned about how entrepreneurship is promoted in other countries, in particular in the US and Germany , obtained information about opportunities to do business in Moldova and abroad, etc.

 The pilot program was a good experience for professors, as well. Some of them, in particular, took note of the reactions of students during the 1st semester and modified the content of lectures for the 2nd semester. Some professors concluded that the course should be added into the regular university curriculum. This issue will be discussed soon at the Council of Administration of the Technical University in connection with the creation of a new faculty related to economics and business. And finally, the faculty attended the International Workshop on Entrepreneurship Education and found it useful. Some of them noted the importance of the contribution of foreign specialists.

 The entrepreneurs themselves gained useful experience from serving as mentors, although some of them mentioned that July-August is not the best time for internships. The managers of small enterprises expressed their interest in hiring some students after their graduation from the university. During the workshop a useful exchange of opinions between faculty and entrepreneurs took place.

 Improvements and developments which came from this pilot program include the following:

 The Eurasia Foundation-funded International Center for Entrepreneurship of Moldova

The ultimate goal of the projects supported financially by the Soros Foundation Moldova and the Eurasia Foundation is the creation an International Center for Entrepreneurship in the Republic of Moldova and the development of an entrepreneurial spirit in Moldovan society. With Eurasia Foundation support, plans call for introducing an elective course entitled “Organization and administration of the private business” into the curriculum at the Technical University of Moldova and its affiliated technical colleges throughout the country; the organization of managerial internships; and the creation of opportunities for cooperation with partners from the European Union, the United States, and other countries.

 The new course, “Organization and administration of the private business,” will prepare graduates to organize and maintain a private business.  The curriculum will be built around the topics used in the pilot program, but will be offered only to fifth (final) year students. Participants will both assimilate knowledge and acquire the practical skills necessary to administer a business, learn the juridical aspects specific to small and medium sized businesses, develop skills in accounting and financial evidence, become skilled in management and the efficient administration of a business, and be capable of conducting marketing studies and developing business plans.  The course will be an elective within the regular offerings of the Technical University of Moldova.

 In addition to designing this new course, programs and activities to be run under the umbrella of the International Center for Entrepreneurship include the following:

 The International Center for Entrepreneurship has several dimensions:

 The Technical University of Moldova has administrative responsibility for a network of technical colleges across Moldova . Thus, it has easy access to large and diverse groups of faculty, researchers and students in both large and small communities, and can ensure their integration into the activities of the International Entrepreneurship Center and give them a voice in articulating the programming needed by various regions.

 There is an additional important issue related to the regional impact of the new International Center for Entrepreneurship. The National Secretariat of the Moldovan branch of the Black Sea University Network is located at the Technical University of Moldova. On October 22-24, 2003,  the TUM, in close collaboration with the Black Sea University Network and International Center for Black Sea Studies, organized an international workshop “Challenges for Integration in Education, Science and Technology Transfer in the Black Sea Region in the Context of Globalization” attended by about 200 participants from most countries of the region. It was noted at this workshop that the now-established project on entrepreneurship at the Technical University of Moldova may serve as a pilot for similar future efforts in other countries of the Black Sea region such as Ukraine , Russia , Georgia , Armenia , Azerbaijan , etc. Via the BSUN information infrastructure, the administration of the International Center for Entrepreneurship will make available to representatives of those countries the outcomes of its activities and disseminate information and expertise.

 Recently the Association for Research and Innovations “Pro-Europe” was created. One of the goals of this association is to promote the creation of joint ventures in Moldova , therefore the Association will supervise and support the International Center on Entrepreneurship. Among the priorities of the Association is the promotion of the European integration of the Republic of Moldova .

 The entrepreneurial inventory

One of major purposes of the International Entrepreneurship Center is the identification of active researchers and entrepreneurs in Moldova and the elaboration of a data base accessible via Internet.  Under the former Soviet-directed economy, many Moldovan scientists, engineers and researcher worked in state-directed industries which collapsed in 1991. Many emigrated, but others remain in Moldova , unemployed or under-employed, and are potential targets for exploitation by groups which want their expertise in weaponry, guidance systems, and such.  The entrepreneurial inventory is designed to offer these people an alternative to exploitation.

