Key policy messages

In this final section, we summarise the key messages to policymakers emerging from the INTERREG IVC entrepreneurship capitalisation exercise. These come directly from practitioners and project partners working on the ground to support budding entrepreneurs in European regions. What they had to say about their work, and on the experience of interregional exchange in this field can provide insights for European regions to create the right conditions in which entrepreneurship can flourish, in turn leading to more competitive economies and better jobs. The section starts with some of the generic policy messages for regional strategies and then focuses on more specific points for entrepreneurship.

1. Recommendations for regional strategies

A number of the messages emerging from the capitalisation exercise hold true across several of the INTERREG IVC capitalisation themes. The importance of a defined regional level strategy, complementing work at national and EU level is probably the clearest policy message of all. The Europe 2020 strategy provides a useful long-term framework for planning, and the EU initiatives listed in Section 2 show the direction of travel for entrepreneurship policy in the next decade.  A good example of effective planning in INTERREG IVC is the Murcia Regional Entrepreneurship Plan (YES) which provides a strategic support framework.

Linked to this, the main messages for regional strategies are:

  • Continuity, consistency and stability of policy are important. Changes of direction, for instance through policy and agency restructuring, are destabilising. INTERREG IVC partners in several projects talked about the difficulties encountered with policy change and restructuring.
  • Long-term vision and commitment are needed, backed up with a willingness to invest. 
  • Sources of investment are crucial, although the way in which they are implemented may vary. This is especially important in regions of Europe where the crisis has hit hardest. There is often no shortage of ideas, but only investment will turn them into businesses. 
  • Consistent, multi-party political leadership is needed at high levels and beyond terms of office. 
  • Patience is required as tangible results may not be visible immediately or quickly.
  • Private sector partners need to feel confident that this stable policy environment is in place in order to participate.
  • Public sector players need to be clear about their role, where they can add value and where they cannot.
  • Involvement of all stakeholders from the start and throughout the development and delivery of strategy and systems brings higher chances of success. This process is evidenced by several examples in INTERREG IVC projects, especially those where a successful, multi-stakeholder, integrated model of support has been built up over time, as in Lyon and Frankfurt (IMAGEEN and ENTREDI).
  • Policy needs to consider functional geographies and the distinctive characteristics of regions, such as transport links, industrial legacy, education levels, SME base, whether the region is central or peripheral. Strategy has to fit these conditions. An example from INTERREG IVC is the Cleantech Campus (PROSPECTS), - a new enterprise support system focused on green technology as a way of restructuring the local economy based on the heritage of the mining industry.

2. Recommendations for entrepreneurship strategies

Here we present some policy recommendations more focused on strategies for entrepreneurship:

  • At all levels of government, responsibility for entrepreneurship support is scattered over different departments and levels of government. More coherence is needed to ensure that these often uncoordinated activities can come together within an integrated approach and strategy.
  • Entrepreneurship strategies need to have clear objectives, indicators and monitoring, based on a shared understanding amongst all stakeholders of the ultimate goals.
  • Recognition of the value of supporting entrepreneurship as a career opportunity is vital as are clear links to how this contributes to economic growth and social cohesion.
  • Decisions about how and where to focus resources need to be well informed. In the context of limited resources difficult decisions may have to be made about whether to prioritise businesses that will grow, e.g. picking winners, or whether to invest in entrepreneurship education, or target disadvantaged or disconnected communities. The European Platform against Poverty and Social Exclusion, with its emphasis on social innovation highlights the need to develop inclusive entrepreneurship policies.
  • Metrics should be reviewed so that they include better analysis of survival or growth rates of all businesses including social enterprises. More widely accepted metrics are needed for social return on investment, added value of social enterprise, improved living conditions, cost savings when people are in jobs, or when sustainable practices are used.
  • Entrepreneurship policy should not forget social enterprise and the third sector; it needs to be cognisant of the particular characteristics of the sector, and the constraints it faces in competition with the private sector in the open market. Both PASE and MESSE projects have highlighted important findings and good practices on how to boost social enterprise within regions.
  • Government at all levels can make use of policy tools to support social enterprise, to exploit its potential to achieve multiple objectives, for instance in local business growth and supply chains, integration of disadvantaged groups, and more responsive local services. These tools have to be reinforced with information and training to develop awareness of how to use them. The European Social Business 2011 Initiative provides a framework and links to many of these tools. 
  • Social enterprise is ideally suited to many green economy growth opportunities, such as waste, recycling, renewable energy, mobility services. Many social enterprises are local and cannot be de-localised.

3. Recommendations for entrepreneurship education

Even within the EU, there are large variations in entrepreneurial culture. It is clear that many regions believe that long-term investment in entrepreneurship education - at all levels - is vital if attitudes to entrepreneurship are going to change. These policy messages are very much in line with the European Entrepreneurship Action Plan.

  • Entrepreneurship education is a strategic tool to equip young people from the earliest age with competencies in entrepreneurship and the possibilities of a career in business. It is best used as an integral part of education rather than a bolt on. INTERREG IVC projects have many examples of good practices to support education, such as the ‘Hour Innovation Camp’ in Estonia and ‘Innocamp’ in Denmark (ENSPIRE EU).
  • Working with teachers in the school system and motivating them to work more closely with businesses can reap rewards. An example of this is the entrepreneurship teacher training programme in Gothenburg (IMAGEEN).
  • Entrepreneurship education creates a better workforce generally, instilling skills that are widely sought after by mainstream employers, such as teamwork creativity and problem-solving (increasingly referred to as ‘intrepreneurship’). This supports the objectives of the European Commission Communication on a Job Rich Recovery.

