Our current entrepreneur in residence Karen Boers, co-founder & CEO of Startups.be and European Startup Network; has returned with a second blog post. This time she gives us her views on the current European education system and whether it really prepares the youth of today for the challenges they will face.
We’re always talking about the fast moving societal changes and how digitalisation is changing every aspect of our private and professional lives and will continue to do so. This is absolutely true – digital technologies have connected and empowered nearly every citizen on earth. After the industrial revolution, this trend could very well be the paving the way for different societal and economical models, which in their turn could lead to severe power shifts from the happy few, to the well-connected within the next decade.
Some very striking images have been circulating social media recently, showing the differences between what we called a ‘telephone’ a century ago and today, and the huge difference between what we called a ‘vehicle’ (i.e. horse & carriage) and modern cars and transport. There was also a comparison between what a classroom looked like 150 years ago – and its modern equivalent, it is unchanged!
We are preparing today’s youngsters for their future in very much the same way we have been preparing labourers to go into the factories for the past decades. We are training them to be silent, listen carefully and not question orders but rather execute them in the efficient, large-scale way we have grown accustomed to. We are training them to think hierarchically and obey – day after day and year after year. The reason being this is the way our society was structured for many years and how our economies thrived in the mass production age.
But now we are facing different challenges. Mass production is suffering in the western economies. Hierarchical icons are being disrupted by flexible, agile businesses. Collaboration, creativity and the ability to change are becoming ever more dominant in the new business paradigms, and it’s clear that there is no way back. Millennials are already exhibiting signs of not caring too much about steady careers, future-proof choices or life-long guarantees. They think very differently about ownership, citizenship, sharing, learning and professional careers. They are self-organising, always connected and pay it forward much more than previous generations.
There is no way that the education that we are currently providing Generation Z youngsters is preparing them properly for what is ahead, and there is growing consensus that future generations might not put up with the inertia of the current system, eroding it from the inside out. The information overload is growing, and we need to urgently transition into a system that educates youngsters to deal with that, to find their way in an ever-connected and saturated network of information sources, opinions and potential expertise. Self-learning and life-long learning are gaining in importance. Additional skills are often acquired outside of the school system at present, through volunteer programs and alternative schooling. Learning how to learn is therefore growing inherently more important than any kind of knowledge transfer.
I would not argue for a total disruption of our school system, though. Europe has been on the frontlines of (free) quality education, equal opportunities for all and innovation for a long time. Let’s now make sure Europe initiates a power shift in traditional education, slowly steering the heavy tanker towards a coaching environment, with expert inputs from all societal angles, project and applied learning and a wide range of soft skills on top of purely academic knowledge transfer. That way I am sure we will keep nurturing generations of renowned business and academic leaders, as well as a flexible and future-proof workforce.
Read Karen’s last blog post: Failing is not contagious, but success is
We continue our showcase of the European Enterprise Promotion Awards (EEPA) shortlist with an introduction to the national winners competing in Category-3 – Improving the Business Environment. These three projects, each with their own specific focus, have in common the fact that they improve the entrepreneurial ecosystem in their respective countries – Denmark, Portugal and Slovenia. Two of the projects are based on a competition/award scheme, while the third is a co-working space that motivates young entrepreneurs.
So, in no particular order, the first in our list this week is Denmark’s Next Step Challenge (NSC). NSC is an ambitious European startup competition focusing on Smart Energy & Digitalisation and Sound & Home Integration. Ambitious startups are offered the chance to access a one-of-a-kind business development programme in direct collaboration with big corporations, SydEnergi and Bang & Olufsen. Along with EUR 250 000 in prize money, the winners are also supported by SydEnergi and Bang & Olufsen, who open up their organisations, share knowledge and strategy, and assist with product and/or business development. Check out their video!
The next project takes us to Portugal and the Leader SME programme, which annually rewards SMEs with the best financial performance and risk levels, as viewed by IAPMEI and Turismo de Portugal. The award offers public recognition of their successful growth strategies and competitive leadership, and winners benefit from more favourable conditions for accessing finance and other specialised business management support. In just eight years, the number of companies recognised has more than doubled from around 3 000 in 2008 to approximately 7 300 in 2015! Have a look at their video!
