Almost two thousand new or established entrepreneurs have participated already in the programme “Erasmus for Young Entrepreneurs”.
Launched by the European Commission in 2009, it enables aspiring European entrepreneurs to spend up to six months working with an experienced entrepreneur in another country!
It now receives 86.8 million euros from the EU budget, which will hopefully allow it to grow and reach a critical mass.
To learn more, read our interview with Typhaine Beaupérin-Holvoet, Coordinator of the programme at EUROCHAMBRES, the Association of European Chambers of Commerce and Industry, which acts as Support Office.
What are the objectives of this initiative?
Erasmus for Young Entrepreneurs is about entrepreneurship and mobility, two key elements to get rid of youth unemployment.
There are three objectives.
First, to encourage business creation across Europe: more than 50% of all young Europeans would like to follow an entrepreneurial path but very few of them really put their ambitions into practice.
Second, to boost the internationalisation of European SMEs: only 25% of them export their products in the European Union.
Third, to increase competitiveness in Europe by addressing the lack of experience and entrepreneurial skills.
These are the three major objectives: encouraging business creation, boosting internationalisation and increasing competitiveness in Europe.
What sort of businesses usually receive new entrepreneurs?
It is a programme for SMEs. Regarding the sector, there is no requirement, but the statistics show that there are three main areas: media promotion, architecture and construction and consultancy.
The host entrepreneurs need to have, at least, three years of experience as an entrepreneur, and be willing to act as a mentor.
What sort of work does it imply for new entrepreneurs?
It is very varied: market research and developing new business opportunities; project development, innovation and R&D, understanding SME finance, work on concrete projects…
It should not be an internship, nor free labour. To ensure that the experienced entrepreneur devotes time to share his experience, the parties involved agree beforehand with the experienced entrepreneur on the activities and responsibilities assigned to the new entrepreneur.
Why is it worth for the experienced entrepreneurs to make this investment?
Because it is a win-win situation. Everybody should give something and get something in return.
The new entrepreneurs are very motivated, bring a new perspective and fresh ideas, therefore helping in many ways the experienced ones in the development of their business.
What does it involve for EUROCHAMBRES to be the support office of this programme?
We are a link between the European Commission and the local, regional or national intermediary organisations.
Intermediary organisations can be, for example, Chambers of Commerce and business organisations. They are in charge of promoting the programme, recruiting entrepreneurs, assessing the applications, organising the match-making and following the exchange.
At present, 180 intermediary organisations spread over 33 countries participate in the programme. Since February last year, “Erasmus for Young Entrepreneurs” is open to 10 non-EU countries, such as Turkey, Norway, Macedonia, Iceland, Montenegro, Albania, Serbia, Israel…
As the support office for the programme, EUROCHAMBRES provides the intermediary organisations with guidance and assistance: we respond to all their queries and questions, develop guidance material and promotional tools and we organise network meetings.
Is it difficult to find willing hosts?
Some intermediary organisations find it difficult to attract hosts but other intermediary organisations have no problem in recruiting experienced entrepreneurs. In Germany or in Belgium, for instance, they have more hosting entrepreneurs than new entrepreneurs. On the contrary, in southern countries like Spain, Italy, Greece, they have more new entrepreneurs than hosting entrepreneurs.
But it is true that it requires more effort to attract host entrepreneurs than aspiring ones and explain the benefits for them and their business. This is why the Commission selects intermediary organisations that already have a direct contact with SMEs.
National-based awareness campaigns could also help to raise awareness on the programme among experienced entrepreneurs.
What needs to be done in order to make it a real contribution to new entrepreneurship in Europe?
First, we need to expand the programme in order to reach a critical mass. If the programme wants to be sustainable and effective, we need to increase the number of opportunities of exchange, the amount of participants, of intermediary organisations which can recruit, do the match-making, etc.
We also aim at having a more balanced country coverage. For example, France only has five intermediary organisations, while in Spain, there are more than twenty of them.
As the programme expands, in terms of budget and coverage, we should also streamline the management and focus on quality with, for example, a stronger selection of the applicants.
How can new entrepreneurs apply?
The first step is to contact an intermediary organisation and then to register online. The intermediary organisation will screen the application.
If it is accepted, the intermediary organisation will then find a hosting entrepreneur according to the profile of the applicant. Usually, 80% of them are accepted.
Once the match is approved by the intermediary organisations and a commitment to quality is agreed (i.e. objective of the exchange, activity plan, responsibilities, duration, etc.), the new entrepreneurs can go abroad and start the exchange.
Which advice would you give to applicants?
You should make sure that you are motivated and have a good business plan.
When you discuss with an experienced entrepreneur, try to always underline that it is a win-win situation and that you know very well that you have to give something to get something in exchange.
It is an entrepreneur to an entrepreneur exchange and not an internship.