4. Recommendations for entrepreneurship ecosystems

Regional entrepreneurship ecosystems function best when they follow a number of principles and pull together a coherent offer from a menu of resources:

The principles which are essential to such an entrepreneurship ecosystem are:

  • Coherence between legal framework, infrastructure and human capital
  • Transparency and clarity of the service offer with user friendly pathways and progression routes
  • Targeted and tailored approaches, for different sectors, communities, languages
  • Responsiveness to need and the ability to adapt to emerging or changing need
  • Credibility with the business and finance community
  • Incremental approaches, with use of pilots to develop a sound offer preceding rollouts

The resources required are:

  • Combinations of physical and virtual services
  • Online services such as databases, information, coaching, communications facilities 
  • Generalist and specialist services
  • Access to start-up and crisis finance
  • Diagnostics, to evaluate ideas, risk profiles, human capital, skills assets and deficits
  • Shared spaces
  • Proactive brokerage between inventors, researchers, entrepreneurs, financiers, government, markets.
  • Opportunities to network, to bring together different disciplines and sectors
  • Ongoing support, also in crisis and failure

Bringing these together, it is clear that regions need to link the whole system of coaching, mentoring, business development services etc. with financial support in an intelligent way. Loans and grants without support can lead to individual catastrophes. The Commission's Action Plan to improve access to finance for SMEs outlines some of the tools and investment sources for the future. Many of the practices from INTERREG IVC projects described in section 3.2 about infrastructure and technical support show how this combination of physical and virtual tools, access to finance and up-skilling can make a real difference to start-up rates and business survival in the regions. Many are based in physical office and meeting spaces, and others are virtual such as the I-Planner, showcased by the Tartu Science Park in Estonia (ENTREDI). It is these very concrete examples of integrated support systems, responding to the challenges of EU Enterprise policy that have been most frequently transferred from one region to another through INTERREG IVC.

5. Recommendations for communications on entrepreneurship

It is important that regions underpin their investment in entrepreneurship strategy, education and ecosystems with good communications:

  • Successful regional and local communication strategies, backing up overall strategy, can help inspire a positive culture of entrepreneurship and counteract negative perceptions and fear of failure
  • Entrepreneurship ecosystems need to pay attention to branding and style, and reach out to target audiences to attract entrepreneurs and potential entrepreneurs. In the ENSPIRE EU network, the Entrepreneurship Foundation in Zary, Poland actively targets people looking for work to support them in possible business start-ups, and the Ethnic Coach for Ethnic Entrepreneurs project operating in Denmark provides customised support to potential Muslim entrepreneurs.
  • Cities and regions need to find a way to articulate the benefits and impact of entrepreneurship policy in a way that each audience understands.
  • Communications activities to raise the image and profile of entrepreneurship include success stories, competitions, awards and ambassadors. An example is the Munich Business Plan competition that creates visibility in the city for enterprise activity.

6. INTERREG IVC

INTERREG IVC partners gave their views on the best conditions for interregional exchange on entrepreneurship policy, to optimise successful implementation in each region. There was a widespread view that interregional exchange works best when it is phased, starting with identification of practices, and then moving into a sharing phase and finally the transfer phase. In many cases, it was felt that the more time invested at the beginning in the identification and sharing phase, the more effective and rapid the transfer phase. This initial phase brings partners together, gets them ‘on the same wavelength’ and gives them a real understanding of how practices work. The Initial phase is also about scanning and filtering to narrow down to a selection of the most appropriate practices to transfer.

A clear process and guidelines were seen as helpful to keep the exchange and transfer on track. Once the transfer phase is underway, more intense bilateral relationships often develop, with the donor region in effect operating like a consultancy service to the implementing region. This was considered very effective in the transfer process, which is built around a trusted relationship. Honesty and candour on the part of all partners leads to a healthier analysis of what doesn't work as well as what does. Interregional exchange is not a sales exercise.

Multi-stakeholder site visits help to develop a common ownership of the practice to be transferred. When several partners and agencies from one region come together to see a practice live, it enables them to quiz the hosts, to discuss together how it could be adapted in their own region. This practice has led to results that are more embedded, more realistic and more sustainable, as they are transferred to the new region.

In some projects, local mainstreaming meetings were held, whereby stakeholders in one city come together to hear presentations from the good practice city, and again this was experienced in a positive way in terms of maximising acceptance and openness to the changes.

Above all, the interregional exchange is not a ‘copy and paste’ process. Partners commented on the benefits of the process being one of reflection and adaptation in policy development.

The capitalisation exercise has concluded that the role of programmes such as INTERREG IVC in supporting entrepreneurship policy at regional level is an important one because:

  • Involving politicians in interregional exchange activity has a proven positive effect on the success for transferring practices. It generates credibility and a higher degree of political commitment.
  • Interregional exchange helps regions to evaluate and benchmark their own entrepreneurship assets in relation to other regions and critically assess potential for improvement.
  • Some of the tools developed within INTERREG IVC projects can help the administrations designing the new Structural Fund programmes and contribute to quality assurance, learning and capacity building within entrepreneurship policy at regional level. For instance, the INCYDE Foundation (Young SMEs) is in the process of integrating its programme with the new JEREMIE initiative, which has been approved nationally and will provide a revolving fund of loans for SMEs. Platforms for crowd funding or setting up business angel network and other microfinance support schemes are currently being explored by project partners, and could potentially be included in future Cohesion Policy frameworks.
  • Interregional exchange programmes can exploit relationships with Managing Authorities to improve the added value of European Regional Development Fund investments in entrepreneurship policy.
  • Cross fertilisation and dialogue between networks and projects on entrepreneurship policy is beneficial and can accelerate innovation, avoid the repetition of mistakes, and therefore add value to the European investments.

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