KIKštarter was established to encourage young people in Slovenia to develop their entrepreneurial ideas. A co-working space in the deprived area of Kamnik, it provides entrepreneurs with a supportive environment and is home to 27 startups. The startups receive assistance and guidance in developing their ideas, have access to workspace, and participate in a series of motivational events. The project is contributing to the promotion of entrepreneurship to all residents in the area, which is undergoing regeneration, and helping to unlock the potential of the area and its people. The initiative has directly resulted in seven new businesses and at least as many new jobs with minimal financial investment.
Only one of these projects can be declared the ultimate winner in the category and, given the high standard of all three, the EEPA Jury is faced with a difficult choice. But choose they must, and their eventual choice will be revealed at the EEPA Awards Ceremony during the SME Assembly on 24 November in Bratislava, Slovakia, when the Grand Jury prize-winner will also be announced.
Petar Isirov an entrepreneur who formed part of the creation of Kartner-M, a privately held label printing company. They are based in Skopje in the Former Yugoslav Republic (FYR) of Macedonia and were founded in 2014. In this blog post, Petar talks about his motivation for starting a business and what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur.
After talking with friends in the food and beverage industry, we realised that many local companies had problems with the quality of their labels. They couldn’t do marketing campaigns properly, and the quality of the labels made it difficult for them to export their products around the world. We saw an opportunity to bring something new to the printing industry in our country, something that would help many businesses.
We found the money we needed by pooling our resources and getting loans. We used it to buy the necessary machines and organise ourselves to work efficiently. Europe is a great place to be an entrepreneur because the business environment is always developing and improving. There are countless opportunities for entrepreneurs; all you need is the right idea. I believe Europe is very supportive of young entrepreneurs, which helps motivate young people to consider becoming entrepreneurs. However, more EU involvement in countries like FYR of Macedonia would benefit small and medium enterprises to develop their business more efficiently, and expand operations outside of their countries.
Persistence is essential for entrepreneurship because it’s difficult to succeed and even more so when you are a young, aspiring company. For me, a great leader is committed to a cause, outgoing and able to take responsibility and risks. They are able to motivate, have a vision for the company, have objectives and be aware of their surroundings.
For more information: www.kartner-m.mk
Each week, one of six European Enterprise Promotion Award (EEPA) categories is presented on the Promoting Enterprise blog. The EEPA awards reward annually, those who promote entrepreneurship and small business at the national, regional and local level.
You can have a look at last week’s featured projects shortlisted for EEPA Category 1: Promoting the entrepreneurial spirit. This week, it is the turn of the shortlisted projects in Category 2: Investing in Entrepreneurial Skills. Three projects, from Italy, Latvia and the UK, support the inclusion of the unemployed and young jobseekers into the workforce through skills development and mentorship. Two of the shortlisted projects have a focus on the crafts industry, while the third includes the creative arts as an area targeted for support.
The Bottega Scuola project in Italy supports the young unemployed by encouraging craft skills and business development ideas in artistic and traditional industries through six months’ work experience. The project acts as an artisan teaching workshop intended to increase job opportunities and stimulate new local entrepreneurial initiatives. Watch their video!
The project for the Development of innovative entrepreneurship in Jelgava City and Zemgale Region in Latvia is a platform through which the local government supports innovative entrepreneurship and facilitates networking, local good practice and mentor support. One example is the successful Competence and Contact Exchange initiative for the cottage arts and crafts industry, which develops entrepreneurial skills and creates innovative new products. So far, 10 000 people have taken part in various activities for developing innovative entrepreneurship and on average 63 new entrepreneurs sign up every year! Watch their video!
The Enterprise Educators Academe in the UK has created the world’s first internal, accredited, enterprise educator training programme. The training and support of over 600 staff of all disciplines to embed enterprise skills across the university curriculum has been at the heart of the programme. In the first two years alone 21 000 students were reached and over 2 000 freelance businesses created. Business and public sector projects projects benefited from student support resulting in an economic impact valued at over EUR 4.4 million (GBP £4 million). Check out their YouTube channel!
By investing in entrepreneurial skills, these projects continue to support ongoing regional initiatives to integrate young people and the unemployed in the workforce. All 6 EEPA category winners will be revealed at the EEPA Awards Ceremony during the SME Assembly on 24 November in Bratislava, Slovakia, when the Grand Jury prize-winner will also be announced.
