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I am just back from a full day ERRIN seminar and marketplace on entrepreneurship in Brussels, where we had speakers from DG Education, DG Enterprise and DG Research as well as lots of practitioners from ERRIN regions who are involved in diverse action schemes at the local and regional level to create the kind of soft skills and entrepreneurial mindshift needed to boost entrepreneurship in our regions.

This was in some way the inofficial ERRIN contribution to the global entrepreneurship week. One key event of that week is the World Creativity Forum in Antwerp, which, unfortunately I have to give a miss, which is a pity, particularly since one of the key-notes there will be given by former Monty Python John Cleese 🙂

But anyway, back to more sober Brussels. One great initiative presented at the ERRIN entrepreneurship event was the “IdeaHouse” of South Denmark. Another one was by the University of Glamorgan in Wales and one by the Advancia Business School of the Paris/Ile-de-France Chamber of Commerce.

While the IdeaHouse initiative proved the success of creating independent creativity and innovation incubators to enable students to become future entrepreneurs, lining up support from training to venture capital, the Glamorgan example highlighted the feasibility and challenges involved in embedding real change and entrepreneurial mindsets within the higher education institutions. A third, kind of mixed model, was illustrated by the Paris example, driven by a close cooperation between a business school and a chamber of commerce, based on an entrepreneurship curriculum and in-built incubator for developing new companies.

And that was only the morning session. We had much more lined up in three afternoon workshops on “Promoting an entrepreneurial mindset in society”, “Innovative research cooperation between business and university” and “Supporting entrepreneurship and creativity locally and regionally” again with speakers from Commission, EU programme bodies and practitioners from our regions. All in all a rich day of debates and feed-back partly on policy but most importantly on ideas for future initiatives coming from our practitioners.

Here are some thought points and infos collected during the morning session. Again, much more was mentioned and discussed, but I cannot possibly reflect on everything that was said:

We need to teach people that it is actually a blessing not to sit in an office and have a superior tell you what you have to do. And the current crisis is probably a chance, given that the market for secure jobs is getting smaller. So more people need to go out, take the risk and do their own thing. We need to convince them that this might be the right time to start a business. The companies being build now and those that survive under the current conditions will be well equipped to take us forward. The crisis can be a chance, as every crisis is in some way. It is not so much about taking risk but managing risk.

Now is the time to introduce change. To bring that change about you need to support the change agents. It is not something you do with policy declarations but with fairly concrete steps, even small ones, in our regions and communities. It is also important to recognize that while we created the problem, the people we are developing now will hopefully be instrumental in solving them, economically, socially and in terms of sustainability.

We have heard from DG Education and DG Enterprise that there will be increasing attention at EU level for producing this kind of change. DG EDU had organized a thematic forum on “curriculum development and entrepreneurship” and another one, led by DG Research on “Knowledge Transfer and IPR”. With regard to IPR there is currently quite a discussion on European level but it is also important to know that if you overdo it, it can kill innovation, given the propensity of more open models to boost innovation and entrepreneurship, which we clearly see in the ICT sector.

There will be two to three more thematic platforms in 2009 sponsored by DG EDU, one taking place on 5-6 February 2009 on University-Business relations, which will be followed by a communication on UBR to be published in April. In that respect DG EDU is keen on learning about any relevant regional/local initiatives in that field or organisations that invest in detailed studies, reports, projects on the matter.

DG Enterprise, following up on the Oslo Agenda, is developing a programme on entrepreneurship education to be published next year.
Concerning entrepreneurship education, the Lisbon process can be very useful, as it is accompanied by measurable indicators and the national reform programmes look at entrepreneurship education, however the info is not always comprehensive and there is room for improvement.

With risk-taking and potential failure being an important part of entrepreneurship there is also the need to improve national legislation on this and include this in the Lisbon assessment. DG Enterprise is currently working on this. There is certainly also scope for legislative change to be less punishing on the risk-takers, if things go wrong. Enterprise is also looking into this.

Interesting initiative is also the European SME week and, as part of this, the European Entreprise Awards, which each year recognizes the best initiatives promoting entrepreneurship at national, regional and local level. This creates not only awareness on sometimes very localized projects, that, however, can have important implications on European-wide level, but shows that people are really interested to learn about great practical solutions.

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Strengthening IPR is not always a solution. I know there is quite a discussion going on, and it is certainly justified in some sectors, but not across the board. I would rather say that too much IPR kills innovation. We need more open standards and experimentation.

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