Erasmus Entrepreneurs – How to foster entrepreneurship in times of uncertainty

Are you an entrepreneur willing to discover a new country and a new market? Are you looking for an intercultural adventure and for an experienced businessperson’s advice? If so, the programme “Erasmus for Young Entrepreneurs” (EYE) is for you!

Launched by the European Commission in 2009, it enables new or aspiring European entrepreneurs to spend up to six months working with a knowledgeable entrepreneur in another participating country.

So far, almost two thousand new or established entrepreneurs have participated in the programme, which is now granted a budget of 86.8 million euros.

The benefits to young entrepreneurs are obvious. Not only do they gain first-hand experience on how to run a business, they also have the opportunity to network across Europe and to learn about new markets.

On the other hand, experienced entrepreneurs meet young and dynamic professionals with fresh ideas and perspectives.

In words of Simon Goddek, a Dutch new entrepreneur doing his EYE exchange in Iceland with the experienced entrepreneur Ragnheidur Thorarinsdottir, “if you want to do something special and in another country, I strongly recommend it.”

It is the whole of Europe who benefits from this programme and from Erasmus, which focuses on students. At a time when markets are globalizing, fostering youth mobility is crucial to the development of a competitive Europe.

Europe needs young people who have experienced other cultures and ways of working and who are not -or less- reluctant to engage internationally. Such a workforce can only increase innovation and enhance market access.

Promoting entrepreneurship is crucial as Europe needs more entrepreneurs to bring back growth. In 2012, only 37% of all EU citizens wanted to become an entrepreneur, compared to 45% of them in 2009.

Culture is one of the main explanations for this lack of entrepreneurship: Europeans are not risk-takers. Young Europeans favour stable careers and financial security over the uncertainty associated with being an entrepreneur.

What is thus needed, in addition to a more entrepreneur-friendly environment, is a fundamental change of thinking. Experiences abroad can certainly contribute to take Europe’s youth out of the comfort zone.

Leaving one’s country, family and friends at an early age and land in a completely different culture brings maturity and confidence. It demonstrates that you can start over in a new place and build a new life, just as you can create a whole business out of an idea.

In both cases, you go through three phases:

– First, the “honeymoon” stage, characterized by the exciting attraction to what is unknown and by a positive attitude.

– Second, the “frustration” phase when, after some time, you start realising that the experience also entails troubles.

– Third, the “adjustment” phase, when you learn how to deal with these difficulties.

As only 25% of all European SMEs work in EU countries other than their own, the international dimension of the programme “Erasmus for Young Entrepreneurs” presents an excellent initiative.

But this programme will, by its own, not be enough. Once a young person has both an idea and the determination to transform this idea into a business, he or she often faces new barriers, like difficult access to funding and lack of support.

Stakeholders such as business organisations, business angels, young professionals’ networks and experienced entrepreneurs have, therefore, a key role to play in helping these aspiring entrepreneurs out through mentoring programmes and networking activities, for example.

In any case, the programme “Erasmus For Young Entrepreneurs” is a fundamental tool, and one can only hope that it will be granted a bigger budget in order to reach its full potential.


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