Daan De Wever co-founded Belgian Network Solutions in 2001 and is currently Managing Director of the communications company Destiny, which he co-founded with his brother Samuel. In this post, Daan talks about his experience in setting up his company and provides advice for budding entrepreneurs.
When I was starting up my business, I’d look into the mirror and I’d say: “I’m 28 years old, we have a fantastic idea, but do I have the skills to build a cloud-telco myself?” The answer was “No” but, two months later, we hired an experienced CEO and put him in place above myself and my brother, who I co-founded the company with.
That was the best decision of our lives. We needed finance. By the end of 2008, we’d searched for seed money; the round closed at the end of 2009. After a period of birth, survival, and fast growth, we closed a further round with private equity in May 2016. We decided to internationalise our business because everything boils down to the maxim, “Don’t miss your opportunity.”
Yes, we could be a nice “lifestyle” company in Belgium, but we believe we would miss out on opportunities in a market where mid-sized companies are massively underserved by incumbents. Today, we are active in eight European countries and our next aim is to achieve strong organic growth so that we can acquire other companies.
Having done it myself, my advice to aspiring entrepreneurs is to follow your dream and do the things that make you happy!
For more info:
As promised in our last EEPA update, over the next few weeks we will present the EEPA projects shortlisted in all six project categories. The winners in Category 1 – Promoting the Entrepreneurial Spirit – come from different ends of Europe, with one project from Estonia, one from France and one from Serbia. One of the projects has a focus on women entrepreneurs, another aims to engage young people in business, and the third has a focus that straddles both these objectives.
The Estonian project, Garage48 Motivating Women to Start-up Community, aims to transform the male-dominated tech sector into a more female-friendly industry. Since its formation in 2010, the project has increased female participation in its development weekends from 20% to 47%. The main goal of these events is to give participants a chance to complete the process of creating a start-up during one weekend and to match aspiring entrepreneurs with various skillsets. Several successful and well-functioning start-ups have been created as a result. Watch their video.
Also with a focus on women, in addition to students and start-ups, the second Category 1 shortlisted project – Lyon City of Entrepreneurship (Lyon Ville d’Entrepreneuriat) – is a network of 46 organisations and 200 experts from across the region, working to promote the entrepreneurial spirit more widely, increase the number of businesses created and improve the robustness of new businesses. Each year, the network provides support to between 10,000 and 12,000 businesses and entrepreneurs, with 17 “access points” providing assistance, information and guidance. Experts provide support on the creation, takeover and handover of businesses and on aspects including how to grow or fund a business, start up and training. Watch their video.
The third and final Category 1 winner, “We know we can”, is a national motivational movement in Serbia that aims to inspire young people to become entrepreneurs and proactively build their careers with the right tools and knowledge. It started with a campaign that showcased more than 200 local entrepreneurs who are globally successful, which reached over 20% of the Serbian population. Following this, a crowdfunding campaign raised US$ 108,000, making it the biggest non-profit campaign in the region. This has enabled the creation of tech and entrepreneurship community centres in five Serbian cities for exchanging knowledge, networking and motivation. Watch their video.
All three of these projects are making a significant contribution to the promotion of entrepreneurship among their target audiences in their respective regions and any one of the three would be a worthy winner in this category, so the EEPA Jury is faced with a difficult task. The winner in each category will be revealed at the EEPA Awards Ceremony during the SME Assembly on 24 November in Bratislava, Slovakia, when the Grand Jury prize-winner will also be announced.
Startups in the spotlight, EEPA shortlist
Last month, our blog focused on female entrepreneurship, with some interesting insights into the challenges women face in business and how they overcome them. This month, we are putting the spotlight on startups.
Startups are invaluable drivers of the European economy. They are particularly important in times of economic constraint. By responding to a need identified in the market, startups have the potential to generate new wealth, produce innovative products and services and create jobs.
To highlight the important role played by startups in the European economy, throughout October our Entrepreneur in Residence and other bloggers will share their stories on the Promoting Enterprise blog. If you know of any startup entrepreneurs with inspiring stories to tell, let us know and we’ll do our best to feature them among others across our social media channels. Read more >>
Following on from our post on 29 September announcing the European Enterprise Promotion Awards 2016 project shortlist, we are pleased to publish the full press release which gives a summary of each of the 18 shortlisted projects and their originators. The 31 countries that entered the Awards this year submitted a total of 343 entries – twenty-five more than in 2015. The EEPA are a celebration of everyone’s efforts and in this 10th year there will be a special anniversary celebration, bringing together past winners and individuals and organisations that do so much to promote enterprise across Europe.