 A team of employees and advanced students from the TUM are working on identifying and locating active entrepreneurs and researchers to create a database of names, areas of expertise and contact coordinates. Unlike the more familiar academic inventory, this inventory will focus on those interested in marketing results coming from their research. The approximate size of the inventory will ultimately be around 9000 names, the number frequently used to describe the size of the existing research community in Moldova . The inventory will also include Moldovans who are working elsewhere in the world, but who are willing to help encourage economic development in their home country. The Moldovan Supreme Council for Research and Technological Development has expressed willingness to collaborate with the Center on this project. Computer resources are available for the project at both the Supreme Council and the Technical University . The database will be available to appropriate users in industry, government, education, etc., around the world starting in February, 2004. In order to achieve maximum international outreach from this database, the information is being created, and will be maintained, in English and Romanian. 

 Project administration

The Project Director and the managers of the activities described in this paper all have experience in international projects:

 The Project Director, Prof. Dr.Sc. Ion Tiginyanu, has worked for two years at the Technical University in Darmstadt (Germany) collaborating with several microelectronic companies from Europe, and for six months at the University of Michigan (USA) where he learned about the foundation of small enterprises by US scientific researchers.  He has been responsible for an international project in the field of nanotechnologies financed by the NATO Scientific Division (1997-2000), three projects financed by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research of Germany and the Research Council of Germany (1999-2003), and two INTAS projects. Now he is the president of the Commission of Experts on International Collaboration at the Supreme Council for Research and Technological Development of the Republic of Moldova .

Prof. Dr. Victor Sontea, Dean of the Faculty of Computers, Informatics and Microelectronics at the Technical University of Moldova, is responsible for the elaboration of the entrepreneurial inventory. He has been vice manager of the TEMPUS/Tacis JEP-10230 on the implementation of Master’s studies at the Technical University of Moldova, designed the pilot modules on “enterprise management” and “the business plan,” and he has served as the manager of a joint research project in Romania. 

Mr. Rafael Ciloci, doctor in economic sciences and lecturer at the Technical University of Moldova, is responsible for the management of the entrepreneurship course. He has participated in the TACIS Program (“Promotion of Higher Economic Education in the Republic of Moldova ”) and has done research at the Economic University of Athens ( Greece ). He has been responsible, in the frame of the TEMPUS/Tacis JEP-10230, for the creation of the “marketing” and “management methods” modules. He designed the marketing module for the MBA at the Technical University , financed by the TACIS program.

The project team worked in close collaboration with Dr. Bethany Oberst, James Madison Distinguished Professor and former Executive Director of the Office of International Programs at James Madison University (USA) and frequent consultant to the Technical University of Moldova, and Dr. Russel C. Jones, a civil engineer, former President of the University of Delaware (USA), current President of the Standing Committee on Capacity Building of the World Federation of Engineering Organizations.

The following additional specialists contributed to the organization, design and implementation of the entrepreneurship course: Dr. Elena Chislari, Ph.D. in Economics at the Academy of Economic Studies of Moldova (ASEM) and Director of the Moldova-US Center for Private Initiative, Dr. Marina Coban, Ph.D. in Economics (ASEM), Dr. Svetlana Gorobievschi, Ph.D. in Economics (T.U.M.).

Summary and conclusions:

With vital support from the Soros Foundation Moldova and the Eurasia Foundation, the International Center for Entrepreneurship at the Technical University of Moldova has succeeded in establishing a viable education program for university students, is making progress toward institutionalizing entrepreneurship education as a regular part of the TUM curriculum, has created productive ties with local industries and successful Moldovan entrepreneurs, and is taking steps to reinvigorate scientists, engineers and researchers whose livelihood was destroyed in the political and economic aftermath of the breakdown of the Soviet Union.  In its comprehensive design and strategic collaborations, the Center can serve as a model for other universities which seek to identify their role in their country’s economic growth and recovery.