If you are a journalist from a media organisation and would like to attend the SME Assembly and Awards in Bratislava from 23-25 November, please supply your details to the Press and PR Manager by contacting him via email@example.com
Karen Boers is co-founder and Managing Director of Startups.be, which brings hundreds of startups together with incubators, accelerators, investors and public actors in a local startup ecosystem. She also runs the European Startup Network, which aims to help create a truly pan-European bottom-up startup ecosystem. In this blog post, Karen talks about the challenges she has encountered, how she manages to achieve a good work-life balance, and her plans for the future.
As the co-founder and CEO of both the Belgian startup network Startups.be and the European Startup Network, I have always been passionate about creating opportunities for other people – especially entrepreneurs – to thrive. Connecting the dots, helping to create the right environment and bringing people and organisations together in meaningful relationships, that’s what I love to do.
It’s been challenging these last few years, as I never considered myself to be a (social) entrepreneur in the first place. Learning to close a deal, to master financial flows, pitch my project, make myself vulnerable and conquer the never-ending cash flow challenges are just a couple of the skills I have had to develop along the way.
It’s been great, though, to go after my dreams and show our kids that you can reach for the stars and nobody should tell you it’s impossible. My boyfriend and I have five of them jointly, so we really care about what the future holds for them. Being an entrepreneur allows me to work really hard, while still being available for them – picking them up at the school gate and helping them with their homework, their small fears and challenges. It’s helped me to show them that a healthy work-life balance can also mean being passionate about what you do, that work can be fun at least part of the time and that you can blend it together in a way that makes sense to you and your family.
Taking on the challenge of better connecting and streamlining the startup ecosystem across Europe comes with new challenges – and more time away from the family. But I really hope we can build an environment in which digital skills, a creative and entrepreneurial mind-set and the opportunities to put your talents to good use are within the reach of every individual, wherever they come from.
If I had to do it all over again, I would probably not change that much. I might be a little less naive to start out with, a little less cautious about empty promises and a little more aware of the time lapse between an agreement and actual money in your bank account. But, all-in-all, every single mistake I’ve made has brought me one step closer to where I stand today – and that’s exactly where I’m happy to be.
Those mistakes did teach me that it can be a very lonely ride as an entrepreneur, though. That’s why we are inviting role models from different industries to share their stories and lessons learned at our annual “Failing Forward” conference, proving that we all learn by falling down and stepping up again – and a helping hand can make a world of difference. Since, in the end, failing is not contagious, but success is…
Once you’re bitten by the bug, there is no way back. As I am very frustrated by the inability of our traditional educational system – notwithstanding the tremendous efforts some teachers and school staff are putting in – I guess that will be my next battlefield. Starting with the launch of a coding school for the underprivileged in Brussels city centre in early 2017, I am hoping to tear down yet another barrier to opportunities for all.
For more info:
In total, 343 National EEPA entries were received from 31 participating countries in 2016, which were then narrowed down by the national EEPA coordinators to 57 projects put forward for the European level of the competition.
At a meeting in Brussels on 27 September, the EEPA Jury drew up a project shortlist for each of the EEPA’s six project categories. Let´s meet 18 shortlisted winners for EEPA 2016!
The winners are spread pretty evenly across Europe, with only Serbia featuring on the list more than once, with winning projects in the Promoting the Entrepreneurial Spirit and Supporting the Development of Green Markets and Resource Efficiency categories. We will present all of the shortlisted projects, category by category, on the Promoting Enterprise blog over the next six weeks.
The winner in each category will be revealed at the EEPA Awards Ceremony during the SME Assembly on 24 November in Bratislava, Slovakia, when the Grand Jury prize-winner will also be announced. All of the national winners will have their costs covered to send one representative to attend the SME Assembly, while shortlisted projects will be able to send two representatives.
Congratulations to all of the shortlisted projects – they are all worthy winners, and the EEPA Jury will have a difficult task in selecting the winning projects in each category. We wish them all the best of luck at the SME Assembly in November.